MU looking into domestic partnership benefits for employees

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:54 a.m. CST, Tuesday, December 29, 2009

COLUMBIA — For the first time, MU Equity is gathering data on how a lack of domestic partnership benefits is affecting hiring.

"We're trying to back up the assumption that we're losing quality candidates," said MU Equity Director Noel English.

The office has been getting the word out that it is collecting stories, such as Ron Kelley's. In fall 2008, Kelley, director of development at MU, had a position open for a director of development research. He met a woman at a conference who seemed promising.

"It's very hard to find people who are capable for this job, so we approached her about it," Kelley said.

He gathered a pool of candidates, this woman included. She later asked if the university offered domestic partnership benefits. When Kelley said no, the candidate backed out of the interview process.

Jackie Litt, director of the women's and gender studies department at MU, said she has also known candidates who have refused to be interviewed for the same reason.

According to MU Equity, which works with faculty, staff and students who believe they have been treated unfairly, stories such as these have been floating around different departments for some time now.

"It seems like everyone has an anecdote," English said. "Our intent is to share them with whoever's making the case for partner benefits to make it part of the body of evidence."

She and Litt maintain this is a major problem for the university. "At a chairs council meeting, Betsy Rodriguez (head of human resources for the University of Missouri System) asked how many have been affected, and a good number of hands were raised," Litt said.

Litt said not only is the university losing quality candidates, it's also losing quality faculty members because of the lack of domestic partnership benefits.

English wants to instate an exit interview, which is a survey used to determine reasons people leave as well as to get candid feedback about campus resources and climate. It would be "just a general survey to give us some direction in improving the conditions for, in this case, faculty," English said.

She said UM System President Gary Forsee expects to receive several related proposals. "The word we've gotten is that he is receptive," English said.

Rodriguez said the university has no plans to start such benefits any time soon. "It's not in the immediate future," she said.

UM spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said that generally speaking, Forsee is "always open to hearing information presented by the campuses."

"Domestic partnership benefits will be considered as part of the system's annual review of the benefits package," Hollingshead said. "Every year, we evaluate employee requests and other changes."

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