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Published Sep. 16, 2009

University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft served her institution and her community well last week in announcing that USF would extend benefits to the domestic partners of its employees. The announcement was but a small part of Genshaft's annual "State of the University" address. But it marked a big step forward in social policy - and also for the university's bottom line.

Extending job benefits to domestic partners not only chips away at the discrimination experienced by committed heterosexual and same-sex couples. It makes good business sense. By providing access to insurance, paid leave and other benefits, employers help their workers and their families cope with the financial and emotional tolls of everyday life. The city of Tampa and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office are but two major public employers who know firsthand how domestic benefits can boost employee morale and loyalty.

The university said that based on national averages, about 60 of its 6,000 employees eligible for benefits might be covered by the change in policy. Benefit details and eligibility still need to be worked out between USF and its faculty and staff.

The university should be open to accommodating a full range of benefits. Competing institutions know the value these perks have in helping to attract and retain key teachers, researchers and staff. The University of Michigan and Ohio State University are but two research universities that offer similar benefits. The expected costs of about $500,000 a year (from nontuition and nonstate sources) are manageable. At a time thousands of Americans are losing their jobs and insurance, the university is stepping up. This is smart for the school, good for our community and a valuable display of higher learning in action.