Update, March 13, 2015. KSU Board of Trustees voted, in executive session this past Wednesday, to extend benefits to dependents of domestic partners, retroactive to January. Hat tip to Bev Warren for doing the right thing. Raspberries to the administrators who fought for discrimination and the status quo for the last 6 months.
Kent State’s Beverly Warren faces the first major leadership challenge of her 8-month presidency this Wednesday. But you probably haven’t heard about it.
On March 11, Warren will ask the KSU Board of Trustees to expand the university’s insurance coverage to include dependent children of domestic partners — and that includes same-sex partners. The proposal grew from a grievance filed by a faculty member whose 14-month-old son has been denied KSU coverage since the day he was born. This faculty member is legally married to the boy’s mother, but Ohio law doesn’t recognize that marriage nor does it allow joint adoption by same-sex couples.
In an email to an AAUP member last week, Warren said:
My team continues to work toward changes in the wording of the policy regarding benefits for children of domestic partners, and we are very close to finalizing that change. This effort has been ongoing and is the right thing to do. (Source: AAUP-KSU News Alert)
It’s no surprise that the president supports this change. Since her arrival last July, Warren has referred frequently to Kent State’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. But this is still Ohio, OK? Ohio is a state where the GOP controls all branches of state government and where a Republican governor appoints the trustees who oversee each public university. And we know that Ohio Republicans have not supported the civil rights of gays and lesbians.
Supporters see Warren’s proposal as eliminating discrimination from the university’s benefits policy, but it’s not that simple politically. Warren’s willingness to embrace this cause shows moral and political courage on her part, and we should acknowledge her for that.
Reputations at Stake
Since this is a PR blog, let’s look quickly at the potential impact this case could have on Warren’s leadership and the university’s reputation.
Should the new policy be enacted, Warren’s standing within the Kent State community will be enhanced. It provides a chance to showcase her leadership in word and deed. She might ruffle a few feathers in Columbus, but given Kent State’s heritage, it will hardly be the first time that’s happened.
Should the trustees somehow block Warren’s proposal (assuming they have the authority), all stakeholders lose. No one involved has ANYTHING to gain by denying benefits to dependents of same-sex partners — much less an innocent 14-month-old child who happens to have two moms.
The legal battle for gay-lesbian rights is pretty much over in the USA, so why position your organization on the wrong side of history? There is nothing to be gained.
So as PR counselor, I must ask: Why would anyone oppose this policy change?
I don’t have the answer, but there’s a reason the AAUP has reached the final stage before entering formal arbitration on the case. The discriminatory policy remains in place, and someone within the administration is fighting to keep it there.
From a PR perspective, this isn’t about who wins or loses the legal or political struggle. It’s about equal rights and equal protection for all. So I hope the entire Kent State community will get behind President Warren on this one, because, as she said, ““It’s the right thing to do.”
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I serve an elected member of the AAUP-KSU Council and also as an interim member the executive council. Opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect the position of AAUP-KSU. All information contained in this post is in the public record.