Our view: a long time coming

Miami University and Ohio University both did it in July 2004. Cleveland State and Youngstown State did it later that year. Ohio State, the school with the largest campus in the nation, did it in 2005.

And now Kent State is doing it. Maybe.

Yesterday, the Kent State chapter of the American Association of University Professors released to Kent State faculty an informal proposal from the university that would extend the current contract one year and raise current salaries 3 percent. The major part of the proposal was extending domestic partner benefits – same and opposite sex – to faculty.

If the AAUP accepts the offer, Kent State would join those Ohio universities and four others, becoming the ninth of 13 public universities in the state to provide domestic partner benefits.

The university made the proposal a week ago. Friday, the union presented the proposal to its council. As of yet, AAUP has made no decision.

So it’s good that Kent State is putting this on the table for its faculty. It would extend to unmarried couples the full benefits married couples enjoy.

The timing of the university’s offer, however, is curious.

The standard faculty contract negotiations, which take place every three years, are scheduled to start late this spring. If AAUP accepts the offer, it would put negotiations off for one more year.

Lefton said in an interview with the Stater yesterday that extending the contract will allow the university to gauge a better sense of the economy and state budget before entering negotiations. Makes sense. With the uncertainty of the economy, the recent unveiling of Fingerhut’s 10-year higher education plan and the current tuition freeze, it’s probably not a bad idea to try to hold off for a while.

But could the partner benefits be just a pawn for the university to use to buy some time?

In the past, President Lefton has said multiple times that under the state’s constitution, offering such benefits would be illegal.

Before Lefton, President Cartwright said if another Ohio public university extended domestic partner benefits, Kent State would consider doing likewise. When Miami University did, Kent State didn’t.

When an Ohio judge tossed out a lawsuit against Miami University challenging their extension of domestic benefits in November 2006, Lefton said the university’s position hadn’t changed, and wouldn’t until the language of the state constitution was changed.

It hasn’t. But the university’s stand on the issue has.

We’re wondering why. Unfortunately, Lefton declined yesterday to comment on the university’s reasoning. It’s great that he changed his mind. He may have good reason for keeping quiet, for the moment, on the issue. But it makes us wonder just a little bit. Should the AAUP decline this offer, standard negotiations will commence. Will partner benefits still be on the negotiation table?

We sure hope so.

But right now the issue is still AAUP’s decision. It’s something they’ve been fighting to get for so long. Is this a good deal for them? It seems like it’s being offered in a backhanded way. Does it matter if it is?

This is what AAUP has to decide. We don’t have the answer.

We just hope that ultimately, the right thing happens and domestic partner benefits are made available to Kent State.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.