RAY PFEIFFER/Herald photo

In an effort to retain and attract quality staff members, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted Thursday to ask for domestic partner benefits for university faculty members.

The regents unanimously approved their 2007-2009 unclassified pay plan, which also asked for a 5.23 percent employee salary increase each year over the next two biennia.

At a total cost of $96 million over the next two years, the regents asked the state to support the entire pay plan in an effort to prevent raising tuition for students.

Regent Chuck Pruitt, who chairs the Business, Finance and Audit committee, said the quality of a UW education depends on the quality of its employees.

"The evidence is clear that our best and brightest are targets of other universities — private and public — in other states," Pruitt said. "Often when they leave, they leave behind not only disappointed students and colleagues, but they also take with them hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in outside grants."

The best way to retain faculty is to prevent them from wanting to leave, Pruitt added, saying it's important to stay competitive.

UW System President Kevin Reilly expressed concern with the levels at which UW employees are paid, saying their salaries lag behind those at other institutions.

"Our superb faculty and staff deserve competitive pay for their life-changing work," Reilly said. "This pay plan proposal I put in front of you today will not get them there in the coming biennium, but it will at least get them about halfway there in the next two years."

Reilly also pleaded with the governor and state Legislature to amend state statutes to provide for domestic partner benefits, calling it an issue of basic human fairness and the ability to stay globally effective.

UW-Madison library and information studies chair Louise Robbins told the regents the number of individuals applying to her department is decreasing because of the lack of domestic partner benefits and lower pay compared to other institutions.

"Over time, UW-Madison has become less and less competitive in the market for excellent faculty members," Robbins said. "The reasons for this are many, but the most obvious and perhaps the easiest with which to deal is faculty compensation that falls substantially … below our peer groups."

The regents briefly addressed concerns about the state's gay-marriage amendment, which voters affirmed in November banning gay marriage and the recognition of similar partnerships.

The amendment's author, Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, said in a previous interview with The Badger Herald that the ban does not necessarily prevent domestic partner benefits.

"If done correctly, the amendment would not preclude those benefits," Gundrum said.

Regents require background checks

As part of their meeting Thursday, the Business, Finance and Audit committee approved a resolution requiring background checks of all new UW employees.

Alan Crist, UW System associate vice president for human relations, told the committee that, to date, no consistent policy is present to provide guidance to all UW schools safeguarding rights to individuals seeking employment and ensuring the safety of students, faculty and resources.

"Now, more than ever, we are living in a time when we are under … public scrutiny," Crist said. "Demands for accountability continue to expand and become more exact."

Crist estimated the cost of the background checks would be about $200,000 to $250,000, or roughly $20-25 per faculty member.

Pruitt acknowledged the faculty senates at campuses in Madison, Parkside and Superior were against the proposal while senates in Milwaukee, Platteville and River Falls had "concerns." However, the faculty representation at Stevens Point, Stout and Wisconsin Colleges were in support of it.

UW-Madison University Committee Chair Robert Mathieu, who serves on the faculty senate, was unavailable for comment on the decision Thursday.

Other regent business

The Business, Finance and Audit committee also adjusted the requirement for recognition of student organizations on UW campuses Thursday.

If approved by the full board, student organizations could limit membership to those who support the organization's goals and beliefs. In the past, no group could discriminate against any individual. However, an organization still would not be allowed to exclude people based on race, religion, age, sexual orientation or other factors.

According to UW System general counsel Patricia Brady, conflicts have come up on campuses statewide, prompting for the change.

In addition, the committee approved the salary adjustments for chancellors at UW-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Parkside.

Reilly called for the increases while praising the accomplishments and reputations of Chancellors Bruce Shepard in Green Bay, Richard Wells in Oshkosh and John Keating at Parkside.

With board approval today, the three chancellors would receive raises between $8,000 and $15,000.

Despite the increase, according to UW System data, the chancellors' salaries would remain below the midpoint recommended by the regents as well as their peer median.