Human Resource Services

Health care premiums for employees of American higher-education institutions are on the rise, according to a survey, and the University of Texas is implementing a slightly higher premium for employees this year.

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources surveyed 415 colleges and universities nationwide; of which 24 percent were private religious institutions, 28 percent were private institutions and 48 percent were public. UT did not participate in the survey.

The cost of the University‘s health care plan increased by a few dollars, according to the University’s Human Resource Services website. In terms of medical out-of-pocket cost for full-time employees, the cost of insurance for subscriber and spouse increased by $9.48 per month. The cost for subscriber and children increased by $9.91 per month, and the cost for subscriber and family increased by $18.66 per month.

“The increases are less for next year than I thought they were going to be, to tell you the truth,” said David Warner, a public affairs professor who specializes in health insurance and health finance.

There was talk during the most recent legislative session of substantial cuts in the amount the University would cover, Warner said. He said he expected there to be a much higher deductible or much higher premium compared to last year.

“Costs will have a relatively modest increase at least from the point of view of UT employees,” he said.

With health care costs on the rise, not all colleges are managing to extend benefits to partners and spouses of employees. Of colleges participating in the survey, 56 percent offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees, and 43 percent do so for opposite-sex partners, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Samantha Perry, current chair of the Competitive Insurance Benefits Committee for the Pride and Equality Faculty and Staff Association, said the former chair had several talks with UT President William Powers Jr. last year regarding bereavement leave benefits.

“Leave policies are under final legal review with the University with sick and bereavement leave [included]. The policies are basically sitting on the desk of the administration [and have been] since last fall,” Perry said.

The issue the administration is citing is they’re getting budget cuts, she said, but the benefits the committee is asking for would let the partner pay money into the UT system for benefits. She said the committee’s only options are to ask for benefits and demonstrate that the University is losing faculty and staff and, eventually, students.

Keith Walters, an applied linguistics professor at Portland State University, and the former associate director of UT’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said in a 2008 report by the insurance benefits association that he left the University because “the administration had no interest in finding a way to provide benefits for the partners of lesbian and gay staff and faculty.”

Human Resource Services workers have written and submitted draft leave policies which are currently in the review process. This involves a review by a policy committee made up of employees from across campus. The draft will also require legal review and a review by the UT System, said Debra Kress, acting director for Human Resource Services.

“[Domestic leave] programs to support employees with family problems shouldn’t stop with a marriage certificate,” said Julien Carter, former associate vice president for Human Resource Services, to The Daily Texan in December 2010. “These safety net programs need to be expanded to cover modern definitions of what a family is. It comes down to issues of fairness and equity,”

Additional reporting by Will Alsdorf

Staff Council passed a resolution on Thursday calling for Human Resource Services to provide comprehensive, easy-to-access information about the layoff process in response to repeated complaints of anxiety and confusion. As UT slashes budgets and departments continue to lay off employees, staff feel helpless against the sea change, council representatives said. The resolution requests that UT’s Human Resource Services provide an online look at the steps departments have to follow to lay off an employee, an outline of benefits they can receive and information about how losing one’s job can influence an employee’s retirement plan. Erika Frahm, chairwoman of the job security ad hoc committee, said when staff members feel there is information not being made available to them or that they cannot find, confusion can lead to stress and anxiety. Both the layoff process and the job evaluation process can create stress for workers, she said. “We felt that if people understood what information is there, then that would let them be more proactive and they wouldn’t feel powerless,” Frahm said. Human Resource Services is on board with the resolution and will get started right away, said Julien Carter, associate vice president for the department. “We very much appreciate their advice and viewpoint of things they want to see highlighted on our website, so we’ll make it a priority to implement their suggestions,” Carter said. The job security ad hoc committee aims to pass two more initiatives — one to create a guidebook for employees who get laid off and another to write a set of recommendations for UT President William Powers Jr. in regard to staff management. The committee is working faster than most, trying to get resolutions passed by early spring. From September 2009 to June 2010, UT laid off 273 employees because of budgetary constraints, according to human resources data. With a possible 10-percent budget cut affecting the 2012-13 biennium and an additional 2- to 3-percent cut going into effect this biennium, the University will have to lay off hundreds of employees in the next few years. At Thursday’s meeting, the council also requested HRS provide online information about the performance evaluation process, including a simplified version of the evaluation policy, how to obtain evaluation records and how to contest discrepancies and guidelines for productive dialogue between employees and managers. All the information should be available in both English and Spanish, according to the request. Communication is essential in times of crisis, and the council’s efforts only bolster communication, said Staff Council Chairman Ben Bond. “Even for people who aren’t affected by layoffs, having the information helps prepare them, because it could happen,” Bond said. “Plus, odds are they know people who are being laid off. It helps them understand what they’re going through.” Anxiety among UT staff members is the council’s first priority, and the resolution will aid staff members if they do not fully understand the processes or have faith that department heads are cutting for the benefit of the entire University, said Jennifer McClain, a staff council member and senior administrative associate in the Division of Housing and Food Service. “Being able to outline how the procedure works will not only let people know that it is being looked at, but that we’re actually considering as many options as possible,” McClain said. “We’re not going to change the fact that the budget is a problem and that we don’t have enough money, but at least people won’t be so fearful.”