Part-timers’ plight

They don’t have job security, offices or benefits, and if they’re not careful, part-time faculty at Youngstown State University may lose their jobs altogether.

A memo sent out on Nov. 29 by Kevin Reynolds, chief human resources officer, outlines a new university policy, which implements a 24-hour cap on adjunct faculty’s work hours.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, led to the Internal Revenue Service classifying full-time work as 30 hours or more per week. As a result, YSU would be forced to provide health care benefits to eligible employees.

If they exceed the limit, they’re fired.

“Part-time faculty means they are employed for that specific term, and there is no guarantee of any future employment after that term,” Reynolds said.

“No exceptions to 24-hour limits but they could come back in later years,” said Teresa Riley, associate provost.

The original limit was 18 hours, but after further evaluation and constant communication with department chairs, Reynolds felt 24 hours was a reasonable amount.

To avoid having to make exceptions, the administration hopes that informing faculty of the policy now will lead to unilateral adherence to the rule.

The administration has concocted a formula to calculate true hours worked, balancing the discrepancy between teaching and clock hours. The most a part-timer could work throughout an academic year is 1,512 clock hours.

“YSU will use a multiplier of 63. For example: if a part-time faculty member teaches 6 hours during the Fall and 6 hours during the Spring, that load would equate to 756 clock hours (6 + 6 = 12 x 63 = 756). Therefore, that part-time faculty member could still work for 756 hours in other jobs,” the memo reads.

“This is the government inventing ways to get around rules that are made by the government,” said Matt Williams, vice president of New Faculty Majority.

New Faculty Majority is an Akron-based organization that represents the interests of adjunct faculty members across the country.

YSU employs 573 part-time faculty members and 432 full-time professors, one of the highest part-time rates in the state.

Guy Shebat, an instructor in the English department, oversees the composition program.

In the English department, the largest department on campus, 74 part-time employees far exceed the 29 full-time faculty members. He said the administration’s adjustment of the policy was reasonable and helped alleviate the burden some part-time faculty members would have faced.

On average, an adjunct faculty member in the English department teaches 12.5 hours per academic year.

A part-time faculty member at YSU makes $800 per semester hour, and often relies on logging additional hours in the English Language Institute or the Writing Center to make more throughout the year. Now, those additional funds appear to be out of reach.

If a part-timer maximized his time teaching, it would add up to $19,200 before taxes, which is $8,030 over the federal poverty line for a single person.

“We, too, are highly educated and highly skilled, and I feel we should be making a living wage. We do this because we love teaching, and we believe in the mission of YSU,” said Karen Schubert, a part-time English instructor.

Part-time instructors are budgeted to collectively make almost $4.6 million in fiscal year 2013, whereas full-time faculty members are allocated $34.5 million.

“I guess the key thing is that this is a part-time position and as such, it’s compensated as a part-time position,” Riley said.

The discrepancy in pay is justified, Reynolds said. Full-time faculty are contractually obligated to engage in research, scholarship and community outreach-based endeavors in addition to instruction, whereas part-time faculty members only teach.

“No number of classes will allow me to obtain insurance, but the stress of more classes will lead to more health problems,” Schubert said. “One of my colleagues had to put the cost of surgery on his credit card. We are in a very precarious position.”

YSU President Cynthia Anderson and her Cabinet of nine made more than $1.5 million in fiscal year 2012, not including the newly hired vice president for university advancement, R. Scott Evans. This is 33 percent of what the entire part-time faculty will make this year.

“The ethics of higher education has become the ethics of compensation for administrators,” Williams said.

Williams said it’s a moral dilemma, which the universities are handling in the wrong way.

“It’s clear that over the last 25 or 30 years, there’s been a substantial shift in focus of higher education, away from education to anything else under the sun,” Williams said.

Much to Williams’ dismay, it’s a growing trend throughout academia.

“That’s the way the other universities are approaching it. This is not a YSU issue,” Reynolds said.

The Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles issued the results of its undergraduate teaching faculty survey in October. Nearly 75 percent of all faculty members cope with stress as a result of internal budget issues. Part-timers lack essential support necessary to maintain morale, with only 18 percent of part-timers reporting they were provided with personal space; most must share already limited resources.

In the English department at YSU, tables are scattered throughout the office for adjunct faculty to meet with students.

“The precipitous rise in the employment of part-time faculty at colleges and universities has not been accompanied by institutional policies and resources designed to support part-time faculty in their efforts to be effective educators,” Kevin Eagan, HERI assistant director for research said in the report, which he co-wrote.

Individuals debating over whether they should attain higher education are often sold on the idea with a promise of increased opportunities.

“Whatever happened to social contract? The promise of better life through higher education? The same professors communicating that idea in the classroom are then denied [that opportunity],” Williams said. “It’s bullshit. It’s not true.”

As a repercussion, students lack the support and dedication a full-time faculty member can provide.

“If I have six classes [at two different universities] with 15 to 25 students in each, and they are all giving me three essays and three drafts each semester, and a good review of an essay takes 20 minutes, well, there aren’t that many hours,” Schubert said. “If a student is struggling and would benefit from extra support, I can’t offer it.” 

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