Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Brain Drain at Virginia Colleges and Universities

Backwardness and bigotry do have their price.  And it is often an economic price but it can also involve the less tangible loss of talent to more progressive areas.  Here in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia there is an ongoing loss of young college educated individuals.  They go off to college and never come back because the area is lacking in progressive ideas and opportunities.  Instead, they flock to Washington, D.C., New York and other progressive meccas which also offer more job opportunity.  And in Southwest Virginia, companies do not want to relocate to that backward region that makes even Hampton Roads look progressive in comparison.  Now, Virginia's backwardness and anti-gay fixation is harming the state's flagship public colleges and universities which are seeing top academics leave for institutions of learning in more progressive, gay friendly states.  The Washington Post condemns what is happening and calls on Virginia to drag itself out of the 19th century and provide domestic partner benefits to same sex couples (gay marriage is, of course, the real solution).  Here are editorial highlights:

NOT LONG AGO, a tenured professor at the University of Virginia’s College of Arts and Sciences moved to a university in New York because her same-sex partner, diagnosed with cancer, couldn’t get covered by her health insurance in Virginia. A physician at U-Va.’s medical school decamped for an Ivy League school because state law doesn’t recognize her relationship with her partner or their children, so she couldn’t get them coverage.

How many more talented minds have to leave before Virginia takes concrete action to protect publicly employed academics and thus the quality of their universities? 

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling earlier this summer that the federal government must treat same-sex marriages the same as heterosexual ones, gay and lesbian academics are weighing a new set of incentives to leave public universities and colleges in the commonwealth.

“We already have lost valued gay and lesbian faculty to our competitors who do not discriminate,” Mr. Trammell told The Post’s Nick Anderson in an interview. “With changes in federal benefits soon available to legally married gay couples, we will lose more.”

A number of Virginia’s public university presidents pushed for the state to address this very problem in 2009. They have been ignored by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the outspoken anti-gay rights attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli II (R).

U-Va., an academic powerhouse, is one of eight so-called “public Ivies.” It tied for second place in this year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings of the nation’s public universities. Unless the university fixes this situation quickly, its standing and prestige may suffer.  

[T]here is troubling evidence that the state may face an accelerating brain drain of gay academics. And when they leave, in many cases they take their grant funding with them. For example, he detailed how a tenured professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s pharmacology and toxicology department moved to a private nonprofit research institution in North Carolina that offered full benefits to her partner of 20 years. When she left, she took along her grant of more than $1 million — a loss for Virginia and a win for North Carolina.

Even in states that, like Virginia, don’t recognize same-sex marriage, some public universities have expanded health-care benefits to include same-sex couples. The University of Missouri, for instance, recently adopted a more inclusive plan. There’s no reason that Virginia shouldn’t be able to do the same — especially at Thomas Jefferson’s university.

Naturally, the closeted Ken Cuccinelli vehemently opposes any recognition of same sex couples and has claimed that Virginia's public colleges and universities cannot provide non-discrimination protections to LGBT employees.  Should Cuccinelli win in November, expect the exodus from Virginia to accelerate.

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