Foreshadowing of the Ban's Economic Impact
UW-Madison is the only school in the Big 10 that does not offer domestic partner benefits. That's hurting the university. It's also hurting the state economy. Governor Jim Doyle tried to fix the situation with a budget proposal last year, but he was rebuffed by state lawmakers.
In February 2005, Governor Doyle told the Capital Times that this is a practical, economic issue:
"You can feel strongly about the definition of marriage. This does not overturn any kind of definition of marriage. You can feel strongly about what your religious beliefs or moral values are. But in the real world of living in a very competitive academic environment ... we should not go out into that competition with one hand tied behind our back," he said.Around the same time, state Rep. Mark Gundrum (a lead sponsor of the civil unions and marriage ban) told the Associated Press, "I'm not looking to tailor our budgeting policy to make sure we retain left-wing social activists."
University researchers--regardless of their political persuasion, Mr. Gundrum--often bring in millions of dollars of grant money and help feed the expanding biotechnology sector. One of those researchers is Dr. Robert Carpick. He's a specialist in the cutting-edge field of nanotechnology. According to the Associated Press, Carpick has decided to leave UW because of the lack of equal benefits:
Rob Carpick, associate professor of engineering, said he will depart for the University of Pennsylvania, which offers domestic partner benefits, at the end of the year. He's taking with him a research portfolio that has won $3.4 million in grants from the National Science Foundation, branches of the U.S. military and private companies since 2000.As we've noted many times, if it passes, the civil unions and marriage is very likely to be used to overturn existing domestic partner policies, potentially making it impossible for UW to ever enact such a policy.
"After six and one-half years of working very hard, I found it's problematic to work in an environment where you are not treated equally," Carpick, 37, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Fortunately there are other entities that are more enlightened than the state of Wisconsin on this issue and the University of Pennsylvania is one of them."
UW-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell said Wednesday that Carpick, the winner of prestigious teaching and research awards for young scholars, was among the university's top young researchers in nanotechnology, an area the school is trying to expand.
"It's certainly a great loss for us," he said. "Rob has been very productive in his time here. He's been a model young faculty member, active researcher, great teacher. Students love him in his class."
Michael Corradini, chairman of the engineering physics department, made a counteroffer hoping Carpick would stay.
"Rob is one of our young superstars," he said.
Carpick is the latest in a string of faculty members who have cited the policy in leaving or turning down jobs here, including two professors from its top-ranked sociology department. Farrell said other top scholars will not even consider working at UW-Madison because of the policy.
Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, defended the Legislature's decision to reject Doyle's plan, citing the estimated $500,000 per year cost of the benefits at a time the state has budget problems. He said Carpick's departure was unfortunate but the next person may be able to secure as many grants.
If the lack of domestic partner benefits is already costing Wisconsin talented professionals (and their research grants), the ban will only make it worse. It's not enough to hope, as Rep. Kaufert does, that we may find another equally talented researcher. The point is that we shouldn't be at a competitive disadvantage that automatically screens out brilliant and creative minds just because they're gay or want to live in a place that values fairness for gay people.
Fortunately, more and more business leaders, like the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Madison Inc., are willing to go public with these concerns too.