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University of Michigan faculty to fight ban on domestic partner benefits


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The outlook for domestic partner benefits for Michigan‘s state employees — including staff at Michigan’s 15 public universities — are in jeopardy due to a pair of bills that the sponsors claim will save approximately $8 million a year by eliminating the benefits.

House Bills 4770 and 4771, approved by the House of Representatives in a 64-44 vote in September and then by the Senate Committee on Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing last week would prohibit any government entity in the state from providing such benefits.

Several public entities, representing tens of thousands of workers, currently provide such benefits for domestic partners of employees, including the State of Michigan, at least 10 public universities, at least 5 city and county governments, and at least 3 public school districts.

U-M Latin professor Sara Ahbel-Rappe said that if bill 4770 passes there will likely be a large exodus of professors who leave the university, reported

“It’s a total slap in the face. It tells me that I don’t deserve the same consideration” as heterosexual couples, she said. “People will leave.”

Ahbel-Rappe and six other professors authored a letter to Gov. Rick Synder asking him not to sign bill 4770 if passed by the senate. The letter calls the bill discriminatory and says it will negatively affect staff recruitment at the university.

U-M officials are also concerned about the bill’s effects. Nearly all of U-M’s competitors offer benefits to same-sex partners. So do most Fortune 500 companies.

“These benefits are important for the successful recruitment and retention of our top-flight faculty and staff,” said Cynthia Wilbanks, U-M’s vice president of government relations. “We’re in competition on a lot of levels, this would be an added competitive disadvantage.”

Wilbanks said the university is actively lobbying politicians in Lansing.

Will it be enough? “If the bill gets to the senate floor there will be a vigorous debate …” she said, “but over a long career, I have learned not to speculate.”

Sonya Alvarado, president of the Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers union, said the bill sends the wrong message to college students.

“The message we would be sending to our students if this goes through is a negative one,” she said. “The university is about inclusion. The university is about open discussion. This bill just goes against everything that the university is about.”

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