by Fernando Quintero
After years of organizing and lobbying by staff and faculty of Berkeley and the eight other UC campuses, the Board of Regents has voted to extend health care benefits to the domestic partners of UC employees.
The board also adopted a budget plan for 1998-99 that would restore faculty salaries to competitive levels, accommodate an additional 2,000 students and continue to provide students with the classes they need to graduate in a timely fashion.
At the Nov. 21 meeting held at UCLA, the Regents voted 13 to 12, with one abstention by Regent Velma Montoya, to authorize President Richard C. Atkinson to extend health care benefits to University of California employees "who are competent adults over the age of 18 in a long-term, committed domestic relationship who are precluded from marriage because they are of the same sex or are incapable under California law of a valid marriage because of family relationship."
"It's an exciting moment in history," said Jonathan Winters, a staff member and active participant in Berkeley's Multicultural, Bisexual Lesbian and Gay Alliance. "We have worked for four hard years on this issue, including a tremendous push in the last six months, organized on this campus and others.
The board also voted unanimously to refer to the Office of the President for further review the issue of student housing benefits for domestic partners.
The president will report his findings to the board for action.
After the vote, cheers rose from gay and lesbian UC employees in the audience.
"It's a real recognition of our status as part of the campus community and a recognition of the kind of discrimination we have endured up until now," said Winters.
"It was gratifying to see even the most conservative Republican regents were not pressed into service," added Winters, referring to Gov. Wilson's outspoken opposition to the domestic partners plan.
Voting in favor of the action were regents Atkinson, William T. Bagley, Roy T. Brophy, Cruz M. Bustamante, Ward Connerly, Gray
Davis, Delaine Eastin, Alice J. Gonzales, Meredith J. Khachigian, Judith Levin, Kathryn T. McClymond, Peter Preuss and Charles Soderquist.
Regents voting against the action were Carol Chandler, Frank W. Clark Jr., John G. Davies, S. Sue Johnson, John Hotchkis, Howard H. Leach, David S. Lee, S. Stephen Nakashima, Ralph M. Ochoa, Gerald L. Parsky, Tom Sayles and Gov. Wilson.
Atkinson first brought the proposal before regents in July, saying that offering medical, dental and vision care benefits to same-sex domestic partners would strengthen UC's ability to compete for faculty and staff without significantly increasing costs to the university.
Of eight universities UC uses for comparison purposes, four private institutions-Stanford, MIT, Yale and Harvard -and two of four public universities-the University of Michigan and SUNY Buffalo- offer health benefits to domestic partners of employees and retirees.
Based on the experience of other institutions and businesses, estimates of the cost of providing health benefits to same-sex partners would range from $1.9 million to $5.6 million a year.
Under the UC plan, partners must sign and file with the university an affidavit declaring that they meet UC's criteria and that they have shared a common residence for at least 12 consecutive months. They also must provide proof of mutual financial support.
A special enrollment period for domestic partner benefits is expected to be held in mid to late spring, with benefits effective sometime mid-year.
In calling for guidelines governing student housing, Atkinson noted that the changing nature of the student community and fluctuations in local housing markets have led students in different kinds of shared living arrangements to request student family housing. These requests typically come from undergraduate, graduate and professional students living with domestic partners or blood relatives-often a parent, brother or sister.
Guidelines should be developed, Atkinson said, that would allow campus chancellors, under their existing authority, to adjust eligibility for student family housing to meet local market conditions and the needs of individual campuses. This would include the accommodation of students living with domestic partners and blood relatives but continue to guarantee first priority for housing to students with children.
The budget adopted by the regents and submitted to the governor for his consideration calls for a 6.3 percent increase in state funding for next year, consistent with the governor's compact for higher education. That would raise UC's state funding by $135.2 million to $2.3 billion.
In addition, under AB 1318, which was adopted by the Legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year, up to $22 million in funding will be provided to UC to offset a 5 percent reduction next year in undergraduate student fees for California residents. The bill also calls for graduate and professional school student fees for California residents to be frozen for two years. Any action to increase out-of-state fees will be considered after the governor presents his state budget plan in January.
The 5 percent fee cut will reduce undergraduate student fees for California residents by $190 a year to $3,609 per year.
The combination of the proposed budget request and the funding from AB 1318 would mean an overall increase of 7 percent or $150.7 million in state support for UC next year. However, because the AB 1318 funding merely offsets a loss in student fee revenue, the university's overall spending would increase by only 5 percent. This does not take into account any funding that might be provided for over enrollment.
In addition, UC Budget Director Larry Hershman said the university will seek another $29 million from the state if funds become available for 4,000 students that UC currently enrolls but the state doesn't fund.
New initiatives in the budget, to be submitted to the governor for his consideration, include efforts to accelerate the university's technology investment. The centerpiece of the initiative is the development of the California Digital Library, which initially will develop computer links among the libraries within UC and then expand to include materials from other schools and museums, both public and private.
When completed, the California Digital Library will make the vast collections of the UC campuses available over the Internet to anyone with a computer and a modem.
The university is spending $1 million on the library project this year and proposes in the 1998-99 budget to spend another $1 million and seek a matching $3 million from the state. In addition to the library project, the budget requests $4 million for instructional technology. UC now spends more than $100 million annually on technology.
The plan also calls for moving ahead with planning for a 10th campus, the expansion of academic programs in the San Joaquin Valley, and placing special emphasis on repairing and renovating aging buildings.
"This budget is an assessment of what we need to meet our responsibilities to California and a blueprint of our aspirations for the future," said UC President Richard C. Atkinson. "Both are reflected in the initiatives and priorities this budget proposes for next year."
As the final step in a three-year plan to restore faculty salaries to competitive levels, the proposed budget calls for a 2.5 percent equity adjustment for faculty in addition to merit increases and funding equivalent to an average 2 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees.
The budget also calls for a $2 million increase in the Industry-University Cooperative Research program to speed the transfer of basic research into the market place.
"We hope to replicate the success story of the biotechnology industry-born of university-based research and fueled by a constant flow of ideas and talent from UC and other leading research institutions," Atkinson said.
A major effort will also be made to attract more students from all backgrounds to the university. UC now spends more than $60 million annually on outreach efforts.
If more state funds become available, UC will seek another $5 million for outreach beyond the base budget.