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February 5, 2004

Temple, Penn State senates unresponsive on same-sex benefits

Following up on a suggestion from Pitt’s Board of Trustees chairperson, Richard Tobias of the University Senate anti-discriminatory policies committee contacted the faculty senates at Temple University and Penn State, seeking to coordinate efforts by faculty at all three schools to lobby in favor of health benefits for university employees’ same-sex partners.

The response Tobias got was underwhelming.

The English professor said he has not heard from Penn State’s senate, after sending them in December (at the PSU senate’s request) a summary of what Pitt’s senate wanted them to discuss.

Tobias said a representative of Temple’s senate told him that that group concerns itself only with curriculum issues.

“So,” Tobias told Faculty Assembly Feb. 3, “I have not been very successful in following up” on the suggestion by Judge Ralph J. Cappy, Pitt trustees chairperson, that Pitt, PSU and Temple faculty work together in lobbying Harrisburg lawmakers to stop threatening the universities with funding cuts if they extend medical insurance to their employees’ same-sex partners.

Nicholas Bircher, president of Pitt’s University Senate, said he will contact his counterparts at the senates of Pennsylvania’s other state-related universities (PSU, Temple and Lincoln), urging them to push for a consensus policy statement by all four universities’ faculties. “If you could get all four representative bodies to agree on a matter of principle, it provides a little more leverage than individual motions” by each group, Bircher said.

James Holland reminded his fellow Faculty Assembly members that Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg told them he has been in contact with the PSU and Temple presidents on the same-sex benefits issue.

“Maybe it’s time that we ask the chancellor for an update on what the substance of those discussions has been,” Holland said. “Maybe ‘contact’ doesn’t mean very much.”

Members of the University Senate’s executive committee, including Bircher and Tobias, met Dec. 11 with Pitt board chairperson Cappy for an off-the-record discussion of campus issues that Bircher described as “collegial” and “productive.”

He said Cappy pledged to pursue an open-door policy toward Senate leaders. “Any faculty who have issues that they would like to see taken up with the chairman of the Board of Trustees are encouraged to get in touch with me or any of the [Senate’s other] officers,” Bircher said.

In other Feb. 3 Faculty Assembly business, the group approved a resolution recommending that administrators from Computer Services and Systems Development (CSSD) and the School of Medicine work with the school’s IT staff and responsibility center account administrators to better inform medical faculty of how to forward their e-mail.

The recommendation was in response to complaints from some faculty with joint Pitt/UPMC appointments that they rarely, if ever, accessed their Pitt e-mail accounts and thus were unaware of messages sent to them through those accounts.

John Close, chairperson of the Senate’s computer usage committee, said he would ask his committee to study how the problem of duplicate e-mail accounts is affecting faculty in schools other than medicine.

—Bruce Steele

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