KSU offers domestic partner benefits

One-year contract extension would also offer raises

The university has made an informal offer to raise contract salaries and allow domestic partner benefits in a one-year extension of the current contract with the Kent State chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

The university released the proposal one week ago, before this year’s official negotiations.

President Lester Lefton said the university made this offer to the union to extend the contract, which has not yet been accepted. He said the union initially said no to the contract extension but is now reconsidering.

Kent State has not withdrawn the offer yet, but Lefton said the university will establish a time frame for the union to reach a decision.

“If they don’t accept it, we’ll go into standard negotiations, which we do every three years,” he said.

Lefton said extending the contract for one year will allow for a “better sense of the economy and a better sense of the budget for the state” before entering into contract negotiations.

“We’re living in a very uncertain time, and it’s our hope that the union will see it’s to our mutual advantage – both the university’s and the union’s – to extend the contract for one year,” he said.

Deborah Smith, grievance chair for the AAUP-KSU, said the organization is in the early stages of considering the proposal.

“We don’t know if we’ll accept the offer or not,” she said. “We have no clear sense of what the faculty response is. We’re giving ourselves a couple more weeks to feel things out.”

Smith said the current offer is an abbreviated version of what actual negotiations would include, but is in line with the AAUP’s view on domestic partnership benefits.

“We’ve been trying to get domestic partner benefits for decades,” she said. “We’re glad the university is willing to even put them on the table.”

In the past, Lefton said Kent State could not offer domestic partner benefits because it violates the Ohio Constitution. He said he would not comment about why the university reversed its decision to offer them.

Molly Merryman, associate professor of justice studies, said she began working toward domestic partnership benefits in 1996 by forming a committee of interested faculty and staff.

The committee was not successful in negotiating domestic partner benefits with former President Carol Cartwright, Merryman said. In response to the negotiations, Merryman said that Cartwright made a promise to consider the issue only after other Ohio public universities offered these benefits, in fear of possible backlash from the state legislature if Kent were the first.

But after other universities began to offer domestic partner benefits, Kent State failed to follow suit.

Shortly after Lefton became president, Merryman said the committee met with him to discuss issues surrounding these benefits. At the time, she said Lefton indicated his support of exploring options.

“I believe that this extension of the offer is a reflection of the commitment that (Lefton) made in that meeting over a year ago,” Merryman said.

She said she’s read over the proposal and is pleased with the way the university outlines domestic partnership benefits. Having these benefits, she said, is important for creating an inclusive environment within the university.

“This is what we’ve been working for, for 10 years,” she said. “Having equal health benefits has been a critical issue. To have one minority population that isn’t receiving the same salary and benefits that everyone else is receiving, that’s discrimination. To be able to correct that is a goal we’ve had for a long time.”

Dan Nadon, co-coordinator of LGBT studies, said this proposal regarding domestic partnership benefits is unlike any other made at the university, in that the university administration is backing it.

“I’m very hopeful,” he said, “most especially because when you have an administration and a president that is behind this change and embracing it, in spite of the law that exists in Ohio, it just makes it a positive place to work, and offers us the feeling of value and inclusion as LGBT faculty.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected], minority affairs reporter Christina Stavale at [email protected] and administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].