COLUMBIA — The question of whether the University of Missouri System should extend benefits to partners of same-sex employees was settled with a single word: "Aye."
The UM System Board of Curators voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to extend benefits to same-sex partners of system employees if they meet certain criteria. The measure was part of a larger set of changes to the university’s regulations governing employee health benefits.
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One of those changes added “sponsored adult dependents” as a new category of people who can be eligible for employee medical, dental, vision and life insurance, as well as accidental death and dismemberment insurance, starting in 2014.
"The adult-sponsored dependents will cover same-sex couples who do meet the criteria," said John Fougere, chief communications officer for the UM System.
To gain benefits, a sponsored adult dependent must:
- Have had the same principal residence as the employee or retired employee for at least 12 months and continue to have the same principal residence as the employee or retired employee, disregarding temporary absences because of special circumstances including illness, education, business, vacation or military service.
- Be 18 years of age or older.
- Not be currently married to another person under either statutory or common law.
- Not be related to the employee or retired employee by blood or a degree of closeness that would prohibit marriage in the law of the state in which the employee or retired employee resides.
- Not be eligible for Medicare.
The move to allow benefits for partners of employees came after years of requests by faculty groups across the university system. Over the past few years, faculty councils on all four campuses passed resolutions recommending that the system allow same-sex partners an equal share of benefits.
In the end, the curators piggy-backed this rule change with several other changes related to new requirements in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which would require the system to increase coverage for certain part-time employees.
An estimated 500 part-time system employees would gain coverage, said Betsy Rodriguez, UM System vice president for human resources. Expanding coverage to comply with the act will keep the university from receiving a $39 million fine from the federal government, she said.
“We don’t plan to get even close to that fine,” Rodriguez told the board.
Rodriguez also said she would be setting up an ad hoc task force to examine system employees’ retirement and benefit plans. The 16-member task force will start meeting in July. Its role will be offering Rodriguez recommendations about employee benefits and retirement plans and helping her communicate changes in these benefits to employees, retirees and dependents.
Salary increases for some MU employees might also be on the horizon. In his presentation of MU’s five-year strategic plan to the board, Chancellor Brady Deaton said the university will be using the Association of American Universities' ranking as a benchmark to gauge MU’s success.
Deaton said the university administration’s goal is to move MU up in the association's ranking. This would mean offering more competitive salaries in some fields, Deaton said.
“We feel that we cannot effectively recruit the best of the best unless we commit to an increase of salary to a reasonable level compared to other AAU schools,” Deaton said.
Curator Don Downing praised Deaton for this move.
“Chancellor, you’ve done a great job rebuilding the infrastructure of the campus,” Downing said. “But I’m glad to see the focus now is on faculty and staff and getting the salaries up to where they need to be.”
The curators undertook otherissues during their Thursday session:
- Operating budget
The Curators examined the operating budget for the 2014 fiscal year. Revenues grew from $2.77 billion last year to $2.89 billion, and expenditures grew from $2.67 billion to $2.76 billion. As with last year, 19 percent of revenue is projected to come from tuition and fees. The system plans to request $494.5 million from the legislature, an increase of 1 percentage point of the total budget compared to last year.
- Building improvements
The curators also examined requests for capital improvement funds from the legislature. Nikki Krawitz, UM System vice president for finance and administration, said the system will be requesting $194 million for critical repairs for all four campuses, though there is a $1.3 billion backlog of renovation and repair projects.
“State funding for capital improvement projects has been episodic, political and unpredictable,” Krawitz said.
At MU, the projects Krawitz said needed most urgent attention are the Lafferre Hall, which houses part of the College of Engineering, a new School of Music and performing arts facility, and renovation and addition to Arvah E. Strickland Hall.
- Renovation approval
The curators also voted to approve renovation projects for Jesse and Swallow halls. Pickard Hall, which houses the Museum of Art History and Archaeology, was not on the list of projects the curators could approve at this meeting.
They also voted to improve a group of buildings centered around the Pavilion at Dobbs dining hall. The Dobbs project includes demolishing the dining hall and Jones Residence Hall and building two residential halls containing 570 beds and a new dining facility with up to 750 seats. Dobbs will remain open while the new dining hall is under construction.
The Board of Curators will meet again Friday morning for a closed session starting at 8 a.m. At 9 a.m., it will resume its public session, followed by a news conference at about 11:30 a.m.
Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.