Community college weighs benefits for domestic partners


Howard Community College officials are mulling whether to extend benefits to domestic partners of employees - a policy at four-year institutions but less common for two-year campuses.

HCC's board of trustees last night discussed implementing such a policy and asked administrators to research financial and other implications.

They expect a report in August.

"We don't live in our own vacuum. Let's look at what this means to the community," said Joan Athen, who chairs the trustees. "But I think our mission gives a lot of credence" to offering the benefits.

HCC cannot offer health coverage to domestic partners because that decision is up to county officials, administrators said.

Valerie Costantini, who chairs the college's arts and humanities division, told the trustees that HCC should extend to domestic partners benefits given to spouses of employees.

She asked that domestic partners, whether homosexual or heterosexual, be allowed to take classes for free, participate in the college's legal-assistance plan and contribute to the supplementary life-insurance program.

She also asked trustees to make clear that employees are allowed to take emergency leave if their partners are ill.

HCC is violating its non-discrimination policy by not offering these benefits, Costantini said. The policy prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status.

"I believe it's equal pay for equal work," she said.

"I also think we've got to show political courage, to walk our diversity talk," Constantini said. "We certainly don't want to have selective tolerance."

Iris Molotsky, a spokeswoman for the American Association of University Professors, said it is common for Ivy League colleges to offer such benefits, and public universities have recently begun to follow suit.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual political organization, says that 104 colleges and universities nationally offer domestic-partner benefits. Just a handful are community colleges.

"It seems to me that the time has come," Costantini said.

She said she does not stand to gain personally. Heterosexual and not living with a domestic partner, Constantini calls the proposal a recruitment tool for the college and a way to retain employees.

"It's been a topic of discussion for a number of years," said Susan Radcliffe, HCC director of human resources.

HCC officials have been reviewing Costantini's requests, she said.

Lynn Coleman, vice president of administration and finance, estimates that it would cost HCC $2,800 annually to enroll domestic partners in free classes. That's the average yearly cost for employees' spouses, she said.

Costantini's other requests would not cost HCC anything, Coleman said, because most involve programs in which people pay to participate.

"I don't think this is going to be a financial decision," said trustee Roger N. Caplan.

Instead, he said, it's going to come down to what the board believes is right.

"It's good we're discussing it," Caplan said after the presentation. "I think it's an issue that needs discussion."

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