The University Council overwhelmingly approved a proposal to allow domestic partners of university employees to receive “soft benefits,” but President Michael F. Adams said the plan must be okayed by state and University System officials before going into effect.
At its final meeting of the academic year on April 21, the council adopted a proposal that would extend certain university-administered privileges and services to domestic partners and their dependent children. The proposal doesn’t specifically identify the so-called soft benefits, but Irwin Bernstein, chair of the council’s Faculty Benefits Committee, which presented the plan, said they could include such things as checking out library books or buying athletic tickets.
The plan does not include benefits administered by the board of regents, such as insurance and retirement.
The proposal defines a domestic partnership as “a relationship in which a person resides with, is financially interdependent upon and shares the common necessities of life with their university employee partner.”
Bernstein said the university’s Human Resources office would determine which benefits could be extended to domestic partners and would administer the plan.
Several council members spoke in support of the proposal and none openly argued against it, though some questions were raised about how the plan would be administered and whether it would require additional costs. The proposal passed with only a smattering of “no” votes.
At the beginning of the debate, a council member asked Adams if he would implement the plan if it passed. Adams replied that he would not act without guidance from the board of regents and the state attorney general’s office.
“I’m required to uphold the law and the policies of the state and the university system,” Adams said. “I would refer this to the regents for interpretation and seek the advice of the attorney general.”
When a council member noted that Georgia State University and Georgia Tech have adopted similar soft benefits plans, Adams said, “A number of people think [those institutions] may be in violation of the law.”
The council also voted to change the policy to allow undergraduate courses to be dropped or added only through the fourth day of classes in the fall and spring semesters. The policy had been that both undergraduate and graduate courses could be dropped or added through noon of the sixth day. The change does not affect graduate courses.
The council’s Educational Affairs Committee requested the change because many faculty members were unhappy with the six-day limit for undergraduate students, according to committee chair Karen Shetterley and other committee members. They said students use the drop/add period to “shop” for classes, often missing the first several days of a class and falling behind on class material.
The changed policy includes the stipulation that “students are responsible for work assigned and material covered from the first class meeting.”
Several Student Government Association members who serve on the council opposed the change, arguing that students should have a chance to check out course syllabi and requirements, and observe a teacher’s style, before committing to the class. An amendment by the students to raise the undergraduate limit to five days was voted down.
In other action, the council:
- Adopted an academic calendar for 2006-07 that places 2006 fall commencement on Friday, Dec. 15. In that year, Saturday-the normal day for commencement-is the Jewish holiday Hanukkah.
- Voted to change the Gerontology Center to an Institute of Gerontology, a designation that permits awarding of course credits and possibly degrees.
- Voted to terminate the Center for Biological Resource Recovery and the Institute for Natural Products Research, both of which are no longer active and have no faculty or staff.
- Accepted as information the report of an ad hoc committee that has developed a proposed policy for administrative reorganization of colleges, schools, divisions and departments. Bernstein, who was chair of the committee, asked council members to circulate the proposal to faculty in their units and send feedback to the council Executive Committee.