In September, the Regents revised the Bylaw to include sexual orientation, guaranteeing that a student, staff or faculty member will not be discriminated against because he or she is lesbian, gay or bisexual.
The Regents said, however, that the Bylaw would apply to employment benefits, family housing, financial aid packages and student residency status only after the president or his delegate determined, following a study, how and to what degree the Bylaw should apply to those areas.
In its report released today (April 11), the 14.06 Task Force, an advisory group appointed by President James J. Duderstadt, said its recommendations are derived from the general principle that in order for gay men and lesbians to achieve equal status and opportunity within the University, any benefits, privileges, rights and responsibilities that accrue to spouses of University employees and students because of their status as spouses should accrue to committed same-sex partners of U-M employees and students.
The task force recommends that any benefits extended to children and other dependents of employees spouses also be extended to children and other dependents of employees same-sex partners and that same-sex couples be given access to family housing.
Thanking the task force for its work and thorough report, Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr. said the Executive Officers look forward to studying the report and hope to bring the matter before the Regents at their May meeting.
To gauge the probable costs to the University of providing benefits to same-sex partners of employees, the task force consulted with eight colleges and universities that have some history of extending benefits. The average enrollment rate of same-sex partners of employees for the eight institutions is 2.9 employees per thousand. Based on the experience of those institutions, the task force estimated that 73 to 120 employees would enroll partners at the U-M.
Also considered was the cost per enrolled partner. Although it is widely believed these costs are substantially higher for same-sex partners than for spouses, a considerable body of evidence indicates the contrary, according to the task force report.
The cost of spousal coverage on medical and dental benefits is approximately $2,000, suggesting the financial implications of the task forces recommendation would be in the range of $100,000$250,000, out of a total benefits expenditure of $260 million.
To control costs and protect the integrity of its benefit programs, the task force said the University needs mechanisms for documenting that an employee who seeks benefits for a same-sex partner is in a relationship that involves a significant commitment comparable to marriage.
The task force recommends the U-M use a basic core of requirements common among domestic partnership registrations, including a declaration that the partners are:
The partners should be able to demonstrate their commitment to each other through the existence of a domestic partnership registration. The task force anticipates most University employees and students would register with the city of Ann Arbor.
To document the financial obligations associated with committed domestic partnerships, the task force recommends the employee sign a statement accepting legal responsibility for any expenses related to the medical or dental benefits that the employee elects for his or her partner or their dependents.
Fraudulent claims of marriage currently can result in disciplinary action or criminal penalties. The same penalties should apply to any fraudulent claims of domestic partnership, according to the task force. Just as married employees must notify the University if they become divorced, the task force recommends that domestic partners be required to notify the University within 30 days of the termination of a relationship.
Acknowledging that the idea of opening family housing to same-sex couples received the most emotional responses from the University community, the task force noted that same-sex couples are eligible for family housing at increasing numbers of universities, including the University of California, Los Angeles; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Columbia and Stanford universities.
One misconception about U-M family housing, according to the task force, is that it is a unique environment restricted to married students and students with children. In fact, gay and lesbian students and staff currently live in family housing as single residents, with or without children.
Occupancy of family housing units breaks down as follows: single graduate students (24 percent), married students without children (39 percent), single or married students with children (30 percent), single faculty and staff (2 percent), married faculty or staff without children (2 percent), and single or married faculty and staff with children (4 percent).
When the task force looked into financial aid, it found 50 percent of all aid is merit-based and is awarded without regard to family size or composition. It concluded that the current financial aid allocation system already accommodates the revised Bylaw.
Same-sex couples also should be given the same consideration as married couples when it comes to student residency status and other student policies, including student health services, health insurance and eligibility for athletic tickets, according to the task force.
Copies of the report are available from the Office of the President, 764-6270.
The 14.06 Task Force was chaired by School of Dentistry Dean J. Bernard Machen and co-chaired by Jayne A. Thorson, executive assistant of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. Other members were: Camille Brewer, graduate student in urban planning; L. Ross Chambers, the Marvin Felheim Distinguished University Professor of French and Comparative Literature; Corrie L. Cockrell, Stockwell Hall resident minority peer adviser; Paul N. Courant, professor of economics and public policy; Virginia B. Gordan, assistant dean for student affairs, Law School; Shake Ketefian, professor of nursing; Eric D. Luskin, director of Family Housing; Timothy G. Schuster, LS&A senior; Laurita Thomas, assistant director, Personnel Office; and Karen K. Wixson, professor of education.