A chemistry lab manager at Miami University in Ohio was suspicious when she read the e-mail informing her that she and other employees, after 13 years of being turned down, would be able to add their same-sex partners to their health insurance and receive other benefits starting Thursday.
Now Amanda Whinery is a believer.
Miami and Ohio universities are the first of the state's public four-year schools to offer health and dental coverage, free tuition, and other paid benefits to employees' same-sex partners. Cleveland State University said it will soon follow. The forms weren't ready yet at Miami on Monday, so Whinery says she will return to the personnel office on Thursday to sign up her partner of 15 years, who has been uninsured for the past year.
"It's equal pay for equal work," said Robert Glidden, who retires Wednesday as president of Ohio University in Athens and announced the change at his final board of trustees meeting. "We are doing this as a matter of fundamental economic fairness."
The benefits will help recruit and keep employees, said James Garland, president of Oxford-based Miami. "The university is not weighing in on the issue of gay marriage and gay rights," he said. "It's primarily a business decision."
Trustees at both schools passed resolutions supporting the benefits even though no action was required. Cleveland State has clauses in three of its four union contracts requiring it to offer paid benefits to same-sex domestic partners if any of the state's other public universities do so. The benefits will be offered university-wide, said Joseph Nolan, vice president of administration. Nolan plans to meet with the unions in about 10 days to negotiate details such as when the plan takes effect and how the benefits will be taxed.
Other four-year universities and Ohio's two public medical schools with partial or no benefits for domestic partners said they have no immediate plans to change, but many are watching the policies of other schools. The issue frequently comes up in contract negotiations at schools with union-represented
Kent State University, which promotes itself with an advertising campaign that emphasizes the school's rich diversity, has had meetings recently on the topic. The university came under fire last year when its GLBT group, PRIDE! Kent, held meetings to discuss how to achieve same-sex partner benefits for faculty at Kent State. "This is an issue of competition with other universities and even private businesses," said Kent State spokesman Ron Kirksey. "It looks like everybody is looking at this now."