Dear President Vaughn:
I write to you in three distinct capacities, as a: (1) concerned alumnus, (2) leader in the field of higher education administration, and (3) long-time donor to UT. I read with dismay the lead article in the November 30, 2007 edition of The Minaret, entitled “President and Faculty Battle Over Domestic Partner Benefits.” Given that you were my lead marketing professor and college advisor during my UT years, I hope you will read with an open mind my thoughts and position on this topic in response to this article. I have also copied those staff and faculty who were mentioned in the article, as well as The Minaret staff.
It is actually with sadness that I find myself writing to you about this matter. As you know, I have been a long-time and strong supporter of UT, both as a volunteer and donor. And, of course, you know that I am openly gay and partnered (for the past 19 years) to another UT alumnus. He has also been a strong supporter of the institution, having worked at UT after his graduation, served as the President of the National Alumni Association and most recently served as the alumni representative on the Board of Trustees. Together, we have provided volunteer and financial support to the institution for nearly 20 years.
Extending domestic partner benefits (DPB) is not only the right thing to do for UT for reasons of social equity and sound moral leadership, but it is also the right action to take from three important perspectives: competitive, strategic and financial. Any fears related to the projected costs, auditing and fraud are, frankly, overstated and should be weighed in the appropriate manner. Failure to extend DPB years ago put UT at a competitive disadvantage nationally with regard to the recruitment and retention of talented faculty and staff. The continued failure to extend this benefit is negligent to the institution and portrays UT as a backward, provincial institution lacking the ability to move into this generation.
If UT loses even one talented faculty recruit (as mentioned in the article) because of the lack of DPB, then the impact could be enormous. In an industry where the leading schools depend on faculty talent to write the next bestseller, create cutting edge economic theories and develop innovative new computer programs, failure to extend benefits that attract the entire talent pool is simply irresponsible. Because I hold a J.D., M.B.A. and M.Ed. and work at the vice presidential level for the CFO of Emory University (which proudly offers DPB to its faculty and staff), I understand very well the cost implications that your financial advisors have likely outlined for you. I hope those cost projections also factor in the potential lost talent UT has likely suffered as a result of candidates who walked away and others who chose not to apply to an institution without DPB. As any university that offers DPB will tell you, the participation rates in DPB programs are generally low, the documentation and processes required to participate are sound, and the benefits are many. The long-term financial and competitive gains far outweigh any direct cost outflows to fund the benefit, even for an institution that is highly tuition dependent like UT. Let me offer an example and financial case study for you to consider.
When my partner was on the job market in 1999, we were fortunate to have received offers from several institutions for him to join the development (fundraising) team. Our decision matrix was based on a few key elements: (1) right fit with the institution, (2) competitive offer and (3) DPB (since I was transitioning out of my legal career, this benefit was important). We chose the offer from Emory University in Atlanta. Beyond DPB, Emory also offered a variety of LGBT resources and a supportive culture. Since 1999, my partner has worked hand-in-hand with Emory’s institutional leadership to structure and lead strategies that raise millions of dollars annually for the institution (over $300M last year alone). He is now recognized as a national leader in academic fundraising and was named to the top fundraising society in his field. Had Emory not offered DPB, we would have chosen to accept another offer and another institution would have benefitted from his skills and talents. And, given that UT has asked him in the past to offer advice on fundraising strategy, UT has also benefitted from his expertise. I joined Emory in 2001, largely because of the type of institution it is culturally and because of its benefits package. Thus, I sincerely hope your financial advisors are outlining these types of potential positive impacts to those institutions that offer DPB to faculty and staff.
Please, Ron, think about this issue from a purely competitive standpoint. With over 3,500 Carnegie-classified institutions in the United States, the top talent can easily self-select the institutions at which they want to work based on a number of factors, including the benefit packages offered. Offering a competitive package in addition to salary is the best way to attract “stars” who will move the institution forward. UT is at a crossroads in many ways and cannot afford to lose talent because of provincial and short-sighted thinking. I ask that you reconsider this issue and extend DPB.
There is another direct financial impact to not offering DPB for faculty and staff. That impact is the lost dollars from the ranks of alumni who refuse to give to an institution that does not support certain principles of social equity. Although it makes me very sad to write this, I must now join those ranks. Until UT changes its policy to offer DPB, I will no longer financially contribute to the institution and, instead, will redirect all of my giving to Emory (my graduate alma mater and employer) as an institution that supports me and my partner through competitive benefits.
David Hanson UT Class of 1989
Students and Donor Support Domestic Partner Benefits, President’s Stance Still Unclear
President and Faculty Battle Over Domestic Partner Benefits
Faculty Question Benefits Survey’s Methodology, Results
Overview of Domestic Partner Benefits in South Florida Colleges
Editorial: Lack of Progressive Initiatives Leaves UT in a Time Warp