Benefits will highlight USF’s goal of diversity

As a University that prides itself on diversity, including that of its employment practices, it is definitely a smart move for USF administrators to approve “domestic partner” health care benefits. If these benefits were not offered for those employees in a domestic partnership, it would send a skewed message to the public as to what type of institution USF is trying to be.

In her many public addresses, USF President Judy Genshaft has touted USF’s forward thinking practices with diversity. She expressed this in her fall 2002 address when she said, “Whether it’s race, age, gender, economic background, sexual orientation or any of the other identifiers of a diverse world, our University must be a welcoming place.”

Indeed, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, an organization that advocates rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, said on its Web site that domestic partner benefits “have become one of the hallmarks of a progressive company that values diversity,” and that “a (insurance) plan that does not include domestic partner benefits ignores a growing portion of the workforce.”

One of the roadblocks in the progress of this might be defining exactly who qualifies for these benefits and how to fund them. To legally fund these benefits, the University cannot use state money because Florida does not recognize same-sex partners as legally eligible dependants.

“What we’re trying to do is move the University toward a more liberal interpretation of who is entitled to (these benefits),” faculty union President Roy Weatherford said in Thursday’s Oracle.

“We’ve already made some progress bargaining on the general idea (of domestic partner benefits), but there are a lot of technical and legal complications on the issue.”

Instead of using state funding, one option for the University is to use money from the USF Foundation to fund the benefits. In November, money from the foundation was used to fund Genshaft’s bonus and raise. Surely, many would agree that placing these funds into health insurance for many employees would be better than pumping money to only one USF employee.

However, there are some who are opposed to granting these benefits to qualifying individuals because they see this as a breakdown of the “traditional” family. Yet it would not be as if USF was recognizing these unions as equivalent to marriages. In offering these benefits, the University is mainly trying to stay competitive with other employers and provide health care for the employees it already has.