• September 2, 2015

Adjunct Group Begins a Push for Unemployment Benefits

Adjunct Group Begins a Push for Unemployment Benefits 1

David Ahntholz for The Chronicle

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, says a key goal of the new campaign is to help adjuncts receive unemployment compensation between academic terms.

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close Adjunct Group Begins a Push for Unemployment Benefits 1

David Ahntholz for The Chronicle

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, says a key goal of the new campaign is to help adjuncts receive unemployment compensation between academic terms.

The New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy group, plans to formally announce on Monday a campaign to push more out-of-work adjuncts to file for unemployment insurance between academic terms and during summer breaks. The organization's goal, ultimately, is to change a federal law that some colleges routinely invoke to keep adjuncts from receiving unemployment benefits during those interims.

Maria Maisto, president of the advocacy group and an adjunct who works in Ohio, says the organization's decision to undertake the National Unemployment Compensation Initiative stemmed from a recession that has worsened the already-tenuous job security of adjuncts and has thrust unemployment benefits into "the public eye right now. But many adjunct and contingent faculty don't realize that they're eligible to file."

And those who do file are regularly denied compensation, based on each state's understanding of a simple clause in the federal unemployment-insurance law that says benefits should not go to those with a "reasonable assurance" of continued employment. Colleges sometimes point to the assignment letters adjuncts receive describing their institution's intention to rehire them for the following term as evidence that they have such an assurance. Adjunct advocates argue that, because adjuncts' contracts are contingent on enrollment and available funds, their future employment is left uncertain.

Some states do provide such benefits during interims. Adjuncts in California have routinely received unemployment payments at those times because of a 1989 ruling by the California Court of Appeals that clearly states that part-time faculty members are eligible for the compensation. And more recently, in Washington State, adjuncts have persuaded legislators to fine-tune state law to work more in their favor, too.

That progress is encouraging, says Matt Williams, New Faculty Majority's vice president, but a sustained, nationwide campaign is what it will take to pave the way for real change, including revision of the federal law.

"By addressing the unemployment issue, we also simultaneously address some of the other issues—like creating a more stable work environment for contingent faculty," Mr. Williams says. "We're really seeing this as at least a 15- or 16-month campaign."


1. hikerwoman7 - May 24, 2010 at 05:43 am

The New Faculty Majority needs the support of ALL faculty in this effort to create fair working conditions for contingent faculty. I found their website full of helpful information and hope that many uncertain, uneasy and/or unemployed adjunct faculty get more involved in this organization. Their website is http://www.newfacultymajority.info/national/

2. dboileau - May 24, 2010 at 10:41 am

For many adjuncts this movement is very helpful, but at the same time the national debate on this issue needs two important distinctions. First a clarification of terms. I have seen adjunct refer to someone who teaches one class once a year/semester/quarter as well as someone who is full-time on a year by year contract [My univeristy uses "adjunct" for anyone on a semester-by-semester contract for one or more courses and "term" for those who are full-time for two semesters while some of those term instructors have multi-year contracts. Second, one needs to consider the categories of adjuncts as all do not necessarily fit the single category implied often in such legistlation. As a former adjunct for six and half years with a full time job, it would seem unnecessary to have me as part of that group. As a former chair who hired between 20 and 50 adjuncts in a given semester, the problem is not the benefits, rather the problem is not hiring enough FT faculty. I am not sure making universities pay unemployment benefits for the summer when the FT faculty are not paid in the summer solves as many problems as it creates. We should be addressing the problem of reliance on adjunct faculty...

3. rosearbor2 - May 24, 2010 at 10:51 am

As I see it, the real problem is the pitiful pay -- $2,000 for a 3-credit course -- before taxes and with no benefits. How can colleges and universities in good conscience think this is a fair amount? This is a national shame that needs to be addressed.

4. valrie - May 24, 2010 at 10:51 am

I concur. Adjuncts make colleges functional, afford full and assistant professors the opportunity to do their research and often supply more than 50% of students with their education in key courses. Why then should we not beenefit from unemployment when enrollment is down. It is already punitive that most colleges do not offer benefits to adjuncts even at their cost (life & health, pensions, etc.

5. div411 - May 24, 2010 at 11:21 am

Many of us tenured academics at research universities often ask ourselves why adjuncts, eager as so many of them are in to earn more and to mingle more with real faculty, don't take up any of the well-meaning offers by tenured professors--offers to assist with research, to carry out chores like checking out and returning library books, finding the best flights and accommodation for conferences to be attended by real faculty, and perhaps assisting with child care and small home tasks. Adjuncts, if they performed well, would surely be able to secure strong references from real faculty. The adjuncts at my university do a good job in teaching, but they seem oblivious to the many things they could do to help us.


6. psyc132 - May 24, 2010 at 11:46 am

I can only hope that div411's comment is either a tongue in cheek comment designed to point out the ludicrousness of how adjuncts are perceived and treated by many of their tenured peers, or a "plant" to get discussion going in the comments section.

7. scanlo10 - May 24, 2010 at 11:52 am

I'm sure their are adjunct who want to integrate into tenure positions that need to step up and join research and scholarship projects. Other adjuncts may only be interested in teaching "on the side" from their normal positions. However, I think it's silly to propose that an adjunct who walks your dog or fluffs your pillows properly may finally earn a "real faculty" reference or recommendation. That's just silly.

8. kmarch - May 24, 2010 at 11:55 am

I agree with you, psyc132. As a tenured full professor, I find it offensive that a colleague would write the words to suggest that adjunct faculty should even consider such menial tasks. Clearly, div411's ivory tower has room for improvement.

9. iduhpres - May 24, 2010 at 11:58 am

Adjuncts are the serfs of higher ed working ion the fields so the lords and ladies can do their research. This needs to change. Adjuncts (a euphemism if there ever was one) are important and valuable but should not abused as they are so full-time "faculty" can have massively reduced roles teaching and administrators can avoid hard decisions which would anger faculty but return them to the classroom.

The adjunct issue is a major scandal. They earn less than they would if they worked at Wal-Mart. There they might even get some benefits. There they would not even need a high school diploma never mind advanced degrees. There they could even get an employee discount and possibly be able to afford food and lodging as opposed to what they can buy with the scraps from the academic table.

This is a scandal of national proportions that calls for a national solution and review.


10. prje8199 - May 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Come on Robert - you are kidding, right? Where is that button that says I can report abuse?

11. nfmorg - May 24, 2010 at 12:22 pm

@dboileau: See the NFM press release for some specific answers to the issues you raise: http://newfacultymajority.info/national/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=101&catid=44&Itemid=147

12. anonscribe - May 24, 2010 at 01:13 pm

"Robert" is obviously satirizing the high-brow tenured faculty who perceive their efforts to "include" adjuncts in department business without paying them and without having the slightest intention of providing them a tenure-track position within their department.

Kudos to the New Faculty Majority for doing this work. Universities certainly understand cost-benefit analyses. Right now, they're just taking advantage of the least protected. If universities derive a benefit from a pool of available, highly qualified labor, they should bear the cost of maintaining that pool--not spouses, family, or the unemployment compensation taxes of other employers.

13. jeff1 - May 24, 2010 at 02:48 pm

Indeed the situation is one of economies of scale and adjunct faculty are employed in proportion to need and the ability of universities to easily hire them each semester. That said, the argument that adjuncts deserve unemployment is rather interesting given they do only contract work (e.g., teaching) rather than the full range of faculty duties in most cases. Higher education depends too heavily on adjunct/part-time faculty. The solution is to build the full-time faculty ranks and as adjuncts push for more support (which it is certainly their right to do) they will push universities to look for solutions that could include reductions in their numbers. The other fact of the matter here is that full-time faculty generally do not advocate for part-time faculty other than to pay lip service to fairness. So let's get real about the situation here . . . the model works financially and there is limited rationale for providing contractors unemployment benefits when their contracts are not in force.

14. philip75 - May 24, 2010 at 03:31 pm

I sure hope Robert had his tongue firmly in cheek.

But the issue here is unemployment benefits for part-time faculty members. Out here in California, adjuncts do qualify for benefits during the summer and during the breaks between semesters.

According to the Cervisi decision (and this is my paraphrase), even if an adjunct has recieved and signed an offer of employment for the following semester, it does not constitute a reasonable assurance that the job will actually materialize. An adjunct's class(es) may not fill, or if full-timer's class did not fill, s/he would have to "bump" the adjunct to maintain his/her contractually-required workload.

As the president of the faculty union representing both full- and part-time teachers, I send a reminder to adjuncts informing them of their rights under the law at the end of every semester.

15. boiler - May 24, 2010 at 03:52 pm

This strikes me as one of those issues that's a little less than meets the eye. Most adjuncts won't be eligible for unemployment in any case, since they don't rely on it for the bulk of their income. For those who are do, it makes a lot more financial sense to do other work in the summer than to take unemployment, which pays only a small percentage of what is already a paltry wage. There are a number of other disincentives for unemployment insurance, including the requirement that you look actively for work while you receive it. While it's certainly wise to take advantage of what resources are available to you, there are relatively few adjuncts who are going to get much help from unemployment compensation.

16. newsoffice - May 24, 2010 at 04:19 pm

I am among those people who thinks adjunct teaching really shouldn't exist. It underminds education and morale, and most importantly reduces tenure track lines & positions. Departments should not hire adjuncts. As long as there is a surplus of PhDs who will work for less $/per hour than our teenage daughetr gets paid by the neighbors to babysit, tenure track jobs will continue to wither on the vine. These people have my sympathy -- it is not their fault, I am not saying that, but the fact that they will work for free is helping to destroy the university system. For good or bad we live in a a capitalistic society and cheap labor always prevails. Universities, sadly, are no different. These people need to be told to move on with their lives and departments members need to teach their own courses - not farm them out to desperate people who will (essentially) work for food.

17. categorical - May 24, 2010 at 05:18 pm

"Many of us tenured academics at research universities often ask ourselves why adjuncts, eager as so many of them are in to earn more and to mingle more with real faculty, don't take up any of the well-meaning offers by tenured professors--offers to assist with research, to carry out chores like checking out and returning library books, finding the best flights and accommodation for conferences to be attended by real faculty, and perhaps assisting with child care and small home tasks. Adjuncts, if they performed well, would surely be able to secure strong references from real faculty. The adjuncts at my university do a good job in teaching, but they seem oblivious to the many things they could do to help us.


And this would be so kind!

18. rochcom - May 24, 2010 at 07:51 pm

I do not understand the arguments that adjuncts are somehow different from other workers or that they are better off taking other jobs for the summer. Other jobs for the summer? What jobs? If there was academic work, they would not be applying for unemployment compensation. In most summer-only jobs they would be competing for employment with their own students (vacation relief workers in retail, summer camps, etc.). How much credibility would a department have if a faculty member supposedly preparing a student for a rosy future promised by the discipline is seen taking a job requiring less than a high school education? How many tenured faculty would take advantage of this "opportunity?"

As for not being eligible, let us say that a part-time maintenance worker at a college is injured on the job and will not be back to work for 5 months. The college might hire a temporary worker as replacement for that period. When the permanent employee comes back, the temp can apply for unemployment insurance while looking for a new job. Now let's say that the same thing happens to a tenured professor and new adjuncts are hired to teach that prof's courses for a term, but are then let go. Why are they not entitled to the same benefit?

It does not matter that the adjunct does only part of the work of the full timer. OK, perhaps advising is taken over by other full-timers, but perhaps the temporary maintenance worker is not certified to adjust the boiler and another full timer takes over that job. Does this mean that the maintenance temp should not be allowed unemployment because he took over only some of the duties of the permanent worker?

Both workers were hired to do jobs as specified by the employer. Both are or should be entitled under state and federal law to unemployment while they try to find a new position. In most states, they can hold out for their customary employment for several months before being required to accept any job.

19. rosearbor2 - May 24, 2010 at 08:35 pm

It's the pay, people! One adjunct I work with had 60 students in an Intro to Psych class. Let's see -- 60 x 3 hours a week x 15 weeks = 2700 hours x (What's the babysitting rate these days?) It certainly isn't $.74. And that doesn't count prep, test prep, correcting, conferences . . . Sure, unemployment pay would be great, but there's this elephant in the room.

20. 22235933 - May 24, 2010 at 10:39 pm

As an adjunct myself, I agree with a lot of the sentiments but I don't see how unemployment benefits would help. Nearly all the adjuncts I know and I know plenty, almost all of us work in the private sector in some capacity. I work full-time alongside my 3 class per semester contract with my college. In my state, I wouldn't qualify for any benefits because I have my full-time job. My question is this, who is working ONLY as an adjunct?

And as far as the pay is considered, it is inequitable compared to the responsibility but so is MOST public work. I consider myself a volunteer, even though I do get paid by my college. I teach because I have some damned fool altruistic motivation for it. I'd love to chuck my principles and take my Ph.D. to the private sector - but I feel like I'm doing more good at my college.

21. sfrajett - May 25, 2010 at 01:48 am

I used to share the attitude reflected in several comments here that adjuncts are somehow apprentices who could use a leg up from "real" faculty. Conversely, many faculty believe that adjuncts are second-rate teachers without a research agenda who are lucky to be teaching at all. I also bought into this myth at one time. Then I was denied tenure. Today I adjunct teach despite haveing a book and many articles that are respected in my field. Now I teach with no hope of a tenure-track job, or even the security of counting on an income from month to month.

The growing reality is that many adjuncts are former professors who were denied tenure for political, institutional, or discriminatory reasons. These teachers have books and articles that may be groundbreaking, or at the very least, well-respected, but the dirty secret of academic life is that denial of tenure is happening at an increasing rate to women, and to minority male candidates as well. In today's economy, denial of tenure means the end of a scholar's tenure-track aspirations.

In many universities, scholars denied tenure are being systematically moved from jobs with benefits to adjunct jobs--often the same jobs at the same institutions--without benefits or job security. Departments unable to manage without the teachers they relied on are hiring back professors who were denied tenure, but they are hiring them back as adjuncts to staff the courses departments have come to rely on. When I was denied tenure, the unemployment office classified my job loss as a "layoff." Surely the vicissitudes of adjunct opportunities might also qualify as layoffs in certain circumstances, especially since adjunct teaching so often relies on the very same supply-and-demand economy that produces layoffs and rehires in so many other job sectors in this country.

Being able to collect unemployment in the summer, or in an off year when the fall courses you counted on are cancelled for budgetary reasons, is the least the university can do for you.

22. townsend_harris - May 25, 2010 at 09:45 am

Robert's deadpan at "5. div411" is withering. Kudos, Robert. I wasn't sure anyone could make fun of the full-time faculty's self-absorption while in pell-mell flight from defending its own profession, but Robert pulled it off.

23. boiler - May 25, 2010 at 10:53 am

A number of comments here have suggested that, as sfrajett puts it, "Being able to collect unemployment ... is the least the university can do for you." But unemployment is a government program, not a university one. The question of whether adjuncts can collect it has to do with how the state defines employment status, not with how universities treat their employees. Focusing on grievances against tenured faculty and administrators, however justified those grievances might be, distracts from the issue at hand.

I think it would be more constructive for the author of the article, and the commentary, to explore some of the details of this issue. Which adjuncts might be in a position to benefit from unemployment compensation, and which would not? How much can one realistically expect to receive? Which states follow California's approach, and which don't? Most academics don't understand the ins and outs of the unemployment system -- I certainly don't -- and some guidance would be more useful than restating a lot of very familiar resentments.

24. marvchron - May 25, 2010 at 11:38 am

To Boiler. While unemployment compensation is a government program, it is an insurance program financed in part by a premium (tax) levied on employers. Thus, if adjuncts were eligible for this benefit, colleges would see an increase in their expenses since their premium payment (tax) for unemployment compensation would go up. This is why the colleges are in opposition. If it did not cost them more, why would they be opposed?

25. fizmath - May 25, 2010 at 11:42 am

Factory and construction workers are routinely laid off during slow periods and they collect unemployment benefits. They know they will eventually work again and they still qualify for benefits. Why should it be any different for teaching? A bit of advice: if your temporay gig ends in May then immediately apply for UE money. Even if you have a new job lined up for the fall you should still apply. The UE office does not have to know about your new job.

26. kudera - May 25, 2010 at 04:05 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

27. rear_view_mirror - May 25, 2010 at 05:15 pm

Jeff1 (post 13): Adjuncts are definitely not self-employed contractors. They receive IRS W-2's, not 1099-misc forms. The 'contractor' thing is a lie perpetrated by colleges to keep adjuncts away from any benefits of employment (other than cash).

28. profdave - May 25, 2010 at 06:50 pm

Several commenters implied that "adjunct" means "not trying to make a living at teaching." This is true for some adjuncts, but not all. Institutional research departments are uninterested in surveying their own adjunct populations to see who they are, so we don't have much in the way of statistics about the distribution of one-course-on-the-side to full-time-part-time adjuncts in any college, let alone higher education generally.

As for not informing Unemployment about your "assurance of employment" letter from the college, whoever suggested that must not have much experience with collecting unemployment insurance. They check with the employer(s) whose recent hiring and discharge of the applicant created the eligibility that is being claimed. UE is denied because of responses from former employers.

29. fizmath - May 25, 2010 at 07:57 pm

profdave, I am referring to those who are leaving one school to work at another. I successfully got the UE benefits within weeks of the end of the academic year. I did not have a job lined up. Your old school has no way of verifying whether or not you have a new job lined up for the fall.

30. donpablo - May 25, 2010 at 09:11 pm

I am a tenured professor, for 21 years, at a large state university in Ohio. I am ashamed of the way part time faculty members are treated. More than half the teaching at this university is performed by these colleagues. We are represented in negotiations by the AAUP but the conditions under which " adjunct " faculty work are not part of the fight to preserve and protect the rights, salary and benefits of professors like me.

I can see only one solution to this shameful situation: en effort to adjust the number of students admitted to all the advanced academic programs potentially leading to full time employment in colleges and universities to the number of positions actually likely to be available. Yes, that's not easy: maybe it is impossible, I cannot say. But the attempt, in good faith, may save many broken hearts, broken dreams and, as many people have written, a situation where dedicated, educated and idealistic individuals find themselves in a dead end professional situation, poorly paid and respected. Perhaps no one, following the hypocritical logic of " recruitment" for academic programs at many schools, during their years of study, led them to anticipate or prepare for this potential crisis.

I cannot say for sure whether education is a " business " in other countries, but in the USA, it is.
I have fought it as best I can, on a personal level, but the picture is distressing, for administrators, faculty, " adjunct " faculty and especially for the students. They seem to be seen as little more than cash customers. I prefer the European system myself: you must pass a difficult national entrance exam or find another line of work. This system too is in trouble, with many unemployed graduates.

Anyway, I just wanted to register my sympathy for all the colleagues struggling within our very flawed system.

31. alleyoxenfree - May 25, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Unemployment is just the beginning of what colleges owe their adjuncts, and the unions are complicit in not advocating for this nationwide. The fact that identical work is being done side-by-side with tenured faculty but compensated as "downstairs" help should keep every TT faculty member, administrator, student, and parent up nights for their participation in a system of exploitation of what are primarily women, minorities, and kids of the working class who - despite great educations - are kept firmly in place.

Adjunct faculty deserve unemployment - and pro-rated benefits, immediate pro-rated retirement participation, access to travel funds and other career advancement tools.

32. deniserobb - May 26, 2010 at 01:53 am

Someone just commented "who's working only as an adjunct" so I felt compelled to reply - "I am." I am certainly not the only one. But I am in the final year of my Ph.D. and my intention was to become a full-time professor. I've been teaching at three community colleges as well as a UC campus here in California and I am appalled at how impossible it is to make a living. I used to be a performer and I assumed a job as a professor was more stable. But it isn't. I still wait for the phone to ring, never know if I have work and have no benefits. I realize there are a lot of retired people who have full pensions and only teach as a hobby. But I wanted to make sure that everyone out there knows that many of us got our Ph.D.s so we would be able to have a career in teaching. It is still the most rewarding, exciting, stimulating job I've ever had. I get up at 6:00 a.m. to teach a class at 7 and I wake up each morning looking forward to my job. But the $250 a week salary is truly impossible to live on. My husband has asked me numerous times "are you sure this is what you want to do with your life" and crazy as it sounds - I always reply with a resounding "yes!"

33. rear_view_mirror - May 26, 2010 at 08:11 am

Re: response #31.
Unions are not only "complicit in not advocating for this nationwide," they take the administration's side. At least, my experience suggests that. I was talking to the full-timer's union several years ago, inquiring about any possible help for us, and the union rep told me "the administration likes to have the freedom to hire, and re-hire, at will, or not, the adjunct faculty who are considerably less expensive." Although the rep was cordial, it was clear from the tone that her sympathies were with the administration, and with the unionized teachers. If this is what they tell an adjunct, one may wonder, what are the conversations like when you're not around?

34. philostitute - May 27, 2010 at 12:11 pm

In my experience as an adjunct at a state school, the FT-TT faculty say one thing to adjuncts expressing sympathy and solidarity and then turn around and support the exploitive practices when the adjuncts are not around. After all, they benefit from our serf status.

The FT-TT faculty think they are more worthy than adjuncts and have no problem treating you like the janitor. I beg for the job every year regardless because it pays more than those rates advertised above and I love teaching the non-trads who populate my evening course. However, it is disheartening to have the same PhD, research record and projects while systematically being kept out of the good ole boys club (also populated by childless women) because I have been consigned to the "mommy-track" in academia. If you are a woman with children expect derision and sympathy from FT-TT but no help in securing a great position. Have children after tenure if you can because it is a career killer for women, not men.

35. denidzo - May 29, 2010 at 12:03 am

I am an adjunct at a liberal arts college. I love what I do, and no, this isn't in addition to another job, this IS my job. I teach 3 and 3, and 2 in the summer, and if you add that all up, I will make a whopping $18,000 this year teaching those 8 classes. I work just as long, and just as hard, as the full time faculty. I think I can safely speak for a lot of us - if there was a TT job available, we would love to have it. Problem is, there aren't any. There are economic woes and hiring freezes everywhere, and so here we sit, gazing longingly at schools where a full-timer teaches 2/2 with summers off. For us, summers off mean a whole lot of ramen noodles and overdue rent. Please don't suggest that colleges stop hiring adjuncts - many of us need those jobs, as lowly as they are.

36. fruupp - May 29, 2010 at 04:06 pm

I was an adjunct (and TA) for years and was glad for the work. When I completed my Ph.D. I gave myself two years to secure a full-time job. Given the economics of part-time work (with no benefits or spousal support) I had no choice but to impose a time limit on my search; continuing beyond that point was simply out of the question and, accordingly, I was prepared to move on.

Fortunately, I landed a FF-TT job within the time limit I was compelled to set for myself. Given the untenable economic conditions under which I worked as an adjunct--which presumably were comparable to those of today--I have to wonder why so many adjuncts do not appear to be similarly compelled to move on.

37. bigtwin - May 31, 2010 at 01:04 pm

Adjuncts are the authors of their own predicament. Too many graduates devalue themselves and their degrees by voluntarily accepting terrible working conditions and scandalous pay. It's no wonder universities and faculty have no respect for adjuncts. Adjuncts have none for themselves.

If there weren't so many people lining up to work for peanuts as adjuncts, getting basic rights like unemployment benefits wouldn't be such an uphill struggle. My advice to all adjuncts: get some dignity and move on to another career.

38. erc38 - June 22, 2010 at 02:53 am

In response to robert,

If you are looking for someone to do your "chores," you are probably interested in hiring undocumented immigrants.

It sounds like you are describing graduate assistants, not adjuncts. This article pertains primarily to people who are done with graduate studies and work as adjuncts to departments, not as assistants who are matriculated in the department's graduate program.

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