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SIU Graduate Assistants
Confusion surrounds future of graduate assistants at SIUC

CARBONDALE — A key sticking point in Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s newly unveiled plans for the university lies in the handling of graduate assistantships — the roughly 1,200 appointments for individuals who serve in teaching or research roles while pursuing post-graduate degrees.

The matter has generated rumors and confusion over the past two weeks, encompassing one of the major concerns aired at the open meeting co-hosted by the Faculty Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Council on Wednesday.

Initial reports from GPSC said GA funding would no longer come from state sources after May 2018 and would instead draw from grants obtained by faculty. It also emerged that GAs would no longer lead classes as instructors of record.

In a phone call Wednesday, Montemagno refuted the information about funding sources, but confirmed that GAs will henceforth be required to teach under the supervision of a faculty member.

“Our plan is to grow the number of graduate students, graduate assistantships, that we have. As you probably know, our strategy is to become an R1 institution. That means we have to move from about 100 Ph.D. students to about 300 Ph.D. students graduating in a year, and that means a significant increase in the number of graduate students that we have,” he said.

He said the responsibilities of instructors of record — including writing syllabi, choosing instructional materials and determining students’ grades — are “not really appropriate duties for a young graduate student.”

“We need to have those courses all being run and managed by faculty members, and of course we’ll maintain having education and classroom experiences as part of our educational paradigm for teaching graduate students. It’s an important element. But the control of the course should not go to the graduate students. It needs to rest with our faculty,” Montemagno said.

Asked how the administration plans to fill the gap in the university’s course offerings left by GAs, Montemagno said, “We’ll be using some of the faculty that we have and we’ll be hiring new faculty members to teach them.”

He added that new faculty members would “most likely initially be non-tenure-track faculty.”

“This is a very positive thing. We plan to increase the number of graduate students, we’re improving the experience that our graduate students have and our students have. This is a very, very positive development for our graduate education curriculum and for our students. And plus, the students who are instructors of record … now are going to be normal GAs. They’re going to have some time freed up to help them promote their own personal research,” Montemagno said.

He said graduate students’ teaching experience should include mentorship and supervision “so that experience is an experience which is profitable for the students and ensures it doesn’t negatively impact the students who are being instructed.

“So there’s no retreat from our commitment to providing that experience for our students. I just think it needs to be provided in a way that we ensure the quality of both the mentoring for the graduate students and the instruction of the students who are taking the course, again, remain the very best that we can do,” Montemagno said.

He dismissed the news about the shift away from state funding for GAs as “misinformation which is being promulgated” that has “no basis in fact.” State funding for GAs will remain consistent, he said.

“Obviously if I want to increase the number of graduate students that we have on campus so that we can produce 300 Ph.D.s a year instead of 100 Ph.D.s a year, we’re not going to get additional monies from the state to do that. So the funding for those additional students for the growth in the number in graduate students is gonna have to come from grants. It’s not going to change the base funding that we have, unless the state changes the base funding that we have for graduate students,” Montemagno said.

To learn about potential changes to graduate assistantships, GPSC President Johnathan Flowers said he has been in communication primarily with Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Stettler, along with a handful of other administrators. He noted that in previous years, GPSC was able to reach out to the office of the chancellor and communicate directly with the chancellor or his administrative staff.

“I’ve done my due diligence where appropriate administrative and institutional channels are concerned, and in many, if not most, cases received radio silence, or incomplete or inaccurate responses,” Flowers said.

He said the story about GA funding sources changed a number of times.

“… My last two weeks has been trying to sort truth from rumor, and it is the inability of the administration to communicate clearly their decisions where graduate assistants’ funding is concerned that has compounded this matter,” Flowers said. “So to be clear, any information that I provide to graduate students or the GPSC body or the university as a whole comes from the administration. The fact that I’ve had to go and revise my provision of information where GA funding is concerned almost six different times is a result of the six different ways that the administration has revised their standing line on GA funding.”

Flowers said that although the administration has denied that any GA positions will be eliminated, he believes the eradication of independent instructors of record will create an environment that suppresses the number of GAs on campus.

“Given the already reduced numbers of faculty, that means just by virtue of the limitations of personnel, you would have to reduce the available GA positions,” Flowers said.

He also questioned the faculty’s ability to serve in mentorship roles for teaching graduate students.

“The chancellor’s approach to replacing the lost experience of teaching is to develop mentorship opportunities, which is a problem, considering GPSC has already encountered resistance to the development of a mentorship program through Graduate Council, specifically due to the fact that faculty have already increased teaching loads, and it is perceived that our asking for additional mentorship structures on top of that would overburden faculty to the point where something would have to give,” he said.

Flowers said GAs already receive regular evaluations by faculty.

“I don’t mean to imply any malicious intent on behalf of the chancellor. I think this is merely an oversight and a lack of understanding in how the structure actually works on the ground, which is pretty much an entire critique I can make of the chancellor’s engagement with the graduate education enterprise at this institution,” Flowers said.

Flowers called the implication that graduate students provide a lower quality of instruction “a slap in the face not only to the graduate students who are doing the academic labor on campus and doing it very well, but to the faculty members who have dedicated their time and energy into cultivating us into the scholars and educators that we are today.

“You cannot, on the one hand, say we have excellent faculty and excellent programs and then on the other hand say, ‘Well, the students you have produced who are doing this instruction provide a sub-par education to our undergraduates.’ Those things seem in contradiction to me, and I find it frankly insulting that the chancellor would base his decision to eliminate students as instructors of record on a perception that GAs cannot provide quality education to our undergraduates,” Flowers said.

He said the ability to be instructors of record provides graduates with invaluable experience that they use on the job market.

“Loss of that means of professional development would impair future graduates’ capacity to successfully move into their professional field. Put another way, we would get more professional development as adjunct instructors in the community than in our home institution without being instructors of record,” Flowers said.

The change barring graduate students from being instructors of record will go into effect July 1, 2018, according to the chancellor.

Film company using historic Murphysboro house for Depression-era movie

MURPHYSBORO — Michael Ricci and a fellow Arlington Heights friend were discussing ideas for movie scripts.

The next day, the friend, Colleen McVeigh, presented him with a first draft of a script for a short film she'd written about her grandmother.

"I was blown away," Ricci said of the almost instant production of the script and its material, which is now being filmed under the title "Mildred" at the historic Hull House in Murphysboro. 

"We decided to do this now because when I got it back from the writer, Colleen, I was blown away, because the story was compelling," Ricci said.

"And emotional," interjected Dan Balchen, producer for the film. "And that was a fact of life back in the 1930s."

Ricci said the film also represents a chance for the company to make a foray into period pieces. The Makanda-based company has produced other short films, winning a prize for its film "The Darkening Hollow."

The Historic Hull House inn is a Victorian-era home that Murphysboro resident Theresa Blankenship almost single-handedly renovated and restored and put back on the market this past year.

Ricci said he came across the location after he posted on a "Mildred" Facebook page that he was looking for a site for the movie filming, something that would reflect a 1930s aura. Other places were suggested, but he decided on the Murphysboro bed-and-breakfast after a trip there.

The Hull House was built in 1887 by William H. Hull, a local businessman and politician. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Richard Sitler / photos by RICHARD SITLER 

The house at 1517 Walnut in Murphysboro was built by William Henry Hull in 1886.

Balchen said fixtures like an antique sink and stove and some imperfect walls and molding will help to make the movie-filming experience more authentic.

The script for "Mildred" — a true-to-life story of a 12-year-old Mildred Trkac, the screenwriter's grandmother who helped save her family during a trying time in their lives — will lead to about a four-minute production that will include filming in another location in Murphysboro and include two speaking parts, Balchen and Ricci said. Ricci said Trkac was actually an immigrant from Crotia and the crisis took place around 1918, but he and the screenwriter opted to take creative license and place the movie during the Depression.

"Mildred" will be filmed in the first part of December and, after producing and editing, will be introduced on the short-film circuit, the men said. One place the film crew plans to showcase the completed movie is at the second annual Shawnee Shorts Film Festival, set for April 14, 2018, at the Liberty Theater in Murphysboro.

Star billing will go to 13-year-old Cassandra Ross, who will play the role of Mildred. This is her first foray into acting, she said. She is a cousin of a company cinematographer Cody Grammer.

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Cassandra Ross poses Thursday in Murphysboro at the Historic Hull House Inn, a location for filming in the movie in which she plays the title character. The film is titled "Mildred" and is being produced by Kryshner Road Films of Makanda.

"I'm excited about it," Cassandra said.

She said she doesn't right now have any plans to pursue a future in acting, preferring dance, and saying she enjoys science and baking brownies.

"She's just a normal kid — very motivated," her grandmother and the day's chauffeur, Patty Grammer, said. 

"I think it's a wonderful experience. She's good at it. It's an experience that she'll never forget, whether it develops into more (or not)… She's just a tiny little package of talent."

Trump declares US opioid emergency, pledges no new money

WASHINGTON — In ringing and personal terms, President Donald Trump on Thursday pledged that "we will overcome addiction in America," declaring opioid abuse a national public health emergency and announcing new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

Trump's declaration, which will be effective for 90 days and can be renewed, will allow the government to redirect resources in various ways and to expand access to medical services in rural areas. But it won't bring new dollars to fight a scourge that kills nearly 100 people a day.

"As Americans we cannot allow this to continue," Trump said in a speech at the White House, where he bemoaned an epidemic he said had spared no segment of society, affecting rural areas and cities, rich and poor and both the elderly and newborns.

"It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction," he said. "We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic."

Deaths have surged from opioids, which include some prescribed painkillers, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, often sold on the nation's streets.

Administration officials said they also would urge Congress, during end-of-the year budget negotiations, to add new cash to a public health emergency fund that Congress hasn't replenished for years and contains just $57,000.

But critics said Thursday's words weren't enough.

"How can you say it's an emergency if we're not going to put a new nickel in it?" said Dr. Joseph Parks, medical director of the nonprofit National Council for Behavioral Health, which advocates for addiction treatment providers. "As far as moving the money around," he added, "that's like robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi said, "Show me the money."

Trump's audience Thursday included parents who have lost children to drug overdoses, people who have struggled with addiction, first responders and lawmakers.

Trump also spoke personally about his own family's experience with addiction: His older brother, Fred Jr., died after struggling with alcoholism. It's the reason the president does not drink.

Trump described his brother as a "great guy, best looking guy," with a personality "much better than mine."

"But he had a problem, he had a problem with alcohol," the president said. "I learned because of Fred."

Trump said he hoped a massive advertising campaign, which sounded reminiscent of the 1980s "Just Say No" campaign, might have a similar impact.

"If we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it's really, really easy not to take 'em," he said.

It's a path taken by previous presidents, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, all of whom tried to rally the nation to confront drug abuse but fell short of solving the problem. Some people have become hooked on opioids after being prescribed prescription pain killers by doctors after injuries or surgery.

As a presidential candidate, Trump had pledged to make fighting addiction a priority. Once in office, Trump assembled a commission, led by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, to study the problem. The commission's interim report argued an emergency declaration would free additional money and resources, but some in Trump's administration disagreed.

"What the president did today was historic and it is an extraordinary beginning set of steps to dealing with this problem," Christie told reporters at the White House after the speech.

Some also faulted the White House for not issuing a wider emergency declaration to deal with the crisis.

Rob Brandt, an Ohio man who lost his 20-year-old son to a heroin overdose in 2011, called Trump's public health emergency order a "good incremental step" but urged greater focus on prevention and long-term treatment.

"The federal government has lagged behind in truly decisive action," said Brandt, who opened an opioid recovery center in Medina, Ohio this year, run on private donations and grants.

"We lost 64,000 Americans last year," he said, "and if you look at, if we were to have a foreign country attack us and kill 60,000 Americans or a terrorist attack that killed 60,000 Americans, we would print money to combat that."

As a result of Trump's declaration, officials will be able to expand access to telemedicine services, including substance abuse treatment for people living in rural and remote areas. Officials will also be able to more easily deploy state and federal workers, secure Department of Labor grants for the unemployed, and shift funding for HIV and AIDs programs to provide more substance abuse treatment for people already eligible for those programs.

Trump said his administration would also be working to reduce regulatory barriers, such as one that bars Medicaid from paying for addiction treatment in residential rehab facilities larger than 16 beds. He spoke of ongoing efforts to require opioid prescribers to undergo special training, the Justice Department's targeting of opioid dealers and efforts to develop a non-addictive painkiller.


SIU chancellor Carlo Montemagno speaks in September during the State of the University address.

Saline County
Saline County Board discusses pay dates, grievances against Clerk Kim Buchanan

HARRISBURG — Saline County Board’s meeting Thursday evening drew a crowd, many of whom were county employees. The agenda for the meeting included a proposal for a special audit of the county clerk’s office, a payroll ordinance and two resolutions dealing with Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

The first agenda item after Chairman Jay Williams called the meeting to order was passing the minutes from the Sept. 28 board meeting. After a motion made to accept the minutes passed, embattled County Clerk Kim Buchanan told the board they did not have the clerk’s minutes, so the board would be in violation of Illinois statute.

Commissioner Stephen Karns suggested the board move the executive session to the end of the meeting. Mike McKinnies made a motion to move executive session to the last item. The motion was seconded by Roger Craig, and it passed.

Treasurer Jeff Murrie gave his report, including the expected collection from real estate taxes. Tax bills were mailed Sept. 28, with payments due Oct. 31 and Dec. 5. Members of the audience asked why the bills were late this year, seeming to suggest Buchanan has slowed the process. Murrie explained that some assessors turned in paperwork late, then the state budget was late.

“It wasn’t any office in the courthouse. It just was a snowball effect. We cannot point fingers at anybody,” Murrie said.

Murrie then talked about revenue and expenditures for the month, showing that the county is spending more than it is taking in each month. He said it will likely lead to cuts in county offices, if the spending continues.

“If you spend more than you are budgeted, that’s on you. We don’t have the money to bail you out this year,” Commissioner Joe Jackson said.

The board also discussed numerous grievances against Buchanan and her office. One was filed by Murrie because the checks Buchanan sends him for fees collected in the county clerk’s office do not match the spreadsheet she agreed to use. Another was filed by Judy Simpson, field representative for Laborer’s International Union of North America, which represents county employees, over the way paychecks are dated.

For the past two months, county paychecks have been dated using the pay date. If that date is a weekend or holiday, employees do not have access to those funds until after payday.

“This is important. This is the second time we’ve had to wait two days. These are workers for Saline County, citizens who happen to work for the county,” Simpson said.

She asked the board to pass an ordinance to clarify their policy and a memorandum of understanding to clarify the dates.

County employees in the audience talked about the hardship it created for their families, at times talking over Buchanan as she tried to answer board members. Several times, Williams had to call the meeting back to order. 

At one point in the meeting, Buchanan defended herself against previous accusations made by the board, county officials and the staff of their offices and passed out information to support her defense. 

The board tabled the matter of payroll dates until later in the meeting when they passed Payroll Ordinance 17-138, authorizing the county clerk to date checks a day or two early when payday falls on a day when banks were not open all day.

“Miss Simpson, does this satisfy your concerns?” Commissioner Karns asked.

“It does, but we’d still like it in the form of an MOU, too,” Simpson replied.

The board also passed Resolution 17-10, which raised the minimum number of required hours for part-time employees to qualify for IMRF to 1,000, and R17-11, which allows participated by elected offices in the county to participate in IMRF.

The board had not reached a decision on an auditor in time for deadline. 

The board’s next meeting will be Nov. 28.