Proudly stepping out into the community...

JUNE 25, 2004 - Marcum Center Conference Room
Before finishing my report, I have an announcement I would like to make pertaining to an enhancement of our benefits package. Specifically, I would like to announce that, beginning July 1, the university will make health insurance benefits available to the domestic partners of benefit-eligible employees.
As you know, changes in benefits do not require board action. However, because of the sensitive nature of this issue, which has been discussed for many years on our campus, I know the Miami community would very much like to learn the trustees’ opinions. Obviously, I hope the board will consider affirming this action.

Let me therefore set the context by summarizing the long history of this topic on our campuses.

Fourteen years ago, the university convened a “Domestic Partner Benefits Task Force,” chaired by Professor Paul Anderson, to study the subject. The committee reported its findings to the community in November 1992. Among its other findings, the committee observed that the cost of such benefits would be very modest.

A year and a half later, in April 1994, the University Senate passed a resolution calling for domestic partner benefits. This resolution was then formally supported by the Faculty Assembly the following September.

During my eight years at Miami, members of the faculty and of advocacy groups have met with me numerous times to express their continuing support for domestic partner benefits.

In recent years, department chairs and deans have repeatedly expressed concerns to me that the lack of these benefits was harming our ability to recruit and retain faculty members.

On February 9 of this year, the University Senate passed a second resolution on the subject, by a vote of 45 to 1. This resolution stated in part that “The Miami University Senate reaffirms its long-standing position that benefits be awarded to domestic partners of Miami University employees.” 
The resolution also correctly observed that the Ohio Defense of Marriage Act did not prohibit public universities from granting such benefits, and it further noted that the granting of benefits falls within the purview of boards of trustees.

In addition to the Senate resolution, in this year alone I have received resolutions from 17 academic departments and programs, all of them urging the university to act to offer domestic partner benefits.

During the past year, the Associated Student Government Senate endorsed domestic partner benefits this April by a 33 –2 vote, with 4 abstentions.
There are several reasons for this strong showing of support for domestic partner benefits by members of the university community. To many, the primary issue is one of fairness and equity of treatment of university employees.

On the other hand, university communities do not speak with one voice, and I want to acknowledge that there are also people here who oppose the idea. I know we have all received emails and letters from persons expressing this minority viewpoint.  Obviously the broader topic of gay rights is a matter of significant public interest and debate, and that debate takes place on this campus, just as it does in the society at large.

However, setting aside personal beliefs, it is clear to me that domestic partner benefits has important practical implications for the university and, specifically, for our ability to recruit and retain talented employees. 

And in this regard, I am not speaking just of the small number of faculty and staff who would take advantage of this benefit, but also of the much greater number who support the idea and for whom this issue is clearly an important matter of principle.
Obviously, this is one of those situations where we cannot please everybody. However, I am persuaded that the larger good will be served by our responding affirmatively to the requests from these many groups.  I have no doubt that this modest change in our benefits package will be a tangible factor as we recruit new people to the campus in the coming years.

This is not an opinion held only by myself. The impact on recruitment has been has been widely discussed nationally, both by universities, and also by municipalities and businesses. It is a key reason why such benefits are today offered by more than 150 universities, including 75% of the top-ranked national universities.

Same-sex benefits are also offered by nearly 40% of Fortune 500 companies and nearly 60 % of Fortune 100 companies, and the numbers are growing each year. The concept has clearly moved into the mainstream, and I believe it is time the university responded to that reality.

Now let me tell you specifically what we have in mind. Our plan is to extend our family benefits package to the same-sex domestic partners of benefits-eligible faculty and staff members. Unmarried heterosexual couples will not be covered, because they always have the option of marriage.
To qualify for this benefit, employees will be required to file an “affidavit of domestic partnership,” which certifies that the employee is in a long-term, committed relationship with his or her domestic partner.

I know the trustees are always concerned about costs. Research by Mercer Human Resource Consulting shows that typically fewer than 0.5% of faculty and staff members use same-sex partner benefits if available.  We estimate the costs to Miami of this benefit to be about to $50,000 to $100,000 per year. To place this range into context, Miami's total benefits budget exceeds $50 million, and our health insurance alone costs about $22 million.
Let me finish by observing that this subject has not only been a longstanding campus issue, but also, for many on both sides, it has been a very emotional issue.
However, as I think about the debate that has taken place during my years at Miami, I must say that I am extraordinarily proud of the high level of campus discourse on this topic. Members of our community, no matter what their views, have invariably treated each other with respect and courtesy.

Furthermore, I want to add that the advocates for this benefit have also shown great patience. While their support has never wavered, they have clearly understood that the issue touches on complex and controversial social issues and that, ultimately, the larger well-being of the university had to be the dominant consideration.

Today, I believe that the well-being of the university is served by our granting this benefit, and it is for that reason that I am announcing this action.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my report.