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Resolution approved for same-sex domestic partner benefits at MU

Thursday, March 4, 2010 | 6:55 p.m. CST; updated 3:49 p.m. CST, Friday, March 5, 2010

COLUMBIA — Same-sex domestic partners of University of Missouri System employees have the backing of the MU Faculty Council in receiving the same benefits opposite-sex spouses currently get.

The council unanimously approved a resolution on Thursday recommending equal opportunity in areas such as tuition-reduction programs and access to university services like the counseling center, in addition to certain health benefits.

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“What we’re looking at here would be medical benefits, vision and dental, and then some of the educational fee reduction programs for dependents,” Mike Paden, associate vice president of benefits, said before the meeting.

Paden said because employees can name whomever they want as a beneficiary in the pension, life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment programs, these areas wouldn’t see any change.

Faculty Council member James Tarr, an associate professor in the department of learning, teaching and curriculum, said this issue is about social justice.

“When our salaries are held constant, the value we place on benefits increases,” Tarr said, “but it’s not accessible to some faculty.”

MU isn’t the first to take a stand on this issue — the University of Missouri-St. Louis passed a similar resolution — but many faculty members on the Columbia campus favor the idea, Tarr said.

He said faculty representatives were asked to take the resolution back to their faculties, and his department gave nothing but positive feedback and full support. Some people, however, thought it should go even further.

“Some of the faculty really thought coverage should extend to opposite-sex domestic partners,” Tarr said. “But the rationale of the present phrasing is that here in Missouri, opposite-sex partners have the right to legally marry. That’s not true for same-sex partners.”

The resolution, which Tarr said would cost an estimated $2.2 million more in benefits for the UM System, will make its way to UM President Gary Forsee for further examination. The decision is up to the UM System Board of Curators.

"It's out of our hands now," Tarr said. "It's a task for someone else."

The move is the latest in a series of campus and city actions around domestic partnership. Late last year, Noel English, director of MU Equity, said her office has been gathering data on how a lack of domestic partnership benefits is affecting hiring.

In April 2009, Columbia's City Council unanimously approved the creation of a domestic partnership registry, which gives partners a document that can be used for employee and health care benefits and requires that domestic partners be treated the same as married couples for access and family discounts to city-owned recreational and other facilities.

Also at the meeting:

  • The Faculty Council passed a resolution to ask Chancellor Brady Deaton to form a task force designed to examine issues that could make MU a more family-friendly campus.
  • In response to a town hall meeting on Monday about the recent cotton ball incident at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, the council discussed addressing concerns that faculty as well as students lack an understanding of diversity.

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Comments

Rachel Brekhus March 5, 2010 | 8:29 a.m.

Gary Foresee supported same-sex partner benefits when he was in the private sector. I hope he signs off on those benefits here at MU and helps move us into the 21st century. As a married MU employee, I'd be willing for some of my benefits to change if it allows MU to afford this move during tough economic times. We need to do all we can to attract good people and start looking more like leaders.

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