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BGSU OKs benefits for same-sex partners

BOWLING GREEN - With little fanfare and no discussion, Bowling Green State University trustees Friday unanimously approved extending health-care benefits to same-sex domestic partners of all full-time employees.

In introducing the motion, Trustee Debra Ryan said the option should improve the university's ability to attract and retain faculty and staff and help it meet its goal of enhancing diversity.

"This year we're seeing and hearing a lot of this 'renewing commitment to diversity,' and this definitely, finally attests to it," said Claire Semer, senior coordinator for diversity in the Office of Residence Life and chairman of the LGBT advisory board.

The group is one of several on campus that has worked on the issue for years. The Administrative Staff Council adopted a resolution in support of domestic partner benefits in 2004, while the Faculty Senate adopted a similar resolution in 2005.

"We're delighted that the university has moved forward with this and sees that the time is right," said Kristine Blair, chairman of the senate. "We view it as a necessary first step."

The next step, she said, would be the extension of benefits to opposite sex domestic partners.

Rebecca Ferguson, chief human resources officer, said that option was discussed, but the decision was made to limit domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples.

"This is a population that does not have an option of marriage," Ms. Ferguson said. "This is the population we're having recruitment and retention issues over."

She said she was "fairly certain" BGSU lost three staff members because same-sex health ben-efits were not available. A faculty member who began looking for a new job for the same reason was convinced to stay because trustees were expected to act on the plan this fall, she said. It takes effect Jan. 1.

BGSU is one of the last public universities in Ohio to adopt such a plan.

University of Toledo trustees approved health contracts with three of its employee unions in 2006 that extended health-care coverage to both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners.

Meghan Cunningham, a UT spokesman, said 31 employees at the school are registered for domestic partner benefits - 11 same-sex couples and 20 opposite-sex couples.

BGSU expects about 15 employees to take advantage of the new benefit at an estimated cost of $80,000 a year, Ms. Ferguson said.

Col. John Moore, Jr., chairman of the board of trustees, said the decision to extend domestic partner benefits was not related to the vote to decide faculty unionization going on through Oct. 12.

"This is the right time, the right thing to do, and it is totally appropriate that we go after the best and the brightest," Colonel Moore said.

David Jackson, president of the Bowling Green Faculty Association, which has led the organizing campaign, said he could not prove the unionization effort led to the trustees' action, though their "sudden interest" in the issue does make it appear that way.

Mary Beth Zachary, a 25-year employee of BGSU, said after the meeting that the plan was long overdue.

"The cultural impetus is important here to recognize that we are changing, we are more inclusive, and more welcoming," she said.

In other business, trustees approved naming two new residence halls under construction.

The new freshman hall on Wooster Street is to be called Centennial Hall in recognition of the university's 100th anniversary, and the sophomore hall at Thurstin Avenue and Ridge Street is to be called Falcon Heights Hall, which comes from the name given to 80 temporary trailers used to house returning World War II veterans who attended BGSU.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.

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