SPRINGFIELD —Two headlines caught our attention last week.
“School OKs domestic partnership benefits” and “Growth in enrollment will lead to faculty hires.”
The stories ran side by side, both about Missouri State University.
We can’t help but believe there is a positive correlation, and we applaud the university for being proactive about attracting quality students and faculty. Part of the way that is done is by providing excellent benefits to all its employees, including those who are not or cannot get married.
By expanding its benefits package to include domestic partners, the university is recognizing that all of its employees deserve to be treated equally, regardless of their legal marriage status. That includes same-sex couples who are prohibited from marrying in Missouri and straight couples who chose not to become legally married but have a domestic relationship.
It was little more than a decade ago that the university’s Board of Governors refused to even consider a nondiscrimination policy that would have added “sexual orientation” to a list that already included “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, disability or veteran status.”
A lot has changed since then. The university got a new name and new leadership. In 2006, MSU added sexual orientation to its policy.
And gay marriage became a cause celebre, leading Missouri to change its constitution to define marriage as only between one man and one woman. That effectively prohibited any same-sex couples from legally marrying in the state. But it also led several other states to sanction the marital unions, and the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that same-sex couples must receive the same federal rights and privileges as straight couples.
And those legal changes are likely to also apply to unmarried heterosexual couples.
What has this got to do with MSU? The university must compete with other schools and companies in other states that offer attractive benefits packages that do not discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation or lifestyle choices.
As MSU President Clif Smart said to News-Leader reporter Steve Pokin, “If we want to compete for students and staff we need to do this. ... It is really a business decision.”
It was a smart business decision. The board understood that when members voted unanimously to change the benefits policy.
“To successfully compete in 2013 and beyond, Missouri State needs to have the same kinds of opportunities for its employees as many Fortune 500 companies and other businesses, as well as the University of Missouri, other institutions in Springfield and Missouri, and peer institutions,” Board Chair Orvin Kimbrough said in a written statement.
The cost is minimal — projected at about $83,000 to serve an estimated 1 percent of the total faculty and staff, based on the response at the University of Missouri, which began offering the benefits in June.
It was a smart recruitment decision if the school hopes to reach its enrollment goal of 24,000 next year. Students are attracted to schools that provide diversity and inclusion. The fears and prejudices that drove decisions in 2001 are not embraced by young people entering universities in 2013.
Those students want the best faculty, a wide range of opportunities, an open and inclusive culture and a conviction that everyone on campus deserves to be treated with the same dignity and consideration.
MSU has grown while the national college enrollment trend is down. We believe that it is smart decisions like this that have driven those enrollment numbers.
That enrollment growth — 760 students in the fall — means the university will be recruiting as many as 12 new faculty members. This vote will make it easier to find the best qualified people to fill those slots, further attracting more students to the schools campuses.
It was also the right decision.
It is important that decisions made by the university’s board be based on good business and educational sense, but it is just as important that those decisions simply be the right thing to do.
This one was.
Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.