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July 6, 1999

Connolly, Nordenberg meet with ERA reps

Connolly, Nordenberg meet with ERA reps

Student members of the Equal Rights Alliance (ERA) — who went on a 17-day hunger strike this spring to protest Pitt's denial of health benefits to homosexual employees' domestic partners — finally got their meeting with trustees chairperson J.W. Connolly and Chancellor Mark Nordenberg on June 24.

Following the closed-door session in the chancellor's office, each side accused the other of acting in bad faith.

ERA members complained at a news conference that administrators refused to listen to their questions or engage in meaningful dialogue. "They had no intention of taking any questions from us," said ERA member Harold Jones, a Pitt senior.

The students also protested that the administration brought lawyers and a public relations staff member to the meeting.

The administration accused the ERA of trying to interrogate Connolly and Nordenberg, and of asking questions directly related to a complaint filed with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations by former legal writing instructor Deborah Henson. Henson alleges that Pitt, by denying health benefits to her lesbian partner, violated a city law designed to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

Pitt issued a statement that read, in part: "At the meeting, the students were given every opportunity to present their views on the topics they had identified for the meeting's agenda. Regrettably, they declined to do so, and instead proceeded in a tone not conducive to dialogue with an attempt to interrogate the chancellor and the chairman on a broad variety of other issues, many of which were directly related to the pending litigation. Because of the direct relationship to the litigation, the chancellor and the chairman were advised by the University counsel not to respond."

ERA members said they weren't sure of their next move. But Shenu Gupta, a second-year law student, said: "I promise you we will not go away."

— Bruce Steele

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