NU President J.B. Milliken first proposed extending benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples in October, saying it would help the university system be more competitive and fair. But the board delayed a vote on the so-called “employee plus one” proposal, and it will now be up for consideration next Friday.
Under the plan, the university would allow an “adult designee” who shares an employee’s household and is financially interdependent to get family coverage, along with their dependents. They would be able to receive health, dental and vision insurance and sick and bereavement leave and be eligible for a dependent scholarship program.
“It’s a competitive issue for us,” Milliken said during a press conference today. “We also think it’s the right thing to do.”
All four NU chancellors, the university-wide Fringe Benefits Committee and faculty senates and student government organizations on all four campuses support the proposal. However, Milliken said he didn’t know whether the Board of Regents would approve the plan.
“At the end of the day, the board will make a decision based on what its members think is the best decision for the university,” he told reporters.
Since unveiling the proposal last fall, the university obtained a legal opinion from an Omaha law firm on whether the plan would be constitutional, in light of Nebraska’s Defense of Marriage Act, which bans same-sex marriage. The law firm said it would be legal since the plan doesn’t refer to civil unions, domestic partnerships or other similar same sex relationships and doesn’t confer any of the traditional rights of marriage upon plan participants.
Milliken said courts in other states with same-sex marriage bans — such as Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Montana and Kentucky — have upheld plans offering benefits to same-sex couples. He said adopting his proposal would bring Nebraska in line with comparable higher ed institutions — noting that Nebraska is the only Big Ten institution not to offer such benefits. He also said 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies and almost 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health insurance benefits to employee partners.
He said the proposal is consistent with the university’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes sexual orientation and marital status.
NU officials estimate the cost of the proposal at $750,000 to $1.5 million based on an estimated increase in enrollment of 1 to 2 percent, or about 100 to 200 new employee sign-ups. Extending benefits would require a $1 to $3 per month increase in employee health insurance premiums. If approved, the benefits would become available in January.
Milliken also announced a 3.75 percent tuition increase for the upcoming academic year as part of the budget that will also be considered by the Board of Regents next week. Tuition increases at the University of Nebraska have averaged less than 5.5 percent over the past seven years, compared to the 7 percent national average for public four-year institutions.
The budget proposal also includes an increase of up to 2.5 percent in the salary pool for faculty and staff outside the faculty collective bargaining units at the Omaha and Kearney campuses. The funds are to be distributed based on merit and performance.
Reported by Deena Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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