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February 6, 2003


Plaintiff weighs in on actions in Henson case

To the editor:

Given recent events, it is important to underline a few key facts about the ongoing same-sex partner benefits debacle.

First, the University lectures that litigation is not the appropriate way to resolve the issue. What it fails to note is that the ACLU’s latest brief is a defensive move. It responds to Pitt’s action to have the temporary injunction of Henson et al. vs. University of Pittsburgh made permanent. Pitt’s aggressive tactics, furthermore, include a challenge to the city’s very authority to legislate civil rights.

A second confusion is about the cost of awarding full benefits. An estimate of $1 million floats about. However, Pitt’s own internal estimates not long ago were $25,000-$50,000 per year (that is, in the range of the chancellor’s recent raise). Higher figures are about the cost across several years. All of this, in any case, is beside the point: The real-life financial cost to universities that have made this commitment to their employees has been, by their own reporting, negligible.

However, $1 million is not an unreasonable estimate of what it has cost Pitt to defend its refusal to offer the benefits, in violation of municipal civil rights law, in the last seven years.

The current situation is not a matter of the big, bad ACLU attacking the defenseless University. Nor is the refusal to offer benefits really about cost. I no longer know what it’s about.

Bruce L. Venarde

Associate Professor

Department of History

(Editor’s note: See related story this issue. Venarde is a plaintiff in the Henson case.)


Our goal should be to let the one become many

To the editor:

Robert Perloff’s and Fred Bryant’s pious defense of “diversity” as opposed to “affirmative action” in the last issue (Jan. 23, 2003) of the University Times (“…affirmative action is in effect infirmative action, an action that disenfranchises some white people, is not fair, just or democratic”), ignores the fact that white males in particular have been the beneficiaries of a massive affirmative action program that has been in effect for centuries rather than decades. It is called American History, and it features the political disenfranchisement of women until less than a century ago; the dispossession, destruction or forced relocation — we would call it today “ethnic cleansing” — of the indigenous peoples of the continent; plantation slavery followed by more than a century of Jim Crow laws after the Civil War; the conquest and reduction to second-class citizenship of the extensive pre-1848 population of the Hispanic Southwest and California; anti-immigrant prejudice, then and now, directed against Italians, Irish, Poles, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Mexicans, Arab Americans… (see Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York). Universities, even private ones, consume massive amounts of public revenue. It is only “fair” in that regard that they represent more or less equitably the populations that are taxed to provide those revenues. Hispanics, according to the latest census, constitute almost 14 percent of the population of this country (and perhaps 7 percent of the population of Pennsylvania), yet less than 2 percent of the faculty at Pitt are U.S. Hispanics. Despite decades of initiatives, women are still seriously underrepresented in the ranks of tenured faculty, particularly in the natural sciences. A little more affirmative action in these areas might not be such a bad idea, it seems to me. Perhaps “diversity” — if it is to be more than tokenism (“we have one of them”) — in fact requires “affirmative action.”

Perloff and Bryant’s oversight is, on the other hand, understandable at a time in our national life when it is sometimes hard to recall, given our recent presidents and political movers and shakers, that it was the North not the South that supposedly won the Civil War. However, where my colleagues reaffirm the principle of E pluribus unum at the end of their editorial, I would suggest that perhaps our goal for the future should be let the one become many. Let us have a system of education and a form of national life that represents the actual diversity of peoples, languages, cultures and histories that has always, from the beginning, been a part of what we call and cherish as America.

John Beverley

Professor and Chair

Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures

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