Saying no to domestic partner benefits

Adam Griffiths

I somehow never imagined feeling depressed the day Kent State ended its cockeyed silence in the discussion of domestic partner benefits. But as editor-in-chief of Fusion magazine, Kent State’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues student magazine, I can’t help but see the duality of what should be a celebrated victory.

As the university presented a contract extension offer to the Faculty Union last week, domestic partner benefits and a 3 percent raise in contract salaries were offered in exchange for a one-year stay of negotiations.

President Lester Lefton’s rationale for this offer seems understandable. One year will allow everyone involved to ascertain “a better sense of the economy and a better sense of the budget for the state,” especially after Monday’s announcement of Chancellor Eric Fingerhut’s vision to improve Ohio’s higher education.

“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,” Lefton told the Daily Kent Stater yesterday.

Wait a second.

Less than a month ago, Lefton told Fusion reporter and Stater forum editor Rachel Abbey domestic partner benefits would be more emblematic than practical. Since the beginning of his time at Kent State, he has repeatedly told Stater reporters the benefits are illegal under Issue 1, the state constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman in 2004.

“Clearly, a number of individuals would like to see domestic partner benefits provided as a benefit to employees, and for a small number of people, this would be very meaningful,” he said.

“For a larger number of people, it would be symbolically meaningful.”

The discrimination present in this kind of logic is unacceptable, and these policies are preventing Kent State from attracting the best faculty and staff to provide its students with the best educational experience possible.

Minority issues are being used as a political trump card to stall an inevitable negotiation process. It is ridiculous that the administration of Ohio’s third largest public university is trying to stage such an obvious maneuver to buy more time in preparation for negotiations.

It’s time to tell university officials we’re not going to stand by and celebrate success as they attempt to stall and overcome their own inadequacies. This proposal is an insult to the university community. We have operated too long under a hesitant governing body that refuses to deal with issues upfront. We can no longer sit back and accept such an offensive way of solving problems that no one seems to want to discuss in an open setting.

I’m sorry, but I thought Kent State was a public university that fostered excellence and diversity. Delivering a quick-fix response to a complicated dialogue promotes nothing but continual ignorance and harmful unconcern.

That is why I’m calling upon Kent’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors and the faculty as a whole to reject this historic offer of domestic partner benefits. Until the university is willing to present and consider these options as part of the contract negotiations due this summer, this pacification is nothing more than a ploy to appease an integral part of the group’s demands.

If we have to wait a little bit longer to begin retaining and attracting the best faculty for our students, so be it. It’s funny. The university throws up roadblock after roadblock in this battle for domestic partner benefits even in the manner through which they have offered the benefits themselves. It’d be far too easy to do this through traditional means and avoid speculation as to the true motive for this suspicious deal.

I never thought I’d be discouraging a step in the right direction for the advancement of LGBT rights. But it’s not enough to “symbolically” offer benefits. To the Board of Trustees: Support the decision forthright, or retreat back into an enclave of closed doors and no comment.

The cost to Kent State’s excellence and integrity is, otherwise, too great.

Adam Griffiths is a sophomore information design major, the editor-in-chief of Fusion magazine and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]. Read Rachel Abbey’s story, “On the path to domestic partner benefits in Ohio,” in this semester’s issue of Fusion, due out April 25.