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March 20, 2003


To the editor:

Positive change is in the air, despite these darkly uncertain times. The University Times reported two recent actions on the part of the University of Pittsburgh that should make us feel proud. The first came in December 2002 when Pitt announced its new Center on Race and Social Problems for research on race and its effects in daily life. The second action involved Pitt’s decision to file an amicus curiae brief joining dozens of other institutions of higher learning in siding with the University of Michigan on its affirmative action court case.

The University Times (Feb. 20, 2003) also reported Temple University’s decision to offer access to same-sex domestic partner benefits for its employees. Though Temple’s same-sex benefits package remains less than ideal, it nonetheless bodes well for more equitable coverage in the future. Such good news at Temple did little more than elicit a lamentable statement from the powers that be here, however. Robert Hill, Pitt vice chancellor for Public Affairs, stooped to a new low by blaming Pitt’s continuing denial of same-sex benefits on those who are discriminated against under current University practice. Those faculty and staff who have brought suit against Pitt are responsible, he suggested, for tying the University’s hands when it comes to doing the right thing. Instead of blaming the victims, Hill and other Pitt administrators should now look to ways in which we, too, can join other forward-looking entrepreneurs, schools and institutions throughout the state who recognize that discrimination is bad for education and bad for business.

Fearing for our appropriation standing, University administrators have insisted all along that the political climate in Pennsylvania was unfavorable to taking the moral high ground on this question. It is now clear, in the words of Tom Hickey, spokesman for Gov. Ed Rendell, that the new state administration has inaugurated a new era. The governor, Hickey reported to the University Times (Feb. 20, 2003), is “certainly supportive of Temple’s action.” The ball is now in the Pitt administration’s court and nowhere else. It is time for Pitt to do the right thing and cease legal action by instating benefits for same-sex domestic partners. As a leading university we should have the courage and integrity to build on the positive steps we have taken recently. Now is the time to match our new center on Race and Social Problems and decision to stand up for affirmative action by putting an end to the University’s discriminatory practices when it comes to matters of sexual preference.

Barbara McCloskey

Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

Department of the History of Art and Architecture and

Member of the Senate Anti-Discriminatory Policies Committee

Robert Hill, vice chancellor, Public Affairs, reponds:

In expressing her strongly held beliefs, Professor McCloskey advances an argument that is flawed in at least two fundamental respects.

The first is her unwillingness to acknowledge that the existence of litigation changes the context for deliberation, discussion and decision-making. It is absolutely clear, however, that the action taken by Temple University would not resolve the claims that have been so aggressively asserted against this University. In fact, the University Times has quoted one of the claimants as saying, “What Temple has done is as unacceptable as not offering same-sex benefits at all!”

The second is her suggestion that the election of a new governor has eliminated the budgetary risks that have been a concern of Pitt and other state-funded institutions. However, those concerns always have been focused principally on the legislators, not on the governor. Even for those who do not closely follow the state’s budget-building process, events of recent weeks serve as a reminder of the legislature’s important and somewhat independent role.

At the urging of the members of the campus community, including the committee that Professor McCloskey represents, a broadly representative committee was empaneled to study Pitt’s situation and to make recommendations regarding future actions. The very thoughtful report of that group continues to guide University action.

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