UT faculty upset after same-sex benefits proposal is rejected

UT faculty members upset after same-sex benefits proposal is rejected

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Wendy Bach's partner of 20 years is unable to receive health benefits through UT. Wendy Bach's partner of 20 years is unable to receive health benefits through UT.

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Some University of Tennessee faculty members are upset over the response from school leaders about proposed same-sex marriage benefits.

"This is an issue of basic fairness and compensation," said Wendy Bach, a UT law professor.  

Bach has been at UT for three years. She has been with her partner for 20 years and the couple has raised a child together.  

Bach's partner is unable to receive health benefits through the university.  

"There is a whole range of benefits that would be available to me if I were married to a man, benefits that aren't available to my family," said Bach.  

A letter sent by Chancellors Jimmy Cheek and Larry Arrington followed the response of the UT Faculty Senate's drafted resolution in April to support education, leave and health benefits for same-sex couples. The resolution mirrored the benefits offered to married couples.  

The letter, signed by both Cheek and Arrington, reads:    

"We hope you understand that in our positions as leaders of an agency of the state of Tennessee, it is incumbent upon us to act consistently with the public policy of our state. We believe that the three specific proposals for domestic partner benefit equality outlined in the operative clauses of the resolution are inconsistent with the public policy of our state expressed in constitutional and statutory provisions."  

Members of the university's commission for LGBT people felt the response was too short and left little room for dialogue.    

"I think we would like a little more conversation, as opposed to believing this wouldn't be possible because of our state's public policy," said Jesse Ford, a Graduate Student Assistant on the Commission for LGBT People. 

The issue has come up at colleges and universities across the country.

The decision comes on the heels of University of Georgia's move to approve full domestic partner benefits for its university employees. The policy does require final approval from the university's board of regents.    

"If they can do it, why can't we have more of an in-depth dialogue?" Ford asked.  

Proponents of same-sex benefits believe it will help recruit the best faculty to the university, as UT looks to achieve a top 25 ranking among public universities.

The commission said same-sex benefits will be discussed at October's Faculty Senate meeting.  

Three other SEC schools already offer domestic partner, or same-sex, benefits to faculty. Vanderbilt University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Florida all have a policy similar to the one drafted by the UT senate.

Florida offers the benefits even though its state defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

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