Domestic partner benefits at KSU still a possibility

Brian Wroten

The AAUP and PRIDE!Kent say domestic partner benefits still are possible regardless of Issue 1.

Kent State administration, however, disagrees.

Domestic partner benefits have been an issue since 1993, said Deborah Smith, AAUP action committee chairwoman, when the faculty union argued that not offering benefits to domestic partners is sexual discrimination under Affirmative Action. She said the union lost this case.

Since then, Smith said the AAUP has tried numerous times to make the university offer domestic partner benefits. The main reason behind their efforts is the health insurance aspect of employee benefits.

“My husband is insured under my Kent insurance,” Smith said. “I pay a little bit more, but it is far cheaper than getting a policy of his own.”

Smith said this is one reason why some gay and lesbian faculty members have left the university in the past.

The administration does, however, recognize this problem.

“It is generally not to the benefit of employers to do this,” said David Creamer, vice president of administration. “It’s hard to attract the quality workers.”

Creamer said the university cannot offer domestic partner benefits because Issue 1 is a constitutional amendment that precludes it from giving the benefits.

“Legally, we can’t provide certain things that would be suggested by the domestic partner benefits,” he said.

The loss of employees should also be a concern among students, PRIDE!Kent president Christopher Taylor said. He said the departments are losing their diverse instructors the students need. For this reason, he said students should support the faculty and AAUP.

There are some plans in the works, Taylor said, but none are set in stone yet. He said they are talking about letters, petitions and direct protests.

“We will support the faculty,” he said. “We are totally behind them.”

He added he hopes other student organizations will back the faculty as well.

The AAUP has tried conventional means to receive domestic partner benefits. They have been a negotiating point for years now, Smith said, though it was never the university that offered them.

In meetings with President Carol Cartwright, Smith said the AAUP discussed the benefits issue extensively. In 1994, Smith said Cartwright was wary of offering the benefits because it would make Kent State the first Ohio university to do so.

Two years later, Smith said Cartwright promised to offer the benefits if other Ohio universities provided them first. In 2000, the Kent State chapter of the AAUP learned of a similar conditional in contracts at Cleveland State.

“We tried to get the conditional,” Smith said. “We were told ‘we’re behind you’ so there was no need to put this in the contracts.”

In 2004, Ohio University and Miami University are the first universities in Ohio to offer domestic partner benefits. Smith said the AAUP expected Kent State to follow these examples, but it did not happen. The vote on Issue 1 neared and Smith said the AAUP tried to push forward with discussions on benefits.

However, negotiations went past the Nov. 2 vote and domestic partner benefits were no longer available.

Cartwright said although the university is interested in supporting domestic partners, it could not yet offer the benefits.

“We were unable to get the contract with the AAUP tenure track faculty wrapped up before the vote on Issue 1 in November of 2004,” Cartwright said. “After Issue 1 passed, we received instructions from the Ohio Attorney General that we were not permitted to move forward on our plans.”

This was not the end of domestic partner benefits at Kent State, however. Vice Provost Gayle Ormiston said there is a side-letter in the current faculty contract that states the university would provide benefits should the Ohio Supreme Court rule domestic partner benefits constitutional.

Smith said the side-letter is not what the AAUP wanted. She said she does not believe it will prove helpful because of all the steps necessary to reach a supreme court ruling.

“Even if it reaches the Supreme Court, it could decide the lower court is right,” Smith said. “That’s not ruling on the case.”

Cartwright said the reason why it is specifically the Supreme Court is Issue 1 is a constitutional amendment. She said it is a legal determination that the Supreme Court rules on these matters.

PRIDE!Kent will work with the AAUP on this matter, Taylor said. They will try to raise awareness among the students of Kent State, he said, because educating them on this should increase their support.

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