NU Regents approve same-sex benefits

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June 8th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Omaha, NE – The University of Nebraska Board of Regents voted 5-3 Friday to approve expanding benefits to same-sex couples.

NU President J.B. Milliken. (Courtesy photo)

The Board of Regents has had seven months to consider the proposal. First introduced by NU President J.B. Milliken in October, the “Employee Plus One” program would expand benefits to domestic partners of NU employees, regardless of sex. Speaking at the Regents meeting in Lincoln Friday, Milliken said it’s necessary to keep the University competitive in a “global marketplace for talent.”

“In the Big 10, 11 out of 12 institutions provide these benefits,” he said. “Only the University of Nebraska-Lincoln does not.” He added major private employers in Nebraska also provide similar benefits, including Union Pacific Railroad, Kiewit, ConAgra and Mutual of Omaha. “They believe it’s necessary to be able to attract and retain the best employees. So do the four chancellors and I.”

The public was invited to comment for about 30 minutes, and supporters and opponents were about evenly split. Jim Cunningham, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said the proposal would wrongly elevate couples who live together to the status of married couples.

Regent Timothy Clare, District 1 (Courtesy photo)

“By providing to co-habiting partners the same benefits as are provided to husbands or wives, the proposal manipulates the unique and special meaning of marriage,” Cunningham said. “Traditionally, historically, morally, and culturally, the family-centric institution of marriage has an irreplaceable social role and is unequalled in serving the common good.”

Cunningham was joined in opposition by the Sarpy Republican Women and a graduate student, who said it would send the wrong message to young people.

But several faculty members spoke in support. Helen Moore, a professor of sociology at UNL, said she has worked proudly for the university for 33 years. She said she and her partner recently celebrated their 37th anniversary, under the cloud of an uncertain financial future.

Regent Bob Phares, District 7 (Courtesy photo)

“I have done my job. I have been here. You’ve promoted me. You’ve rewarded me,” Moore said. “You’ve approved over $2 million worth of grants that I’ve brought to UNL and what are my costs for working here?”

Moore said her partner works for a nonprofit agency that provides only one menu benefit: health insurance or retirement. “To fill the retirement gap for the last 25 years, I have spent my evenings and weekends scrubbing floors and walls and ceilings in small apartments,” she said. “What else might I have produced if I was not up to my elbows supporting my partner’s efforts to be financially secure?”

The Regents who voted against the proposal cited their constituents. Regent Bob Phares, who represents District 7, which encompasses most of central and western Nebraska, said his district is 99% opposed to the proposal. “If I’m going to represent them in an appropriate fashion, I would vote no,” Phares said.
Regent Timothy Clare, who represents District 1 in Lancaster County, said he received numerous emails about the proposal. “But if you take out the faculty and the ACLU, it was probably about 90-95% opposed to this.”

Regent Kent Schroeder, District 6. (Courtesy photo)

Regent Kent Schroeder, who represents Kearney-based District 6, ended up voting for the proposal, but said it wasn’t because he was swayed by lead of Fortune 500 companies. “Because there are no taxpayer dollars being spent, and they can pass on the cost of the plus one benefit to the consumer,” he said. “Our consumer is the student who is already overburdened with high debt, and parents that are probably struggling to see that their child or children receive a post-secondary education.”

Schroeder ultimately voted to support the proposal, saying President Milliken and UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s support convinced him it was the right thing for the university.

NU officials estimate the expense of extending health insurance benefits under the proposal would be $750,000 to $1.5 million. That’s out of a total cost for the University’s health insurance plan of $120 million.

The Regents voted to approve the proposal on a vote of 5-3. Chairman Jim McClurg, who also represents Lancaster County, ultimately spoke for the majority.

Regent Chairman Jim McClurg, District 5. (Courtesy photo)

“We are a great university,” McClurg said. “This employee benefit is what great universities do.”

“I’m sure that 10 or 15 years from now,” he said, “we will look back and be glad that we did the right thing, and were not amongst the last universities to offer this benefit and cross this bridge to fairness.”

The benefits should be available to employees beginning January 1st of next year.

The Regents also unanimously approved a tuition increase of 3.75 percent for the 2012-2013 budget. University officials say the increase is the lowest since 1997, and amounts to approximately $94 to $116 more per semester for full-time NU students.

Listen to the Regents comments in full

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