University employees in same-sex relationships will soon be able to obtain health and dental insurance benefits for their partners similar to those provided to their married colleagues under a program approved by the UI Board of Trustees at its July 17 meeting in Urbana.
Under the new program, benefits-eligible university employees may obtain reimbursement for the medical and dental premiums paid on behalf of their same-sex partners if their partnership fulfills the university’s definition of a domestic partnership and is registered with the university.
Eligible employees would be reimbursed for the difference between what the employee pays for medical/dental coverage for his/her partner and the premium they would pay for dependent coverage under the state plan. The amount of reimbursement will be limited to the state’s cost for dependent coverage under the state plan.
To participate in the program, employees and their partners will have to register their relationships with the university and demonstrate that they meet the university’s criteria for a domestic partnership by submitting an affidavit verifying they have been residing together for at least six months, that they are each other’s sole domestic partner and are unable to marry under Illinois law because they are the same sex. Couples also will have to furnish evidence of shared financial obligations.
Based upon other universities’ experience with these types of benefit programs, it is being estimated that there may be 80-100 participants and that the cost may range from $320,000 to $400,000. The program could be implemented as early as Sept. 1.
Trustees Kenneth Schmidt and Robert Vickrey, the only board members who opposed the plan, said that they believed the decision to provide domestic partner benefits was a policy matter under the purview of the Illinois Legislature, not the board of trustees.
“Neither the state, nor state affiliated nor state-aligned agencies provide this benefit,” Schmidt said. “State government is silent on this issue. It is not the duty of this board, or our obligation, our right or our mission to establish a new policy as to how state money should be spent. That is precisely what we are doing if we do this.”
Schmidt, who said his objections did not arise from a moral bias, said that he would be willing to support efforts to lobby state lawmakers to mandate domestic partner benefit programs and allocate funds for the programs but said he was against taking action without state sanction.
While Trustee Marjorie Sodemann said she agreed with many of Schmidt’s points, she said she supported implementing the program because by doing so the board was not “condoning a lifestyle and are not (passing judgment on) a lifestyle, and this comes from the oldest member of the board, whose generation is very judgmental on this sort of thing. We have three generations here, and we have to remove our own personal feelings from the facts on this.”
President James J. Stukel said that an examination of the issues had indicated the program is compatible with Illinois law.
Stephen Rugg, vice president for administration, said that the program would be funded through institutional funds, not through state appropriations, to which Schmidt responded, “It’s all state money.”
Schmidt also objected to the proposal because he believed there was no legal standard of judgment to determine eligibility, such as tax returns or marriage certificates as there are with married couples, that would prevent employees’ exploiting the program. Trustee Devon Bruce said he believed that this should not be an issue as other institutions that offer such programs have been able to craft guidelines that prevent abuse.
Schmidt also questioned the cost estimates for the programs, saying they were conjecture, and that with health insurance costs skyrocketing the actual costs might be substantially more, particularly in subsequent years.
In addition, Schmidt said that it was imprudent for the university to take on the additional expense given the university’s financial constraints.
“Where will the money come from? There is only one pot, and that’s academics,” Schmidt said, and added that he was opposed to the expenditure because it might compromise academic programs.
Bruce urged the trustees to support the program, saying it was a matter of justice and “civil rights.”
“If we focus on cost and cost alone, we are making a terrible mistake,” Bruce said. “This is an issue of fundamental fairness in my mind, and it is an issue of maintaining the viability and quality of education of this institution.”
Vickrey said that if fairness were at issue, the proposal should include opposite-sex domestic partnerships as well, and he made a motion to amend the proposal accordingly; however, the proposed amendment was defeated. Stukel said the original resolution submitted to him by the University Senates Conference had included opposite-sex partners but he does not support that recommendation because opposite-sex couples have the option of obtaining the benefits through marriage and same-sex couples do not.
Stukel, Sodemann and other trustees expressed concern that Illinois is at a competitive disadvantage with institutions that offer domestic partner benefits and is losing exceptionally qualified people to other universities as a result.
Bruce said the university is “behind the times” and that rather than waiting for the Legislature to take the lead should “set an example for the rest of the state of Illinois” by aligning itself with the 182 colleges and universities and the 196 Fortune 500 companies in the country that he said already provide domestic partner benefits.
Nate Allen, student trustee, also advocated the program and said that a diverse faculty “prepares students for a diverse and complex world.”
In other business, Rugg and Chester Gardner, vice president for academic affairs,
reviewed budget issues for the current and coming fiscal years. During FY04, reduced appropriations have resulted in the elimination of 950 FTE positions, including 200 FTE faculty, which may potentially cost the university $45 million in lost research contracts. In addition, support staff in many classifications have been or will be laid off, 850 course sections will be eliminated, enrollments in 400 course sections will be increased by as much as 50 percent and enrollments will be capped in high-demand majors.
In FY05, the preliminary operating budget request stands at $78.6 million and will include $32 million for compensation improvements for faculty and staff.
Salary improvements will be a priority during FY05 because administrators are concerned the university is not remaining competitive with other Big Ten universities. Administrators are planning a salary program of 2.5 percent, totaling at least $20 million for FY04, and 4 percent, $32 million, for FY05.
Most Big Ten institutions reportedly have salary programs in the range of 2 percent to 4 percent this fiscal year and offered programs in the 3-percent to 5-percent range during FY03.
During FY05, administrators intend to request $12.5 million to strengthen undergraduate and graduate academic programs that were affected by reduced funding during FY03 and FY04. At Urbana, these funds will be used for faculty retention, particularly in high-demand programs and key areas, and to maintain the library and technology resources.
Facility renovations and infrastructure improvements will be a priority in the FY05 budget also. Since FY2000, state appropriations for the capital budget have dwindled from $80.6 million to $12.7 million in FY04, Rugg said.
Staff are proposing $183.1 million for deferred maintenance and renovations at the Chicago campus; $304.5 million at Urbana-Champaign and $6.4 million at Springfield in FY05. At Chicago those allocations will include $8 million for deferred maintenance and $20 million for the campus infrastructure program, and $52 million each for the pharmacy addition and renovations to dentistry.
In follow-up to the trustees’ request at their March meeting, Stukel updated the board on the administrative realignment and cost-containment project. In keeping with a target set by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the university is aiming for a 25 percent reduction in administrative/service unit costs from FY02 to FY05, Stukel said.
During the past four months, staff and consultants from Accenture and Washington Advisory Group have analyzed 17 functional administrative and service areas, including utilities procurement, research park management, human resources and academic and administrative computing, which represent 72 percent of the annual spending by administrative/service units.
Approximately $10 million in potential savings and cost avoidance have been identified thus far and officials expect to find an additional $10 million in commodities procurement, representing about 7 percent of the $141 million under study.
Several operational challenges are exacerbating the university’s financial stress, Stukel reported. While enrollment is at an all-time high of 70,000 FTE students, the university’s state appropriations and tuition income have shrunk 10 percent since FY02.
Between FY02 and FY04, the university has lost $232 million in spending capacity and $108 million from its annual budget base, Stukel said. In the wake of these cuts, approximately $22 million was reallocated from administrative/service units to support academic programs, preserving 425 FTE positions, including100 FTE faculty.
In other business, the trustees:
- Approved appointments to the Athletic Board: Ann Nardulli, molecular and integrative physiology; Laurence Parker, educational policy studies; Emily Watts, English; Marianne Dickerson, alumnus; and students Jamie Lynne Graves, Carol Mayer and Chezare Warren.
- Approved renaming the Post-Genomic Institute Building the Institute for Genomic Biology Building. The board also approved the establishment of a department of bioengineering and three new degree programs in bioengineering. The department of agricultural engineering also was renamed the department of agricultural and biological engineering, in accordance with current research and the focus of teaching within the department.