Some schools feel no pressure to offer same-sex benefits
Earlier this year, CUPA-HR—an HR association for higher education—conducted its 2015 Employee Healthcare Benefits in Higher Education Survey. Of the 525 public and private institutions that responded, 70 percent offer healthcare coverage to same-sex domestic partners.
However, that number will likely increase after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in June to legalize same-sex marriage. Since the survey results are not really surprising—some colleges began offering same-sex domestic partner benefits as far back as the 1990s—my curiosity focused on the outlying 30 percent, many of which are religious-affiliated institutions.
Can such schools effectively compete for talent and still build an inclusive environment?
No effect, no worries
According to the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, 1,024 accredited institutions have religious affiliations. Some of these schools do offer same-sex domestic benefits, such as Davidson College, a Presbyterian-affiliated institution in North Carolina, says Andy Brantley, who served as the school’s human resources director in the mid-1990s.
“The overwhelming majority of Davidson College’s peer institutions institutions were providing those benefits,” says Brantley, now president and CEO at CUPA-HR. “We saw it as not only our responsibility from a social standpoint but also from a competitive standpoint for the college.”
Some religious institutions say this is a non-issue, and that they haven’t experienced any backlash for not offering same-sex benefits. Take Geneva College, an evangelical Christian liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. “There has been no measurable impact on retention or recruitment of faculty,” says Timothy Baird, associate vice president of operations and HR.
Likewise, Indiana Wesleyan University, also a Christian school, attracts plenty of applicants for open positions and experiences a high retention rate, says Janelle Vernon, vice president for enrollment management.
“There has not been an occasion where an employee left our employment over sexual orientation or same-sex domestic partner benefits,” says Vernon.
Earlier this year, Bethel College, an evangelical Christian school in Indiana, received 90 resumes from applicants for four admissions counselor positions.
“There are five to six schools in this area,” says Rick Munroe, college spokesman and vice president for institutional advancement. “We really haven’t had any problems recruiting because there’s a really good candidate pool just in this area.”
Bethel faculty and employees agree to a covenant lifestyle and statement of faith when hired, Munroe says. The school doesn’t extend job offers to non-Christians but accepts non-Christian students.
The college’s staff and faculty represent a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.
“We probably have some professors or staff who believe that same-sex marriage is OK and they’re Christian,” says Munroe. “They can believe what they want. It’s what they do that matters. According to our covenant lifestyle, you couldn’t work here and be in a homosexual relationship. You could be gay, but not a practicing gay.”
Although many people in this country consider such views as discriminatory, the college mainly attracts evangelical Christians who support the school’s benefit policies, so no one is complaining.
Bethel has recently received donations from supporters who thank the administration for not wavering, and staying true to the church’s core beliefs in the midst of the nation’s cultural shift, Munroe says. “We want everyone to be treated equal, including Christian schools.”
He brings up a valid point and interesting, if controversial, observation—that the higher education market, which promotes and embraces diversity, also makes room for differences.
Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.