JANUARY 21, 2000 • HOUSTON VOICE
University quietly approves domestic partner benefits
** Continued from Page 1
for more than a year to get the university
to move ahead with the benefits.
"It was a matter of the committee both
educating the university about the situation and working with the administration
to get the benefits approved," he said.
Attracting job applicants
The new benefits will not only help
those already employed by the university,
but they could help attract job applicants.
Lynn Huffer, chairwoman of the committee on which Beckwith served, said
her offer of a job at Rice a year ago left her
in a difficult situation because her partner
is a graduate student uit Yale University in
New Haven, Conn.
Her partner could get benefits from
Yale, but they could only be used when
she was at Yale, leaving her to choose
between benefits that would not apply
when she was in Houston writing her dissertation or no benefits at all. Her partner
chose to make do without the benefits.
"This was an issue for me when 1 was
first hired," said Huffer, who holds a joint
professor position with the French
Studies department and the Program for
the Study of Women and Gender. "It
made the decision to take the job at Rice
To address the lack of benefits, Huffer
almost immediately created the informal
committee to try to persuade the university to offer domestic partner benefits.
Beckwith's partner has benefits
through his employer, but Beckwith said
the availability of benefits could have
helped his partner during the time he was
looking for a job in Houston.
The benefits also help demonstrate a
commitment to diversity by the school,
"It is nice to know that now we truly
can get the best caliber people," he said.
Beckwith, one of three people who met
with Rice president Malcolm Gillis on the
issue, said Gillis played a key role in getting the benefits approved by trustees.
"Once he realized how the lack of benefits impacts employees and potential
employees, the president was instrumental in getting the benefits," Beckwith said.
The board of trustees of the private,
3,300-student university unanimously
approved the benefits during its December
meeting, after considering a number of
factors, said Kyle Cavanaugh, associate
vice president for human resources.
The factors included trustee support for
Rice's 1990 policy on nondiscrimination,
and the fact that the university's nepotism
policy already includes domestic partners
in its definition of relatives, he said.
Cavanaugh said the upheaval in the U.S.
health care system has made insurance
benefits an increasingly important factor
in recruiting and retaining employees.
The informal committee chaired by
Huffer played a role in the university's
decision, but there is no one reason why
the university made the decision now to
offer the benefits, said Terry Shepard, vice
president for public affairs.
"I don't think there is an answer to
'why now?'" Shepard said. "There wasn't
a triggering factor."
There was a consensus on campus that
the benefits were needed, he said.
Employees can sign up for the benefits
during the university's normal enrollment period for health benefits in April.
The benefits are effective July 1.
The university's benefits committee
had recommended the benefits in 1995,
but they were not approved. The Faculty
Council, the Staff Advisory Council, the
Student Association and the Graduate
Student Association had all previously
endorsed the now-approved benefits.
Who receives the benefits?
University students have been able to
purchase benefits for their domestic
partners for more than a year.
Undergraduates and graduate students
can choose to be covered under a plan
that is available through the university,
but not affiliated with the school.
Approval for the student benefits came
more quickly because there was no impact
on the school's budget, officials said.
Faculty and staff will be required to
pay a portion of the insurance cost for
their domestic partners, but the costs will
be the same as those incurred by married
employees who put their spouses on the
University officials predict the cost to the
school for providing the benefits will be
very low. Their research, which is consistent
with research conducted by gay and lesbian
groups, found that very few employees are
likely to take advantage of the benefits.
Benefits will be available to the established domestic partners of both gay and
non-gay university employees, but the
university has yet to define "established."
Cavanaugh said the university will
likely follow the model established by
other schools like Duke and Stanford. The
definition could include four points, he
said: a minimum age; demonstrated
financial independence, like joint checking accounts and jointly owned property;
the fact that the partner is the employee's
sole partner; and the couple's intention to
"We expect to follow what are increasingly becoming standard practices
around the country, so our standard
should be the same as other universities,"
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