Editor's Note: Guest blogger Chad Tew is an associate professor of online journalism at the University of Southern Indiana.
The University of Southern Indiana Board of Trustees should vote for domestic partner benefits instead of putting off the issue until another day, which was what the board did at its May meeting. The board should put the issue back on its agenda or risk being seen as political.
At the May meeting, attorney Ted Ziemer Jr. tabled the issue without discussion on grounds that the benefit may not be legal as it covers same-sex partners. Nobody can take that objection seriously. Indiana University has had a similar benefit since 2001, and it has never been legally challenged. In fact, all of the other four-year public institutions of higher education in Indiana now have the benefit except for USI. None of them have ever been challenged.
The faculty senate, of which I am a member, has been behind this proposal since 2001-2002. However, at that time, USI had structured its health care differently from the other state universities, which made offering the benefit more costly for USI compared with IU, Purdue University, Ball State University or Indiana State University. That obstacle has since been corrected, and USI is now in the same position as its peers and is poised to offer the benefit.
Now the faculty senate, the staff council, the university benefits committee and the president all support offering the benefits package. All that stands in the way is board approval.
The domestic partner benefit issue is the only one that President H. Ray Hoops has ever put before the USI Board that has been set aside. By putting the issue back on the agenda, the board would eliminate questions about why this issue was tabled.
Moreover, this issue will not go away, and continuing to take inaction would only harm the university's image.
A Variety of Reasons
Those of us who are supporters of this benefit stand behind it for a variety of reasons.
First, the president is behind it because it's a good business decision. The package keeps USI competitive as an employer with all of the other four-year state universities, as well as other universities in the region. Even the University of Evansville and some other private universities in the state offer the benefit.
Universities hire from a select pool of people who have the right specialization and who hold the qualifications to match the university's needs. Every additional tool helps. This one is seen as necessary by those who do the hiring. It is the duty of the board of trustees to act in the university's long-term interest and keep USI competitive.
Second, we have been losing our colleagues to other universities and even to businesses because they offer the benefit and we don't. I know three people in the last three years who have left because they could go to other universities or private companies to get the benefit. Those are just people in my social circle. And more people interviewing for a job at USI now ask about the benefit. But we don't have it.
Let's look at what the marketplace offers. When a person evaluates employers, that person sees other universities and more than half of all Fortune 500 companies offering the benefit. Among important state and local employers to offer the benefit are AIG, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cummins, Ely Lilly, SABIC (formerly GE Plastics) and others. We should also take note that Scripps Howard, the parent company of the Evansville Courier & Press, offers the benefit. Even the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library offers the benefit, and it has since the mid-1980s.
Third, we should expect to work in fair workplaces. Those who can legally marry in Indiana can get benefits for their spouses. Those who cannot legally marry and who do the same work should be offered the same benefits for their partners that are currently present in the marketplace. The same benefit for the same work is a fair practice.
Fourth, the values of the university are expressed in its nondiscrimination policy, through the USI Creed, and in daily routine practice at the workplace. These values would guide the board to approve of the package.
Fifth, USI is a public state university. Religious opinions should not be the basis for deciding a matter of business for the public university.
Sixth, homophobia is another common reason behind opposition to the benefit. We should reject those who for their backward and hateful thinking would have us turn our backs to those who work at our side as colleagues and friends but who are gay or lesbian.
Seventh, and if the board still doesn't raise the matter for an up or down vote, then we can only conclude that the board risks being seen as political. This would be a serious reversal of precedent in the long-standing tradition of board of trustees for institutions of public and higher education in Indiana.
Members of the USI Board, we look for you to do the right thing. Put the issue back on the agenda. It is up to you to do that. And then vote yes for domestic partner benefits.