CATONSVILLE – A committee of the University of Maryland System Board of Regents Friday recommended extending family benefits to domestic partners of system employees – whether of the same or opposite gender.
The recommendations were presented to the full board during a meeting at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and will be voted on July 12.
Regent Margaret Alton, who chaired the committee, said members believed sexual orientation should not be a factor in employee compensation and that the system has a responsibility to oppose all forms of prejudice.
“The committee being open to education, understanding the facts and the importance of equity and dignity led to the recommendations,” Alton said.
The committee urged giving benefits now provided to employee’s spouses to unmarried partners in “long-term, committed and exclusive relationships.”
At the campus level, this would include access to facilities, library privileges and ticket discounts. At the system level, family-related leave and tuition remission would be included.
Access to health care coverage is provided at the level of state government and falls outside the system’s control. However, in its report, the committee recommended that the system encourage the state to consider extending state-controlled benefits.
“This … was handled with a great deal of empathy. I thank you for doing it in a civil way,” Regents Chairman Lance Billingsley told the committee.
Alton said the committee — made up of Regents, institution presidents, and system faculty, staff and student council representatives — realized the sensitive nature of its recommendations.
“But if history is a guide, the reaction will be one of understanding and support for our recommendations,” Alton said.
Alton said a significant and growing number of organizations have made domestic partners of employees eligible for certain benefits, including the University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Time, Capital Cities/ABC, Levi Strauss and Fannie Mae.
Doug Hamby, spokesman for the University of Maryland System Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Staff and Faculty Association, said this trend likely played a large role in the committee’s decision.
“It shows that the system is ready to join a very select group of major universities and we like to compare ourselves to leading universities,” said Hamby, who is an assistant professor in the Dance Department at UMBC.
Three system institutions — the University of Maryland College Park, UMBC and Towson State University — have already granted campus-level benefits to domestic partners of both heterosexual and gay and lesbian employees.
The committee reported that direct costs for benefits controlled by the institutions and system would be negligible, and would not reduce funds available for existing employee benefits.
Revenues lost through tuition remission could grow to $170,000 annually if everyone eligible used the benefit and all students who would have paid full tuition were displaced, the committee estimated. But the report stated that actual loss of revenue is likely to be a fraction of this amount. Domestic partners are not legally recognized in Maryland, but the system can legally extend institutional and system benefits to domestic partners of its employees, according to the committee’s report. -30-