On appeal, UWM grants in-state tuition rate to husband in same-sex marriage

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Dr. Robert Schneidewend and Jorge Quintero. -Photo: Courtesy

UWM officials have decided to award in-state tuition rates to a gay man who moved to Milwaukee to be with his husband, who’s lived in the city for over a year. The couple was legally married in New York.

Admission officials originally rejected Jorge Quintero’s tuition request, citing the state’s constitutional ban on recognition of same-sex marriage and civil unions. He and husband Dr. Robert Schneidewend appealed the decision.

At a hearing, university officials said Schneidewend’s position as a medical resident does not conform with state statute governing in-state tuition status, because it involves a contract with a fixed end date.

In an interview for a story that appeared in WiG on Sept. 21, Schneidewend said admission officials had treated them dismissively. Requests for information were “often ignored, unresponded to and … inconsistent,” he said.

Following WiG’s story, Equality Wisconsin executive director Jason Burns contacted university officials to advocate for the couple.

“When I first learned of this situation, I was completely surprised,” Burns said. “This just didn’t seem like the values I know UWM to have embraced. In the end this was an issue that was caused by ineffective communication and misinformation. Upon learning of this issue, the university’s administration took immediate action to remedy the situation. This is a perfect example of why UWM is constantly awarded the status of one of the nation’s most welcoming campuses for LGBT students.”

At an Oct. 10 meeting with Michael Laliberte, vice chancellor of student affairs, the couple finally got a chance to explain their situation to a sympathetic listener, Quintero said. Laliberte apologized for the insensitive way that the situation had been handled and urged them to file yet another appeal, this time based on merit, Schneidewend said.

Peck School of the Arts faculty considered Quintero an exceptionally strong candidate who would be a great asset to their student body, Schneidewend explained. With exceptional vocal skills and 15 years of experience as a professional dancer with world-class ballets, Quintero had a rare blend of talent and experience to bring to the school. He’d already been cast in the school’s spring musical.

The final appeal resulted in Quintero receiving the Regents Equity Award, which qualifies him for in-state tuition rates based on merit in the spring and summer semesters of 2013. Next fall, he can either apply for an extension of the award or receive regular in-state tuition, Schneidewend said.

Quintero was notified of the decision by email.

“This award is not documented or advertised anywhere,” Schneidewend said. “It’s used for extenuating circumstances based on merit or academic performance.”

“We are over the moon,” he added “We’re just really excited and relieved, but at the same time it’s a shame we had to go through all this.”

“I think this has been a great experience for this university,” Quintero said. “I have a feeling the university will do what’s right from now on, because this is an embarrassing situation for them.”

Quintero credited the intervention of Equality Wisconsin with helping to change the outcome.

“Without the help of Equality Wisconsin, specifically executive director Jason Burns, I would not have been awarded in-state tuition,” he said. “This experience with Equality Wisconsin has given me confidence about our community. Together we can accomplish great things.”

Prior to the couple’s successful appeal, Laliberte emailed WiG to complain that our coverage of the original story was misleading.

“I want to make it clear that the headline and portions of the article, which implied that UWM had discriminated against a gay couple in the context of a residency decision, were incorrect,” he wrote.

“As an institution, UWM values and is supportive of our LGBT students, faculty, and staff. In the case of residency, the qualifications are set by statute and UWM does not have the discretion to ignore the statutory criteria. While UWM may be required to follow Wisconsin law, which does not recognize gay marriage, UWM does not make decisions based on sexual orientation or any person’s membership in a protected status. On the contrary, we have a strong nondiscrimination policy to which we strictly adhere.”