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Oct. 21, 2010 Volume 32, No. 9

MU to collect data on policy that prohibits partner benefits


Proponents say policy change is overdue

Diversity officials at the University of Missouri are asking faculty and staff to help them determine whether the lack of health and other benefits for domestic and same-sex partners has hurt the university’s ability to recruit and retain employees.

The MU Equity Office and the Diversity Enhancement Committee of Faculty Council will attempt to verify, through online surveys, anecdotal evidence that employees have resigned or that job candidates have refused employment offers because the university only extends benefits to an employee’s domestic partner if they are married.

 “What led up to this is that we did have people say, ‘I know somebody who didn’t come, or I know somebody who refused an offer,’” said Noel Ann English, director of MU Equity. “So, I said let’s collect that and use it, if it can be helpful.”

Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said partner benefits would help her recruit and retain a more diverse staff. She said she has lost two members of her staff to institutions that provide partner benefits. Other staff members feel “disenfranchised” because their partners aren’t eligible, she said.

“We want the composition of our staff to reflect the composition of students we work with everyday,” Scroggs said.

Concern over the lack of partner benefits at MU has been growing. A 2004 report for the MU Campus Climate Study found that partner benefits was a “major issue” for the campus’ lesbian and gay community. Last spring, the MU Faculty Council approved a resolution calling on the UM System to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners, citing the more than 300 universities — including 55 of the 63 schools in the Association of American Universities — that have done so.

However, data from the recent pay and benefits survey of UM employees suggest that, in an era of limited resources, support for same-sex partner benefits is less widespread. One in three respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the benefit was a priority if resources were available — the same percentage who disagreed. More than 1,250 of the survey’s 7,000 respondents declined to answer the question.

Diane Bartley, chair of the Staff Advisory Council, noted that support for partner benefits is greater among faculty than staff. She said the Staff Council declined to add its support to the Faculty Council’s resolution. “The Staff Council did not see it as an initiative that the majority of staff at large would be supportive of at that time, nor that it would have any impact on staff recruitment,” Bartley said.

According to estimates from the UM Human Resources office, adding partner benefits, a policy change that would require approval by the Board of Curators, would cost the System about $2.2 million a year. But proponents such as Candace Galen, professor of Biological Sciences, argue that extending benefits to domestic partners is a matter of treating all employees equally.

“For my family, it costs us about $5,000 a year that my colleagues down the hall don’t have to pay,” said Galen, a 20-year employee of MU.

Roger L. Worthington, assistant deputy chancellor for diversity at MU, said the debate over partner benefits is more “ideological” than fiscal. He said “the university is shooting itself in the foot” when so many of MU’s peer institutions offer the benefit.

“If you look at this from a business model, which more and more universities are already doing, it becomes obvious that offering partner benefits makes sense,” he said. “The stories we have heard from department chairs, division heads and other employees about experiences they’ve had suggest the negative outcomes are real for the university. I believe that the relatively small amount of money it will cost to change the policy will be offset by the benefits.”

To participate in the survey, go to or