To increase competition for faculty and promote a comfortable learning environment, the UA now offers a domestic partner tuition program available to same-sex domestic partners and their dependents.
The UA is the first and only Arizona school to offer the new Domestic Partner Tuition Program, which provides tuition reductions for qualified faculty and their domestic partners.
"It's not just a question of doing the right thing for our employees, it's also a question of being competitive," said President Peter Likins.
Likins said the UA is out of step with other universities that offer domestic partner benefits, such as health insurance, and the tuition program is a change he could make at the university level to compete with other institutions.
"From my perspective, it is about society evolving and understanding that homosexuality is part of the human condition," Likins said, mentioning other minority groups that society has accepted.
Since the incarnation of the program this semester, the human resources department has had 11 applications for the tuition program, said Marcia Chatalas, director of human resources.
"It's a small tester that impacts a relatively small number of families, but it reflects that we support their decisions," Likins said. "I think it's really important that we create a learning environment that works for everybody."
Likins said the response from the community has been generally positive, with the only negative feedback being that the tuition program is limited to same-sex domestic partners.
"I think members of the gay and lesbian community appreciate (the program) because I'm doing what I can do," Likins said.
As for health insurance for domestic partners, it could be a while before anyone sees any changes.
The state government and Legislature do not offer these benefits to employees, and they would have to change their stance on domestic partner benefits before the UA would see any changes, said Allison Vaillancourt, vice president for Enrollment.
Change is unlikely because university employees carry the same insurance as all state employees, Vaillancourt said.
"Until we are able to offer health insurance, we won't be as competitive as we need to be," Vaillancourt said. "On the upside, the university is a welcoming place for the LGBT community."
Joan Curry, chair of OUTReach, a networking organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender faculty, staff and graduate students at the UA, said she is grateful for the tuition program because it helps the morale of faculty and staff.
"There's a trickle effect," Curry said. "It reaches out to everyone."
Curry said OUTReach has been working to attain benefits for members of the gay community for about 10 years.
"It's definitely a door-opening thing," Curry said.
The tuition program has helped her reach a peace of mind, especially because she felt unequal coming to work every day with the knowledge that she did not receive the same benefits her colleagues did, Curry said.
"It balances the scales," Curry said.
DPTP is offered to qualified university employees and their dependents who provide proof of registration with the City of Tucson Domestic Partnership Registry, according to a letter written by Likins announcing the program.
The program charges domestic partners $25 to attend the UA per semester, which is the same as the regular tuition program available to qualified staff and spouses, the letter said.
The only difference is that the amount of the waiver is added to taxable income for domestic partners, whereas for married partners it is tax-free, Curry said.
Curry said she and her domestic partner participate in the program, which has had monetary as well as psychological benefits.
"By being treated equally, it is an indication that you are valued," Curry said.