Campus Faculty, Staff, Students Question Benefit Policy for Homosexuals
Some feel benefit policy discriminates against homosexual faculty and staff
Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 21:11
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa.-- Students choose a liberal arts college to gain knowledge from a variety of perspectives. In and outside of the classroom, individuals learn how to view different situations from another point of view.
At Westminster College, students are taught the importance of diversity and equality among different types of people. However, when it comes to homosexual faculty, the liberal arts college limits their advances in diverse practices.
According to the college's website, faculty members who completed at least three full years of employment receive benefits for their spouse and dependent children.
Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice Studies Dr. Kristenne Robison explains that this policy means only heterosexual individuals can receive health benefits or educational benefits for their partner.
"For example, when I first moved here, my husband was looking for a job, so since we were married and heterosexual, he could get health care benefits on mine," Robison said. "If we were in a same-sex relationship I would not be able to get health benefits for him even though he was unemployed."
Gay marriage isn't legal in Pennsylvania. One might think that because of this law, this is why homosexual faculty do not receive the same benefits as heterosexuals. However, some Presbyterian liberal arts colleges provide equal benefit packages to all sexual orientations.
Macalester College is a small Presbyterian liberal arts college in St. Paul, MN. I went to their website and viewed their faculty benefits policy. It reads "Macalester's benefit policy allows unmarried, but domestic partners (same and opposite sex) access to the College's benefits plans. The College recognizes as committed domestic partners any two adults who have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring."
Does this affect how potential new faculty view Westminster?
The Sociology and Criminal Justice department are doing a search through the American Sociological Association. When the department posts a job advertisement on the job bank, they ask two questions.
The first is, "do you discriminate against LGBT individuals?" The second question asks, "Do you offer health benefits for same-sex individuals or domestic partners?" Robison explains that the questions can sometimes contradict one another.
"If you say no to that [question 2] it seems like you have to say no to the first one ‘do you discriminate' then yes, you're discriminating if you're not giving health care benefits," Robison said.
Robison says she believes that the lack of equality could affect whether or not a potential new faculty member decides to take a job at Westminster.
"I think what's important is, if you have a spouse that you need to take care of, a partner, and you see the school would not support that partner, especially if they're staying home taking care of the kids, why would you apply for that job?" Robison explained.
The benefit policy, however, cannot be changed overnight. The first step is to build awareness on campus.
"I think a lot of people don't think about it, they don't realize, they don't think about, does my professor, does the person who's taking my orders in the TUB, do they have access to health care benefits?" Robison said.
Some students feel passionately about the effort to give homosexual faculty the same benefits as heterosexual ones. Senior Megan Glaser is the president of Allies, a group working to promote the alliance between gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight individuals.
"In the past we have had homosexual professors help Allies with different projects, and as students we see how hard they work," Glaser explained. "They work just as hard as any other professors and it's not fair they should work as hard and not get the same benefits."
Though some feel the lack of benefits discriminates against diverse faculty members, it may not be at the fault of the college.
"I don't believe they [Westminster] do it on purpose, I think they just don't realize because the homosexual population at Westminster, faculty and students has not been as prominent or at least outspoken to bring it up," Glaser said.
Ken Romig is the vice president of finance and management services at Westminster. He explains that benefits for domestic partnerships in general are a fairly recent trend on college campuses. According to a survey distributed through the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the number of institutions offering health care benefits for same sex domestic partners raised from 46% to 56% in two years.
"Really Westminster College has been in the mix with everyone else in terms of the history," Romig explained. "It is something I think the College needs to look at and is looking at, but I think it also needs to be a more broader college decision."