Domestic partner rights at UGA

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The University of Georgia still does not offer faculty members domestic-partner benefits such as health insurance coverage, despite repeated attempts by teachers to secure them. A UGA faculty member leading the charge explains that it’s the right thing to do and helps competitiveness through teacher recruitment. Last week we asked readers to comment on the request, a selection of which are printed in Friday’s printed paper. Commenting on Janet E. Frick’s column is open below.

By Janet E. Frick

Recently, I attended a banquet with a diverse group of accomplished University of Georgia faculty and administrators, all actively engaged in issues across campus. I mentioned that I was chairing a committee on University Council that was, once again, bringing a proposal to try to finally accomplish a long-sought goal: full health insurance benefits for domestic partners of UGA employees.

My colleagues stared at me in disbelief. “You mean we still don’t have those?” I stared back in even greater disbelief. “You mean you didn’t realize that?” Our mutual amazement reflects the rapidly changing reality behind domestic partner benefits: universities all over the country are providing them, and it is becoming harder to find ones that don’t. People expect that UGA already has these benefits because most leading public and private universities do. Of the U.S. News and World Report top 50 universities, 87 percent offer full domestic partner benefits.

Examples of universities offering domestic partner benefits include public institutions (the universities of Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Arizona and Ohio State) as well as private, even religiously affiliated institutions (e.g., Southern Methodist and Mercer). Schools that do not offer such benefits find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting and retaining top faculty, staff and administrators. This trend is even more commonplace in the private sector, with partner benefits long offered at Georgia’s top Fortune 500 companies.

One might assume that UGA would offer benefits on par with other University System of Georgia institutions. On the contrary, several Georgia universities (including Georgia State, Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State) already allow domestic partners to participate in optional health insurance programs such as dental and vision coverage, but UGA does not. The effort to bring full domestic partner health benefits to UGA has been going on for over a decade, driven by faculty/staff proposals that have enjoyed widespread campus support, but which have not yet resulted in policy changes on the part of those in positions of authority. The current proposal (originated by the UGA GLOBES organization) includes several examples of best practices from other state universities, including Arizona, Florida, and Wyoming, which offer full domestic partner benefits without using state funds.

The fact that my husband is covered by my health insurance at the state’s expense, but the domestic partners of other employees are not, amounts to unequal pay for equal work.

The unfairness of this arrangement surprised my children; as my 7-year-old daughter said, “I’m glad you’re working on that committee, Mom. Whoever made that rule should have to lose insurance for their family!”

Instead of that solution, we need to join the rest of the higher-education community and make benefits coverage equal for all UGA employees and their families. It may be too late for the state’s flagship university to lead on this issue, but it’s not too late for us to catch up.

Dr. Janet E. Frick is the Chair of the Human Resources Committee of the University Council at UGA and the Associate Department Head of the Department of Psychology.

36 comments Add your comment

Lee

September 13th, 2012
4:27 pm

This is insane to believe a 7 year old understands insurance….disbelief.

Bernie

September 13th, 2012
5:18 pm

Look what it took to get equal Rights for African Americans at UGA. it was NOT Pretty, Welcomed or Peaceful.

Dave

September 13th, 2012
6:43 pm

Lee,
A seven year old understands the concept of equality and fairness. Children can be quite accustomed to seeing bullying and inappropriate behavior from their peers but are astonished to hear it from their Parents, Teachers and Pastors/Imams and Priest. What is insane is your attempt to divert the simple message by attacking the messenger and not the issue. I hope you choose to understand an issue that is so simple a seven year old can grasp it’s importance.

jim

September 13th, 2012
6:58 pm

i agree Lee.

Janet Frick

September 13th, 2012
7:03 pm

I am the author of this piece, and yes, we have explained insurance, and taxes, and other financial concepts to our children who are age 7 and 10. We explain that part of the money we make each month goes to help pay for trips to the doctor, and if we ever had a really bad injury, the insurance would pay for it even if we couldn’t. It’s not that complicated, really. :)

Christina

September 13th, 2012
7:21 pm

As a UGA alum, I’m so glad to hear that Dr. Frick and the other faculty are finally making some progress on this issue. This is a change that needs to happen! Keep up the good work!

Carol

September 13th, 2012
7:46 pm

Hats of to Dr Frick for leading on this issue to try and help improve competitive fairness at UGA.
It’s the right thing to do if you want to lead the campus forward. Good luck!

Sarah

September 13th, 2012
8:15 pm

My 7 year old gets it, too! And cheers to you, Dr. Frick, for taking this forward…wishing you luck with the proposal!!

Sharde

September 13th, 2012
9:25 pm

I don’t have an opinion on this issue one way or another. Purely out of curiosity though I’d be interested to hear UGA’s side of the story, i.e. why they’ve resisted offering domestic partner benefits.

Janet Frick

September 13th, 2012
11:37 pm

Hi Sharde, I can’t speak for why UGA hasn’t done what other public universities have done on this issue, but I can say that our (UGA faculty / staff) previous proposals about this were all centered around asking the Board of Regents to include domestic partners as dependents (just like spouses) on the regular health insurance policy. Their standard answer was that because Georgia state law didn’t recognize domestic partners, they could not do so. So for years we have been told by UGA administrators that this “can’t be done” because Georgia law doesn’t recognize domestic partners and thus state funds can’t be used to offer full health benefits. What we are now proposing is a new approach — asking UGA to either provide health benefits a different way, or provide a cash allowance (in an equivalent amount to the state’s contribution to spousal health insurance) so that domestic partners can purchase their own health insurance. In other words, we want UGA to provide the same benefit (or its financial equivalent) to domestic partners that the state is providing to spouses. I would guess that there is also some concern about how this proposal will “play” in the more conservative parts of the state, but frankly when the University of Florida has been doing it (without issue) since 2006, it’s hard for me to fathom how the political reality is much different here in Georgia. My feeling is, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Thanks for asking. This is a huge issue for UGA’s competitiveness for top faculty, and also just for our appearance as a 21st century top university (most other top universities have moved well beyond this issue years ago).

skipper

September 14th, 2012
8:47 am

Bernie,
Lifestyle choice and race are too different matters. This is a VERY THINLY veiled attempt to advance the gay agenda…period. If anyone speaks out against it, and there are many, they are clobbered by the press and their job could be in a mess. Gay rights have coat-tailed on civil rights long enough. Before it is over, any group out there will demand special treatment. States have continuously voted against this stuff; the public has been fed that it is merely and only a group being discriminated against. Apparantly, it is more than that.

Van Jones

September 14th, 2012
8:55 am

Isn’t this pretty much a re-hash from a few days ago? New topic please.

Tom

September 14th, 2012
10:04 am

What number out of 50 (i.e., “top 50 universities”) = 87%?

Adrian Childs

September 14th, 2012
10:32 am

@Tom: Due to ties, the US News Top 50 schools is actually 52 schools. 45 of these have full DP benefits. 45/52=87%.

Christopher Sanchez

September 14th, 2012
10:56 am

Can someone explain why we care what the University of Florida is doing? UGA is an excellent university where students receive a world-class education. This is really a non-issue for everyone except a small minority who advocate a particular agenda.

And Dr. Frick, make no mistake that Georgia politics are decidedly different than our neighbors to the south.

zeke

September 14th, 2012
11:18 am

Ban all perverts and gays from positions of authority over our children! The Boy Scouts have it right!! By all means live your life as you please! But, do not force your chosen lifestyle on society as being normal!

zeke

September 14th, 2012
11:21 am

No wonder schools have to increase tuition and fees every year! The state/school pays for the heath insurance of and employees family? That must change to plans reflecting usual business practices of only PART OF THE COST BEING COVERED BY THE SCHOOLS!

Tom

September 14th, 2012
12:08 pm

Thanks for that clarification, Adrian (10:32 am)

Tom

September 14th, 2012
12:13 pm

In the private sector, a 2011 study of 3,000 employers nationwide showed 52% providing domestic partner benefits……up from 31% in 2010.

The percentage for Fortune 500 companies is 58%.

Bernie

September 14th, 2012
12:41 pm

skipper @ 8:47 am – Strange that you make those comments. Jim Crow was the reason used against The Black student to deny them equal rights.

Hate and intolerance was its fuel. Just as today towards the issue of gay marriage.
Hate & Intolerance is alive and well at UGA…. except during the times of cheering on all of those modern day Black Gladiators performing before its overwhelming mostly White audience with enough Hypocritical banter that even shocks the very senses.

Janet Frick

September 14th, 2012
12:44 pm

All of Georgia’s top Fortune 500 companies — Coke, Delta, Home Depot, UPS — offer them.

skipper

September 14th, 2012
1:00 pm

Bernie;
there is a big difference between voicing an opinion and bantering psycho-babble. It would behoove you to learn the difference…………….

Janet Frick

September 14th, 2012
1:04 pm

Hi Zeke, UGA only pays for a proportion of the cost of health insurance of employees. If you google “UGA Human Resources Health Insurance” you can find a document that shows the plans we have to choose from. In most cases the employee pays approximately 1/3 of the premium cost, and the employer pays about 2/3 of the premium cost. I believe this is comparable to how it’s usually handled at private businesses.

Craig W.

September 14th, 2012
1:08 pm

Christopher Sanchez @ 10:56 am, Dr. Frick has addressed your point about Georgia politics differing from Florida’s. Several highly respected University System of Georgia schools already offer the same sort of NON-state-funded domestic partner benefits that are being proposed at UGA.

Bernie

September 14th, 2012
1:15 pm

skipper @1:00 pm- it seems a nerve has been touched. you will think of those words as you watch and cheer intently, as you do so religiously every weekend without fail.

JLMB

September 14th, 2012
2:35 pm

skipper@8:47am: please define “gay agenda”

skipper

September 14th, 2012
2:37 pm

@jlmb,
The article (so thinly disguised) that you are reading!

Janet Frick

September 14th, 2012
2:52 pm

The agenda of the Human Resources Committee at UGA is equality, fairness, and equal pay for equal work, for all employees. (Also, making sure that UGA offers benefits that are in keeping with what our peer and aspirational institutions are doing).

Valerie Fahey

September 14th, 2012
3:50 pm

Politics have no role to play in dispensing healthcare and other benefits to partners of UGA employees, or any other. It’s pretty simple: You allow same-sex couples to marry and enjoy spousal benefits, or you don’t, and provide them for their partners. The longer we keep enabling homophobic juveniles and their droll ranting, the longer our dysfunctional system prevails. Just stop already.

JLMB

September 14th, 2012
3:51 pm

@skipper 2:37: So…the entire “gay agenda” consists of the trying to implement domestic partner benefits at the University of Georgia?

skipper

September 14th, 2012
3:57 pm

JLMB,
Nope…..thats just part of it.

Valerie Fahey

September 14th, 2012
4:05 pm

What is the “straight agenda,” skippy?

JLMB

September 14th, 2012
5:12 pm

@skipper 3:57:…and the rest of it would be??

Eric

September 14th, 2012
8:52 pm

Janet Frick: “Their standard answer was that because Georgia state law didn’t recognize domestic partners, they could not do so. So for years we have been told by UGA administrators that this “can’t be done” because Georgia law doesn’t recognize domestic partners and thus state funds can’t be used to offer full health benefits.”

The citizens of this state should turn this right around and say, “We will therefore no longer pay the state any taxes since you do not recognize domestic partners.”

skipper

September 15th, 2012
11:17 am

Insurance/benefits for gay “partners” when all colleges are crying about expenses? Good night! And FYI, the gay agenda is, for a few things, ramming an alternative lifestyle down folks throats and wanting the state, etc. to take fiscal responsibility. Hatin’ on the Scouts ‘coz they don’t want gays in the tent with their little boys…..would you let a male in the pup-tent with your 11 year old daughter?? Unfortunately, a clip of a “gay pride” (there’s an oxy for ya) parade came on the tube during the news. If this is what y’all are fighting for, no wonder the states keep voting you out! And a “kiss-in”……boy, there’s the way to make people luv ya….guys kissin’ in a parking lot! More sickining than road kill.

JLMB

September 15th, 2012
4:34 pm

@skipper 11:17: You’re right. Perhaps colleges should stop paying for all spousal benefits. Every man and woman for themselves! “ramming an alternative lifestyle down folks throats”…what exactly does that mean? Classic rhetoric people use to try to vilify others and justify their homophobia without any kind of specific example of what the “ulterior motives” are. “would you let a male in the pup-tent with your 11 year-old daughter??”…does that mean I should assume that all straight men are pedophiles? …and how exactly do these things equate to an agenda? Grasping at straws like all of the other unenlightened, contently ignorant social conservatives who are doing anything they can to stay in a position of power and privilege. It has been shown that our discomfort with others often is rooted in a discomfort with ourself. Might want to take a look in the mirror…