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July 6, 2000


Good news, bad news

To the editor:

The front page story, "Chancellor will consider group to study same-sex benefits," in the University Times of June 22, is good news and bad news.

1. The good news is the honorable, responsible and gutsy decision of Chancellor Mark Nordenberg to consider the creation of a committee "to study how Pitt might extend health benefits to…same-sex partners." Honorable and responsible because such a move would not only be the right thing to do, it would also be consistent with the way democratic institutions address hot-button controversies; and gutsy because the possibility of creating such a committee will not make the chancellor's boss, the Board of Trustees, exult in paroxysms of joy. Atta boy, Mark! I salute your inspired integrity and bold leadership.

2. The bad news is this oft-repeated argument against same-sex benefits: "Opposition to same-sex benefits by some state lawmakers who have threatened to cut Pitt's funding if it extends health coverage to gay and lesbian partners." This argument has been raised time and again by Ken Service, director of Pitt's Office of News and Information, and other University spokespersons.

Does anyone in his or her right mind imagine that Harrisburg would in effect shut down the University, and with it the education of thousands of students (mostly Pennsylvanians), not to mention community services in medicine or otherwise, if the University decided to provide same-sex health benefits? It just will never happen. Never. Not ever.

Even if it were feared that the legislators would suicidally emasculate Pitt, were it to award same-sex health benefits, I would hope that our University would, under the specter of this threat, stand tall and battle vigorously, bolstered by the moral principle that treating homosexuals fairly is, when all is said and done, the right thing to do. The right thing to do.

Robert Perloff

Professor Emeritus

Katz Graduate School of Business

Ken Service, director, Office of News & Information, replies:

1. While Chancellor Nordenberg has indeed expressed his belief in the value of dialogue in addressing what Professor Perloff terms "hot-button controversies," at the same time he has cautioned that the ongoing legal action against the University regarding this issue remains a significant impediment to establishing the climate of open and candid discussion that would be a necessary element for the success of any such effort.

2. Recognizing that Professor Perloff's advice was well intentioned, it nonetheless remains true that it is easier for individuals who have no accountability for the outcome to dismiss the risks inherent in the course of action that they advocate. Commonwealth officials have repeatedly stated that it would be contrary to state policy for state-related universities to provide same-sex health benefits. Prominent legislators have indicated that to do so would jeopardize state-related universities' state subsidies. And the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is on record as overwhelmingly supporting a measure that would have withheld state funds from any public university offering these benefits. All of this has been sufficiently convincing for the leadership of Penn State to publicly state it as the reason for not acceding to requests for these benefits. It has also apparently been convincing to the members of the Penn State campus community, since they have accepted the decision without engaging in ongoing criticism of their university's position. And Temple, Lincoln and all of the state-system universities have refrained from providing these benefits. While Professor Perloff may fervently believe the contrary, all of the available evidence clearly supports the view that offering same-sex health benefits would be a course of action fraught with financial peril for the University.

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