USF to offer domestic partnership benefits

For three years, a University committee has worked toward getting domestic partnership benefits for full-time employees. A package could be implemented this academic year.

USF President Judy Genshaft announced at her University Address Sept. 9 a plan to offer domestic partnership benefits.

The Committee on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (CISOGI) serves as an advisory committee to USF President Judy Genshaft, geared toward Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals, according to its Web site.

“When a campus says it appreciates diversity, it should,” said Karen Berkman, the chair of CISOGI. “This is definitely a step in that direction.”

CISOGI and University administrators are still working on the details of the benefits package and other qualifications recipients must meet, Berkman said.

“I can’t release the details on the final product,” she said. “The process is being finalized as we speak.”

However, these changes could be implemented during this academic year, something that Genshaft hopes for, said Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith.

To qualify for these benefits, one member of a couple must be a full-time USF employee, Smith said. Benefits will be extended to same-sex and heterosexual unmarried couples who don’t already receive them from another job, he said.

Among USF’s 13,000 employees, 6,000 are eligible for benefits, said University spokesman Michael Hoad. The national estimate for eligible employees who will use the benefits is 1 percent, he said.

USF employees must provide proof of having a domestic partner relationship, such as having a joint bank account, Smith said.

Employees receiving the benefits could also receive a stipend, which provides a salary supplement, Smith said.

“We still have some work to do,” he said. “We took the president’s announcement that this is something she wants to do.”

When the University of Florida announced it was giving domestic partner benefits to its employees three years ago, the state Legislature passed a bill in response that prohibited the use of state money for an alternative health care plan, Smith said.

Based on national data, the benefits package will cost the University an estimated $500,000 annually, said Sandy Lovins, associate vice president for the Office of Human Resources.

The money will likely come from auxiliary funds, such as money from campus vending machines and concession stands at USF sports games, Smith said.

Smith said the University would have to find additional funding, though.

“Funding for (the benefits package) will draw largely from auxiliary funds,” Smith said. “And there’s just not an auxiliary fund that has that kind of money on an annual basis.”

Three years ago, James Cavendish, associate professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences, conducted a survey on how likely faculty would take advantage of domestic partnership benefits.

Out of 23 people who identified themselves as LGBT in the survey, 20 said they would “possibly or definitely” make use of the benefits now or in the future, Cavendish said.

“It’s a real situation,” Cavendish said, “(It’s) going to impact people’s lives for the better.”

USF student Kristen Shalosky, the former president of the student People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality (PRIDE) Alliance, said the city of Tampa already offers domestic partnership benefits for its employee.

“I think it’s an important symbol that USF is embracing something that is much more progressive for this era,” said Shalosky, a senior majoring in international business.

Smith said the University has received some “criticism” about the domestic partnership benefits.

“Internally there has been some critique that this isn’t the right time,” Smith said. “We’re sensitive to it, but we’re trying to move forward.”