From - USF will offer domestic partner benefits

By Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Thursday, September 10, 2009

TAMPA — The University of South Florida plans to start offering full domestic partner benefits to employees, president Judy Genshaft said Wednesday.

Details of the benefits and eligibility requirements still need to be worked out, but administrators said they would cover both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

"We believe it's the right thing to do, and we'll work to make it happen this year," Genshaft told administrators, professors and others during her annual state of the university speech at the Marshall Student Center.

Based on figures from universities that already offer the benefits, USF has budgeted about $500,000 annually to provide the benefits.

Genshaft said no money allocated by the state, paid in tuition or received from the USF Foundation will be used to pay the benefits. Instead, administrators said they anticipate using revenue from other sources, such as concessions.

Administrators and faculty members have been discussing the issue of benefits for domestic partners for about two years, but Wednesday marked the university's first public acknowledgement that it is committed to providing them.

The USF system has about 13,000 employees on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Lakeland. Of those, about 6,000 are eligible to receive university benefits and thus would potentially be eligible for domestic partner benefits.

Based on national averages of employers who provide the benefits, USF would expect about 1 percent of those 6,000 employees, or 60 people, to participate, USF spokesman Michael Hoad said.

Genshaft's commitment is "a step forward," said faculty senate president Laurence Branch.

"The details will be important, and nobody has seen those yet," said Branch, a distinguished university professor in USF's College of Public Health.

USF senior vice provost Dwayne Smith said those details are subject to negotiation with USF's unions representing faculty members and staffers.

But the benefits would likely be available only to USF employees' partners who did not already have benefits through their own jobs, Smith said.

In studying the issue, USF administrators looked at similar benefits currently offered at the University of Florida, Hillsborough Community College and Florida International University.

USF's analysis suggests that many large national research universities with whom USF competes for faculty members already offer domestic partner benefits, Smith said. That group includes institutions such as the University of Michigan and Ohio State University.

Although the city of Tampa and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office have announced in recent years that they would provide benefits to the partners of gay employees, USF administrators acknowledged that some people might not like the university's decision.

"We anticipate some critique," Smith said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.


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