By Michael Wunder, News Editor
A tremendous effort pushing for the University of Nebraska’s adoption of Employee Plus One Benefits has been embraced system-wide—at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, the University of Nebraska Kearney, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Nebraska Omaha—with hopes of bringing the issue to this month’s Board of Regents meeting, where university decision makers could vote on the policy.
The effort to encourage Regents to approve the policy—which would extend affordable healthcare benefits to unmarried university employees’ partners—has been a collaboration between students and faculty across campuses to align the NU system with Big 10 and Summit League colleagues.
“With NU and UNO moving conferences, it really changes our national standing,” said UNO Arts and Sciences Sen. Terrence Batiste. “More specifically, we are the only institution in our current conference—the Summit League—that does not offer full benefits to the partners of employees. By adopting this measure, we illustrate to potential scholars that we are a place of understanding.”
Currently, benefits are provided only to spouses of NU employees.
Both UNL’s and UNO’s student and faculty senates have passed resolutions supporting the policy’s adoption. The resolutions do not mandate the policy, but instead urge the Regents’ approval.
The UNO Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution supporting the policy’s adoption in January, and, last year, former UNO Student Senator and Student Body President candidate Ryan Tefft introduced a resolution supporting the policy. The resolution stagnated, but Batiste took up the torch, re-introducing the resolution at a Sept. 15 Student Senate meeting amid a climate fostering support for the initiative.
“It took on a new meaning this year because ASUN—UNL’s Senate—took an interest in acting on it,” Batiste said. “Emily Schlichting, a senator from UNL, has been really pushing the whole initiative through the state university system.”
Batiste’s resolution passed, although not unanimously.
Tatiana Eskridge, a College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media senator, voted against the resolution.
“I did vote against the plus one resolution because I don’t believe that people who are not married should have the same rights and privileges as a married couple,” Eskridge said. “Marriage is hard and those who do it well and accomplish it are held up high in my book.”
The policy also does not distinguish between heterosexual and same-sex couples, with which Eskridge also disagrees.
“I also do not believe in the lifestyle of homosexuality,” Eskridge said. “I dearly care for and love my friends and family that are gay and I do not condemn them for how they choose to live their life, but I do not support it.”
Jon Van Kampen of UNO’s Queers and Allies chapter supports the policy because of the benefits it extends to people of any orientation and those who forego traditional marriage.
“Queers and Allies definitely supports the adoption of a plus one system,” Van Kampen said. “It’s a way to equitably provide an important benefit to employees of any orientation, because the benefits system wouldn’t be tied to marital status.”
Batiste said he re-introduced the resolution partly because UNO’s conference switch voided Tefft’s resolution, but also because of cognitive dissonance he was feeling from UNO’s informal acceptance of, but official indifference to, homosexual students and staff.
“As a gay man, our university not providing benefits to its employees confused me,” Batiste said. “I have always felt included and valued at this university. If that is the ethos of our university, then we should make it official.”
Inclusive benefits programs are in use not only in universities across the country, but also in a large swath of successful businesses. As of 2009, at least 83 percent of Fortune 100 companies and at least 59 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer some form of Employee Plus One Benefits, according to research done by the Human Rights Campaign.
Supporters of the policy also argue adopting inclusive benefits would make the university more competitive. “Expansion of benefits to any designated adult would be an attractive draw for recruiting and retaining faculty and staff in order to remain competitive in both university and private industry markets,” reads the UNO Faculty Senate’s resolution.
Batiste and other Student Government members will hold a rally to raise awareness of the issue Oct. 11 in the Milo Bail Student Center Plaza.
“We are absolutely having a rally,” Batiste said. “There will be speakers, a band, an inflatable slide, cotton candy and an online petition to sign.”
Both Van Kampen and Batiste are optimistic the Board of Regents will adopt the policy.
“I am optimistic that the Board of Regents will make the appropriate changes,” Batiste said. “The Board of Regents is a board of highly educated, reasonable people. The merits of this change are clear. It makes sense from not only a business point of view, but it’s also the right thing to do.”
The right thing to do, Batiste says, to bring the university into the present.
“By providing full benefits for employees’ partners we are not only righting a long overlooked wrong, we are signaling to young people that this is a place where they can fully grow and embrace their individuality,” Batiste said. “I truly believe that our university strives for equality and fairness. Let’s keep our institution honest, and make it official.”