Part-time faculty face cuts before new health care law

Jennifer Ray-Tomasek is a part-time faculty member at Kent State. Photo by Brian Smith.

Jennifer Ray-Tomasek is a part-time faculty member at Kent State. Photo by Brian Smith.

Rex Santus

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Video by Brian Ivey

Jennifer Ray-Tomasek usually teaches anywhere from 12 to 16 credit hours in a semester. This fall, she said, she was slated for 14 — until administrators broke the news to her.

As a part-time faculty member at Kent State, Ray-Tomasek said much of her workload — and pay — has been cut this year as a result of the impending Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“It was a bit of a shock,” said Ray-Tomasek, who teaches in the College of Public Health and the College of Education, Health and Human Services.

“I spent several days trying to get a good understanding about it.”

The law, which goes into effect on New Year’s Day, mandates that the university must provide health insurance to all part-time, or adjunct, instructors teaching more than three classes. Marketplaces for the uninsured opened on Tuesday.

Throughout the state, many universities are taking precautions.

As a response to health care regulations, Kent State has increased the number of full-time appointments by combining adjunct positions, Provost Todd Diacon said.

That means some part-timers lost their jobs altogether while others lost teaching hours. Meanwhile, there have been 21 new full-time appointments this year.

“We would not want an adjunct faculty member to teach more than three courses in any given semester,” Diacon said. “It just doesn’t make sense. ACA plays into that.”

Ray-Tomasek said she understands that adjunct cuts are necessary. Still, she said her household income has decreased by a third, and, to compensate, she’s teaching more classes at Baldwin-Wallace College.

“I have felt very alone in this,” she said. “I don’t feel that there is anybody that I can turn to that has my interests as an adjunct in mind.”

Last year, more than 50 percent of Kent State’s faculty members were adjuncts, including those at regional campuses, said Wayne Schneider, director of Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness. More recent numbers were unavailable.

Diacon could not provide estimates of how many adjuncts were affected. However, part-time cuts this year might not necessarily be a result of the Affordable Care Act, Diacon said.

“I don’t doubt that you can go out and find people that will say they had their course load reduced because of ACA,” Diacon said. “I don’t doubt that you can go out and prove that that’s the case, but I think those are fairly isolated incidents.”

The university’s official policy, he said, has always been focused on increasing full-time positions, not reducing part-time ones.

“What we know from the research and the literature is that students succeed better when they’re taught by full-time faculty,” Diacon said. “Not because the adjuncts aren’t great but because the full-time faculty are probably around more.”

Diacon said part-time faculty are important at Kent State, but adjuncts who teach more than three classes might as well be full-time employees.

“We’ll have to pay health insurance anyway, so why not just provide these opportunities?” Diacon said.

If an individual college does hire a part-time faculty member to teach more than three classes, it falls on their respective budgets to cover that employee’s health-care costs. In other words, if the College of Arts and Sciences hires a part-time teacher for too many hours, the College of Arts and Sciences will pay for the employee’s health insurance.

“It’s the colleges that are responsible for these kinds of costs,” Diacon said. “They generate these costs. They pay for these costs.”

Health care is just one aspect of the controversy swirling around part-time faculty at universities, said April Freely, an English lecturer at the University of Akron and co-chair of the Ohio Part-Time Faculty Association, an advocacy group for university employee equity.

Many universities rely on cheap adjunct teachers without providing them the same advantages of full-timers, she said.

Katherine Burke, a former adjunct instructor in Kent State’s School of Theatre and Dance and a member of the OPTFA, said she is not teaching at Kent State this semester because it offers little money for a lot of time.

“I could not afford to teach this semester because adjunct teaching takes up a lot of hours and time and energy that I can’t afford to give up at this point,” Burke said.

No one person is to blame, she said, but something has to be done. Kent State could start by providing opportunities for benefits and tenure to part-time faculty.

It’s also unfair for Kent State to discourage giving part-time faculty more hours, she said.

“How can the university rely so heavily on cheap labor and do that?” she said.

Contact Rex Santus at [email protected].