Marquette University announced benefits to the same-sex spouses of faculty and staff, in the wake of controversy surrounding the aborted hiring of a lesbian dean.
The benefits will go into effect at the beginning of the 2012 calendar year at the Catholic school, although the full details will not be given to faculty and staff in October of this year. The policy requires the same-sex relationship to be a registered domestic partnership with the state of Wisconsin.
In the university announcement, University President Robert Wild states he had difficulty reconciling the Jesuit principle of Cura Personalis, “Care for the Whole Person,” with the refusal of benefits to domestic partners, ultimately leading him to expand benefits after consulting with the incoming president and board of trustees.
William Kurz, a professor of theology at the school, said that the policy change was contrary to Catholic doctrine.
“In our promotion of diversity and inclusion, we can confuse where a Catholic school teaches and stands for,” he said.
Kurz said that the Church, while it treats gays and lesbians with respect, does not support homosexuality—but that the new policy does.
“Respect first, tolerance yes, but not promotion,” Kurz said.
Stephen Engel, a professor of political science at Marquette, said that an “incongruity between the non-discrimination policy and benefits” partially motivated the Academic Senate to pass the resolution.
Some professors were concerned that the “incongruity” Engel described had prevented the school from effective faculty recruitment and retention. Engel said the university withdrawing an offer of deanship to a lesbian candidate, Jodi O’Brien, drew attention to the policy last spring.
Matt Blessing, member of the Faculty Welfare Committee of the Academic Senate, said concerns about faculty recruitment were brought up by “at least two” departmental chairs. Lisa Hanson, the faculty member leading the meeting, declined to name them.
Still, not everyone is convinced the extension of benefits will positively affect faculty recruitment.
Kurz said the potential hires most likely to reject Marquette over a lack of partner benefits would “be ideologically opposed to Catholic teaching” and could undermine the university’s religious mission.
“What does it mean to be a Catholic school, if we can’t be Catholic?” he asked.
Many universities similar to Marquette — urban, Midwestern Jesuit schools — have some form of recognition for same-sex partners, according to Engel. Often that’s in the form of benefits for Legally Domiciled Adults, which includes dependent adults along with same-sex couples, he said.
“It does seem that the institutions that Marquette likes to compare itself with, the majority have an LDA [Legally Domiciled Adults] policy,” Engel said.
The resolution cites eight Catholic schools that have some form of benefits for domestic partners, including Loyola University and DePaul University in Chicago.
Engel said LDA policies among the schools vary, as some provide benefits equal to opposite-sex couples and others providing fewer. The university’s statement doesn’t mention expanding benefits to other classes of Legally Domiciled Adults.
Hanson, professor of nursing at Marquette and chair of the subcommittee on equity, said the resolution was popular in the academic senate. The resolution passed unanimously, except for three abstentions.
“There seemed like there was great support for the concept,” she said.
Hanson said that even though the subcommittee’s emphasis is on faculty concerns, she anticipated it would benefit the campus as a whole.
“I really hope that this says something to the student body that’s very positive, about creating a more inclusive environment,” she said.
Allison Kruschke, the senator who sponsored the Marquette University Student Government resolution, agreed. Kruschke said the benefits resolution was intended as a “step forward” after the controversy surrounding the retracted O’Brien deanship offer and a part of student government’s larger mission.
“Inclusivity is a really high priority for MUSG,” she said.
Alec Brooks is a staff writer for the Marquette Warrior. He is a contributor to the Student Free Press Association.