Fordham Faculty Wins Equal Benefits After Four-Year Fig

Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., announced that Fordham will extend legally domiciled adult benefits to all faculty members on April 30. (Photo Illustration by Alex Palomino/The Observer)

Published: May 5, 2010

Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé has worked at Fordham University for 23 years as a professor of Spanish and comparative literature and is the chair of department of modern languages and literature. In those 23 years, his partner was not afforded the same benefits as the spouses of Cruz-Malavé’s heterosexual colleagues. But on April 30, the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, approved benefits that will provide Cruz-Malave’s partner with health insurance.“For the first time… at Fordham I will be able to seek comfort in the fact that my partner of 33 years, now my spouse, will have guaranteed health insurance,” said Cruz-Malavé. Cruz-Malavé and his spouse are legally married in the state of Massachusetts.

Faculty members fought for four years to extend equal benefits for every member of the faculty, regardless of sexual orientation. Previously, legally domiciled adults (LDAs) were not recognized in the faculty’s benefits package. This means that same-sex marriages and partnerships, including relationships between two men, two women, or between an unmarried man and woman, were not afforded the same benefits as marriages between heterosexual individuals. LDA benefits also extend to faculty members who may be responsible for caring for an elderly parent or another dependent adult in their household.

The benefits package will be based on the model the University of San Francisco uses. The benefits include health care, access to Fordham facilities and tuition redemption. Each member of the faculty will be allowed to claim one individual for their LDA benefits. There are two classes of LDA benefits: one for domestic partners, the other for dependent adults. Each class includes various requirements and validation, but as Patrick Hornbeck, an asst. professor of theology and a member of the committee on salary and benefits, said, “It’s equality. Every member [of the faculty] gets the option.”

On the day McShane announced that LDA benefits were approved, those attending the meeting offered a standing ovation. Elizabeth Cooper, associate professor of law at Fordham University School of Law, said, “I thanked him from the bottom of my heart for taking this wonderful step. There are now people who are considering to work for Fordham, people considering to study at Fordham, who had not done so before. His mission is to improve the vegetation of this wonderful school and he took a very significant step in doing that.”

Multiple faculty members cited opposition by Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York State, as the reason McShane refused to approved LDA benefits prior to the April 30 faculty senate meeting. It was speculated that Dolan did not agree that domestic partnerships should receive the same rights as traditional marriages.

However, Dolan was quoted in a Sept. 20, 2009 issue of New York Magazine in support of equal health benefits for all people. This raised the question of whether the waiting period prior to approval was the result of moral or financial debate.

Andrew Clark, associate professor of French and comparative literature and chair of the committee on salary and benefits for the faculty senate, said that McShane announced that he had informed Dolan of his decision, and McShane was willing to put LDA benefits in place for all faculty members.

“I’m very happy. I think we’re finally treating our community as a whole, and it means good things for Fordham,” Clark said. “The response of the faculty senate and the people in audience was one of joy and thanks and relief.”

Hornbeck said, “It’s a moment where we feel a lot of relief and joy and great deal of peace for an issue the faculty has been fighting for so long… It’s a remarkable sign of what the Fordham community can do when it puts its mind to doing important things for justice.”

There was unanimous faculty senate vote to extend LDA benefits in 2006. On Dec. 4, 2009, the faculty senate met with McShane to discuss LDA benefits with a presentation by Cooper.

Clark said, “[McShane] agreed to hear out our presentations, but he demanded that it be listening only and that he wouldn’t take questions or make a response.” The salary and benefits committee, in charge of creating the salary and benefits package for all faculty members in the University, decided to refuse to begin annual negotiations until LDA benefits were approved.

Prior to the approval of LDA benefits, Clark said, “We have refused to do any salary and benefits negotiations that don’t include LDA benefits. The University can’t fully function without a budget.”

“The benefits money is the faculty’s money. It comes out of our pot. The University can vote to give us a larger pot, but we always had the authority to divide the pot as we want. That’s why we decided to make the decision through salary and benefits because there was no movement anywhere else so we figured since we have the authority we would like to include LDA benefits into that,” Clark said.

Faculty members heard rumors the week prior to the LDA approval announcement. Hornbeck said, “It just happened that the day I learned that LDA benefits might happen was the day that my partner started his new job at Columbia. He had been job searching and the lack of benefits was a real concern for us. The fact that he took up a new position eased our immediate needs, but the campaign for LDA benefits was broader than that. It was about the principle that if we are all part of the Fordham family, all Fordham families deserve equal treatment.”

It will take a few months before LDA benefits are put into action. The companies that provide insurance coverage to the University must rewrite their packages, and Fordham must rewrite their statutes to extend the language beyond spouses to include LDAs. There’s an open enrollment in the fall, when Clark and Hornbeck said they would like to have the benefits in place. Clark said, “We hope to have the LDA benefits in place by Jan. 1, 2011, at the latest.”

“It’s very real. [A faculty member may] have a partner and they’ve been paying $1,600 out of pocket, and, now, they won’t be, and that’s huge,” Clark said. “The general feeling is one of happiness and great relief and a sense of peace at the University.”

Hornbeck said, “Walking into campus on Monday, I felt a sense of calm and welcome that I hadn’t quite felt in the same way before. I had previously had a nagging sense that spoke of inequality; this decision has gone a long way toward rectifying that… It puts us in a league of Jesuit institutions that say that social justice is not incompatible with Catholic identity.”

Cooper said, “I used to be embarrassed when people asked me does Fordham have LDA benefits, or partner benefits, and I would have to say we didn’t… I’m just so proud to say we do.”

Cruz-Malavé said, “It’s been a struggle, but what has been most rewarding and touching for me has been the way in which in these long five years so many of our colleagues and students have made our cause their cause and have insisted that there cannot be a Fordham that is fair, equitable and moral if LGBT colleagues and their families are not treated with equal dignity.”