AAUP forms LGBT group

Bryan Wroten

To better address sexual orientation issues of faculty and students, the AAUP formed a LGBT Faculty Concerns Committee.

Molly Merryman, chair of the new committee, said the group is in response to continued problems the union faces in trying to have domestic partner benefits at Kent State.

Merryman, assistant professor of justice studies at the Trumbull campus, said the other goal is to create a climate survey for the campuses to determine if homosexual faculty and students feel comfortable working and studying. The survey also would determine if they feel discriminated against and if the university addressed their concerns.

“It will be monitoring the university’s handling of the sexual orientation part of the discrimination clause,” she said.

She said she hopes the LGBT Faculty Concerns Committee will talk with LGBT former faculty and staff to see if they left because of discrimination.

Merryman said they also are “looking to see if people don’t come here because of that.”

Deb Smith, chair of the AAUP action committee, said the LGBT Faculty Concerns Committee is an extension of her work with the action committee. It came together after the negotiations from last spring were not going well, she said.

She said she has talked with PRIDE!Kent about domestic partner benefit issues and keeping them informed about work the AAUP has done in the past.

“The perception that students seem to have is that the union wasn’t doing anything,” she said, “which isn’t true.”

She said the committee will continue to push for domestic partner benefits at Kent State. The main benefit in this issue is health insurance. There are others, called soft benefits, such as free classes for partners.

Smith said Issue 1 made it illegal for states to grant legal status to same-sex couples. It is possible for Kent State to offer domestic partner benefits.

“As we read the details,” she said, “it allows for partner benefits in public institutions through collective bargaining.”

Collective bargaining, she said, is what unions do in contract negotiations on behalf of the union members for benefit packages with the university. She said the AAUP has tried to attain domestic partner benefits since the 1990s.

“If we had received them in the contracts, it would have been through collective bargaining,” she said. “They (the university) are able to give us benefits whenever they like. They don’t need our permission.”

Merryman said while the LGBT Faculty Concerns Committee will focus on domestic partner benefits, she said she also wanted to make it clear students will have a voice as well.

“There’s no representation for students outside of what students provide for themselves,” she said.

Contact religion and minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].