Thursday, February 18, 2010

Domestic Partner Benefits

As a good lesbian academic at a school with no domestic partner health insurance benefits, I have a google alert set up for the words "domestic partner benefits," and the number of times those words come up in stories related to universities and colleges might surprise you. Discussions are happening all over the country about adding domestic partner benefits, even in these bad economic times.

Health insurance benefits for domestic partners have been adopted in large public institutions in 30 states, and even more private institutions across the country. Some public university employees obtained benefits when their state adopted domestic partner benefits, such as employees of public institutions in Alaska and Wisconsin. Some of the latest additions are even a little hard to believe if you don't see it in print: the University of Alabama at Birmingham and University of Wyoming. The adoption of these benefits doesn't seem to be slowing: LGBT groups at state universities in Missouri, Kansas, and Texas are asking administrators to consider adding these benefits. The President of the University of Delaware has asked legislators to approve domestic partner benefits for state employees. The administrators at Syracuse, a private institution, are even considering "grossing up"--that is, paying employees who have domestic partners registered for insurance for the added tax costs of the imputed income.

Have we reached the tipping point? Are we going to see the quick and inevitable adoption of these benefits across the country?

Maybe, maybe not. It certainly hurt when the legislature and Governor of Arizona colluded to strip away recently provided domestic partner health benefits from state employees in fall 2009. Legislators in Alabama and Wyoming are trying to make it impossible for UAB and UW to provide benefits to domestic partners (see links above). The takeaway seems to be that obtaining a benefit and keeping it aren't the same thing.

So, what do you think? How long before all colleges and universities offer health insurance (or $/vouchers for insurance) for domestic partners?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Giving up the ghost post

As I have noted earlier, I am going to be on sabbatical next semester. With my decision to take that leave came my resignation from my current administrative position. I was very pleased to step down from this position, as I feel that I have implemented important projects, initiated improvements in policy and process, and shepherded the program through some difficult and challenging times. The program is running well, and students are succeeding in record numbers. The program is ready for some new blood, and I believed that I am ready for a new challenge.

I applied for another administrative post in my university, to start after my sabbatical had ended, but alas, that was not to be. So, after the sabbatical, I will be returning to faculty.

Since resuming the faculty role was not really my plan, I was initially quite put out about my new fate. I realize that I am losing my chance to: (1) change things that need changing in the department, (2) create new opportunities for students and colleagues to succeed, and (3) gain additional administrative experience that will help me continue to move up to higher administrative posts. And with the pitiful job market and the prospect of an approved sabbatical on the horizon next year, I am not much inspired to look for a new job on another campus.

Therefore, I am having to rethink my approach to my job and my personal goals. It hasn't been easy, but I have found that a return to faculty can be exciting in many ways. Let me count them:

1. I can work at home again, accommodating my own preferred sleep schedule and accomplishing way more writing than I seem to be able to manage in my office. Before I took the administrative position, I worked at home 2-3 days a week. Once I took on the administrative role, I was in the office/on campus 4-5 days a week.

2. I will have amazing amounts of (meeting-) free time, especially as my committee calendar is cleared for the sabbatical. Of course, committee assignments and requests will resurface, but it will take time to pile up, I am sure. And all of the extra meetings I attended because of my administrative role will be gone! (Now, of course, "free time" really translates to time for work, but that sorta feels like free time to me. I know... it is sick, but true.)

3. I will not have to make the difficult calls regarding students and instructors. In my current job, I am the person who has to recommend that students delay graduation, leave the major, or leave the university; I also recommend which instructors teach which courses, and which instructors should not be asked to teach again. As you can imagine, it isn't much fun. At some point, I thought a large part of my administrative role was handing tissues to crying students. While these are important functions, I never enjoy giving someone bad news, and I am happy to let someone else do that for a while.

4. I can focus on my research and writing again. I was lucky enough to get some good research and writing done during my tenure as an administrator, but my productivity lagged far behind my prior record when I was only serving as a faculty member. Perhaps with the additional time and focus, I can accomplish enough in the next few years to get a promotion to full professor.

And I cannot help but recognize that becoming a full professor would allow me to apply for more senior positions in departmental, college, and central administration, which has always been my ultimate goal. So, while I am taking a small detour from my intended route, the journey hopefully leads to the same place.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Praise all around

I am so impressed with everyone involved with the students protesting for LGBTQ equality and protections at the basketball game last Friday night at John Carroll University, a Jesuit University, I could hardly let it pass by without commenting.

First, kudos to the students (and some alumni) who protested the President's refusal to add sexual orientation to the school's employment nondiscrimination policy. They took the floor at halftime with dignity and grace before the second half started, singing "We are a gentle, angry people..." and holding signs for equality. They held their ground and, after some negotiation and with only token resistance, they left without incident before the clock noting the end of the halftime break sounded.

The incident was sparked by the President's message refusing to change the employment nondiscrimination policy in light of a faculty council resolution (and overwhelming faculty support) asking for the change. According to students writing on the activist Facebook page, the Board of Trustees met and no vote was taken on the resolution. The blog at the Cleveland Plain Dealer explains:

In his message earlier this week, [JCU President] Niehoff issued a lengthy explanation of his views that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people should be welcomed and respected at the university. He stopped short of recommending that the policy be changed, however, instead offering a "community standards statement" as a supplement to the policy.

The extra statement explains that discrimination is wrong and that "the Roman Catholic doctrine teaches us that such offenses are especially egregious when directed against the more vulnerable and marginalized members of the Community."

The section of the statement that has set off some students and faculty is one that, just after saying that the university calls on everyone to respect one another, states that the university reminds "members" of "the traditional Catholic moral teaching that properly locates sexual activity within the relationship of a man and a woman united for life through marriage as husband and wife."

The community statement goes on to say that because of the "imprecise legal definition of the terms involved," among other reasons, the university thinks it is unwise to include gay and lesbian people in the nondiscrimination policy.

And yet, despite the statement and in response to the protest, the President has agreed to meet with the protesting students today. I have great respect for that, so the President gets kudos as well.

Also impressive were the other students attending the game (two of whom took the video posted on youtube; you can hear one ask the other holding the camera phone, "Are you getting this?"), who were interested and not ugly to the protesters; the police, who stayed calm, DIDN'T use tasers or undue force, reasoned with the protesters, and let the process play out appropriately, even comforting one emotional protester as she was escorted off the court; the coaches and administrators, who spoke thoughtfully and with great care with the protesters (at least, that is what it looked like); and the basketball players, who seemed calm as they warmed up, while taking care to avoid stepping on, hitting, or otherwise bothering the protesters, who were seated at mid-court.

The protesting students are handling this issue so well, recognizing the strengths in the President's statement while pointing to the necessity of an actual policy. They have set up a Facebook site and are consistently trying to get their message out. The Plain Dealer quotes 2 students, saying:

Natalie Terry, a senior from Albany, N.Y., majoring in religious studies and one of the students who protested at the basketball game, said students were glad to see Niehoff's views that all students should be welcomed and treated with respect.

But the students are passionate in working to change the nondiscrimination policy. Andy Trares, a senior from Toledo majoring in sociology, said students who want to change the policy are not giving up.

"We know what our goal is and we're not going to stop until we achieve that goal," Trares said. "A community standards statement is not acceptable. While we, of course, want an open and welcoming community on campus, we also need tangible things and things that are concrete, and this nondiscrimination policy is one of those things."

The students and the administrators also handled the news media well; look at the interviews in the story on the local Fox news. I would hope that students at other schools wanting to engage in advocacy would view this protest, media management, FB page, and the responses they are getting and take notes on how to work for change. I also hope administrators and law enforcement would also look at the serious and respectful tone of the JCU response and recognize lessons they could apply to contentious issues in their own backyards. Kudos to the JCU community!