Stories of faculty and staff who left the UW, turned down offers from the UW, or are considering leaving the UW due to a lack of Domestic Partner Benefits, compiled by the UW System Inclusivity Initiative.
Hesitant to come to Wisconsin
I can report that last year I had conversations with finalists for three faculty positions and one administrative position who were surprised and dismayed to learn that UWS, unlike other public university systems in the Midwest, does not offer domestic partner benefits. It has always been a matter of equity … it has become an issue in recruitment and retention.
[The situation is getting worse] to the extent that more and more colleges and universities are providing these benefits so we're falling further and further behind in the race to get the very best faculty and staff.
UW-La Crosse Dean
Last year, when I was considering a career move from my last university in California, I looked long and hard at the policies and practices of potential universities in regard to the sexual orientation of students and employees. Because the University of Wisconsin, and in particular UW-La Crosse, appeared to me to foster an open and inclusive environment, I pursued an application and my eventual appointment. I am confident that Wisconsin will eventually acknowledge my domestic partner in the same way that he was acknowledged by California. Owing in part to the Inclusivity Initiative, the University is well on its way to charting the path for the rest of the state. The Inclusivity Initiative is showing us how to create a community in which all of its members are valued, acknowledged, fairly rewarded, and made safe.
UW-Eau Claire Assistant Professor
I am an assistant professor of biology at UW-Eau Claire. I have just started my third year. As a member of the GLBTQ community, I did have concerns about taking a faculty position at a institution situated in a smaller city than where I have lived before (Twin Cities). When applying and interviewing, I certainly looked for evidence that this was a welcoming, inclusive and accepting place to live and teach. Compared to some other institutions to which I applied for similar positions, I noticed few if any references to the GLBTQ community. When I asked about domestic partner benefits, I was surprised to learn the system did not have any such benefits available (I had assumed Wisconsin would be similarly progressive in that regard as Minnesota). Although that did not stop me from taking this position, I believe it would have been a clearer and easier decision for me had I seen evidence of inclusivity and support.
Did not come to Wisconsin
I served as a chair for a search committee for a high level campus administrator and during the process I received a call from a person who did not live in the state of Wisconsin. The person indicated they had carefully reviewed the position requirements and would love to live in this area of the state but they wanted to be sure we could offer benefits for a domestic partner. Unfortunately, I had to inform the person that we did not and consequently, the person did not apply. It is impossible to attract the best and brightest people if we start the process by eliminating some of the eligible pool with criteria that has nothing to do with one’s abilities and talents. I think we as a System reflect a subtle message to potential students and the population in general that we do not forthrightly support LGBTQ people and if we do not celebrate them we will loose their talents to other institutions of higher education that do respect them.
As for faculty, it would make an enormous difference in recruiting new faculty were we able to provide the equal benefits offered by other universities. I know of two people who were offered jobs at Parkside, but turned them down because their families weren't considered "legal," not only a practical matter of health insurance, etc., but a far more significant indicator of the climate of the campus towards diversity.
Troubled by lack of benefits
Michele A. Basso, at the Medical School came here thinking we offered dp health insurance. Was shocked to find out we did not.
When I moved to Wisconsin to take my position as Coordinator of Women's Studies, I believed the reputation of Wisconsin (and the UW System) as progressive. I soon learned that while there were non-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation in writing, in practice there are still inequities … I was not able to provide health benefits for my partner when we moved here. While she was able to seek care in the cities, the distance of treatment compromised her health care, and she ended up having to be hospitalized as her health deteriorated. I can't help but think that if she had been able to access local health care, the decline could have been stopped.
As someone who is denied equal employee benefits by the UW Madison and the rest of Wisconsin State government, it is disheartening to read people describe our benefits as "outstanding" and "excellent." I guess I thought everyone knew that [many] of the UW faculty and staff are denied basic health care and other benefits for their partners and children, and so it seems our benefits cannot even be considered adequate in light of this inequity…. please consider tempering the language in similar emails that are sent out in the future....you might consider saying that UW has excellent benefits with the exception of failing to provide domestic partner benefits…something that acknowledges that they're not outstanding or excellent benefits for everyone.
Getting DP benefits is VERY IMPORTANT for me; so... how can I help UWM, the UW System as a whole; and Madison make this happen?
Have the AA Officers discussed DP benefits? I'm just completely perplexed why System hasn't taken this issue on. Institutions and corporations across the country are rapidly adopting DP benefits and UW System is usually ahead of the pack on progressive policies. I am obviously missing something, I just can't put my finger on it. Can you explain it?
Might leave Wisconsin
For the past three years I have chaired a search committee that has sought to hire one [assistant professor] in 2001-02 and [one in] 2002-03; and then two assistant professors (in 2003-04)…After two failed searches—the committee deciding in each case not to offer the position to any of the applicants—last spring we offered one of the two positions… [The candidate] accepted the position. If she stays she will be giving up tenure at [her previous university]. She is one of only a handful of female [faculty in her profession] in the world. We are delighted to have her here. The only obstacle to her staying is that she has a domestic partner who needs health care benefits. The partner … is not asking for a dual-career faculty hire even though the partner holds a doctorate, and would prefer a part-time job in order to continue unpaid work in her area of scholarly expertise. As the situation now stands, [the faculty member] is on leave from [her previous university]. She and her partner have kept their home in [the state where they were living] and her partner is back in [there] working at a job that provides health benefits. This is not a stable situation. I am convinced that the faculty member wants to stay at Madison, and I am delighted to have her as a colleague. I am aware that she is back on the job market, however, actively pursuing employment both in and out of the US. She was recently invited to apply for a prestigious endowed position at a Canadian university and has told me she will, indeed, apply. The Canadian university is located in a province that gives domestic partners full legal rights and full benefits. Although many of us … are continuing to try create a job for [the domestic partner], to date, no job has been found. The [second] search [the one] that failed last spring will resume shortly, but frankly, I am weary of searches and of being understaffed. … I want people to be aware of the potential consequences of [not having DP benefits in this particular case.
“Lack of DP benefits has hurt my family… My partner and I have been together 10 years. We moved here 3 years ago from Texas, where I had been teaching at a university. Two years ago we had our daughter, Parker. My partner, Rebecca, is self-employed as a part-time psychologist here in La Crosse. When we had Parker we chose to sacrifice some income so that we could spend more time with our daughter … we really did not want to have to put her in full-time daycare. So, we decided that Rebecca would establish her own private practice with flexible hours. But, because she is self-employed, we must pay for her health insurance premiums. The price tag of discrimination for us is over $300 a month. … That's $300 that would be better spent toward providing for our daughter's needs. Lack of equal benefits is not merely benign neglect … it is a policy that actively harms my family. It is quite simple: Because it harms my family, it harms me. … if I had other opportunities to work at a comparable institution that provided equal benefits, I definitely would leave.”
Pamela Foreman, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology“I would like to live in a state where domestic partnership benefits/civil unions are an option for all heterosexual and LGBT couples who meet certain guidelines in terms of their relationship. Recently, my partner became an aunt, which complicates our desire to live in a state that will grant us our full civil rights. Her job at a nonprofit in Wisconsin offers DP benefits, including health insurance. However, her health insurance benefits cost her almost $4000 per year and she has a $3000 deductible. Thus, joining her "health plan" (or lack there of) would not help me as a UW employee. I moved here from Ohio partially because the state motto was "Forward" and Wisconsin had a reputation as a more progressive state. As an openly lesbian professor who teaches about social justice and advises the LGBT group here on campus (Spectrum), my students will lose a supportive mentor when I find a position in a state and university system which will honor our contributions by granting us equal access to health care and other important state benefits.”
UW-MadisonKaren Ryker, a Theater Professor, left UW-Madison for the University of Connecticut because of Domestic Partner benefits. Currently Professor of Voice and Acting in the Department of Dramatic Arts at the The University of Connecticut, Karen writes on February 28, 2007: “I actually wrote, in my June, 2001 letter of resignation to UW, an eloquent paragraph stating that a compelling factor in choosing to leave the University of Wisconsin was the lack of domestic partner benefits. I expressed my sadness that the State of Wisconsin did not support its teachers with more diverse backgrounds, and suggested that they would continue to lose exciting teachers if they did not do so. For your information, I was the recipient of a University of Wisconsin Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1997. So my departure could certainly be considered a loss to the University. And it was a loss to me, as I greatly respected my colleagues and enjoyed working under the Dean of the School of Letters and Sciences. My spouse, Sarah Jo Burke, and I (we have legal "civil union" status here in Connecticut) are happy within the University of Connecticut system, and I do appreciate the benefits here. However, we still think about returning to Wisconsin when I retire (in about five years). If the State of Wisconsin has, by that time, adopted Domestic Partner Benefits, it would be much easier for us to follow our hearts and return to Wisconsin. Sarah Jo is also a great loss to the State of Wisconsin. She is an author and musician who enriched the communities in which we lived (at different times, Madison and Evansville) in Wisconsin. In fact, when her book, Don't Think It Hasn't Been Fun: The Story of the Burke Family Singers, was published, we returned to Madison (Canterbury Booksellers) and Evansville (Eager Free Public Library) for two book signings which were well attended by local residents, and the events were covered in the Wisconsin State Journal and Cap Times, as well as the local paper in Evansville. In fact, I believe that Doug Moe has a column coming out quite soon on Sarah Jo Burke in The April BRAVA Magazine.”
Two Sociology's faculty, (left) partially due to lack of partner benefits. One was a "rising star" assistant professor, Shelley Correll, who is now faculty at Cornell University, where there are partner benefits. The other faculty member in Sociology who left due to lack of partner benefits was Larry Wu, who is a major star in the field and a big grant getter. There were also several faculty and senior staff applicants who withdrew because of lack of partner benefits, others who are looking to leaving because of the lack of partner benefits, and others who are struggling more than they should and are unhappy about it. The issue is raised consistently by LGBT faculty and staff applicants.
Shelley Correll writes on Feb.5, 07: “The lack of domestic partnerships was one of the main reasons I left UW. A bit of background—my partner takes medication for high blood pressure. When we arrived in Madison she did not have a job, so she applied for private insurance coverage and was denied because she is on blood pressure medication. We paid the massive Cobra costs to keep her on the insurance from her former job, but we were running up against the Cobra time limit. She ended up taking a very low paying job in Madison outside of her area of expertise just so she could have health insurance. About a year after being at UW, Cornell University started recruiting me to join their sociology department. Not only did they have domestic partnership benefits, but they have a dual career office that helps partners find positions. She was able to find a job she likes, but even if she had not, she would still have had health insurance. That gave us the kind of security and peace of mind that I think most people would like from a job. Some people think that domestic partnership benefits are some kind of special rights for lesbian and gay employees. This is simply not true—I just want the same benefits that any of my married colleagues have, that being health insurance benefits for my partner.
I should add that since I left UW for Cornell, I received tenure early, have received excellent teaching evaluations and have brought in over 3 million dollars in grant money. The point is, gay and lesbian faculty often have choices in where they work and universities that don't provide benefits equal to what heterosexual faculty receive will lose their gay and lesbian faculty.”
Rob Carpick, an Engineering Professor who brought in over 3.4 million dollars in grants to the UW-Madison left due to a lack of domestic partner benefits.
Here is his story from the Wisconsin State Journal, Thursday, August 24, 2006, Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press
“No Benefits, No Researcher : UW Won't Insure His Domestic Partner”
A promising UW-Madison researcher who has won millions of dollars in grants says he is leaving the school, citing its lack of health insurance benefits for his domestic partner.
Rob Carpick, associate professor of engineering, said he will depart for the University of Pennsylvania, which offers domestic partner benefits, at the end of the year. He's taking with him a research portfolio that has won $3.4 million in grants from the National Science Foundation, branches of the U.S. military and private companies since 2000.
"After six and one-half years of working very hard, I found it's problematic to work in an environment where you are not treated equally," Carpick, 37, said. "Fortunately there are other entities that are more enlightened than the state of Wisconsin on this issue, and the University of Pennsylvania is one of them."
UW-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell said Wednesday that Carpick, the winner of prestigious teaching and research awards for young scholars, was among the university's top young researchers in nanotechnology, an area the school is trying to expand.
Christine Flynn Saulnier, academic planner left Wisconsin, in part, because DP benefits were not available.
“In response to your question about why I left Wisconsin, part of the reason was the lack of domestic partner benefits and part of the reason was that I wanted to live closer to my daughter and her family. We considered having her move to Wisconsin instead of me returning to Massachusetts. My grandchildren had visited many times and liked our house in Mazomanie quite a lot. My daughter is a nurse and, with the shortage of nurses in Wisconsin, she knew she would have no trouble finding work. She prefers gerontological nursing and found a few nursing homes that were looking for RNs. She had also identified several homes in south central Wisconsin that she was interested in seeing and had contacted a real estate agent about coming to see them. Meanwhile, I liked the work I was doing at the UW System offices, and felt like I was making a real contribution to public higher education and to the State. But the State did not seem to value lesbian and gay people and our families. I started worrying about whether domestic partner benefits would ever materialize. Progress toward equity in health and tuition benefits seemed to have come to a halt at the UW System level and the State level two years ago, so I decided it was not worth the risk of moving my daughter and her family. Instead, my partner and I returned to Massachusetts, a state that is less ambivalent about families like ours. It's wonderful to feel like a full citizen here, but there are people and places in Wisconsin that I continue to miss.”
John Mason, Dean of the College of Liberal Studies, who has just decided to leave the UW-La Crosse, writes on March 13, 2007:“The lack of domestic partner benefits has not been the sole consideration in my decision to leave Wisconsin, but it has definitely played a part. In my new position, all benefits will be available to my partner, and the state (Washington) will fully recognize us as registered domestic partners. Not as good as marriage, I concede, but certainly better than what has been available for us in Wisconsin.”
Charity Chandler, Marketing Manager, Sodexho Campus Services, UW-Oshkosh Alum and previous employee, Current UW Madison Student
“… I now work for Sodexho Campus Services. Sodexho offers domestic partner benefits to all of its employees and is truly "walking the talk", so to speak, in terms of its commitment to diversity. Domestic Partner Benefits were one of the biggest reasons I decided to leave my campus position and take this position. I previously worked with non-traditional degree seeking students at UW Oshkosh. My partner still works as the Reservations Coordinator at the student union on campus. I am working on my Ph.D. from UW Madison as well and hope to use those credentials to become a professor. As someone who has been working in and attending the university since 1998, I am disheartened by the fact that Madison is the sole Big Ten school without Domestic Partner Benefits, especially given its strong advances in stem cell research and other cutting-edge technologies. … I feel that by the Board of Regents voting to put DP Benefits in the pay plan for the UW System, baby steps are finally being taken.”