IRS Suggests ‘Reasonable’ Ways of Calculating Adjuncts’ Hours

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education

February 11, 2014

Audrey Williams June

The Internal Revenue Service has issued final rules on how colleges should calculate adjuncts’ workloads to determine whether such faculty members are eligible for health benefits under the new law designed to expand health insurance to more Americans.

The agency said last year that colleges must “use a reasonable method” for crediting adjuncts’ hours of service.

In a document released on Monday—a text of final regulations to be published in the Federal Register this week— the agency states that “one (but not the only)” reasonable method for colleges to use to tally the work of adjuncts is to say that, for every hour they spend teaching, they work an additional hour and 15 minutes outside the classroom grading papers and preparing for class.

The rules, which could be subject to further guidance, also provide a way for colleges to count other duties that adjuncts are “required” to do outside of the classroom, by calling for institutions to credit adjuncts with an hour of service per week for each hour they spend on tasks such as attending faculty meetings or holding office hours.

The agency’s regulations go beyond what higher-education groups such as the American Council on Education were advocating last year—one hour of work for every hour spent teaching—as some colleges were cutting adjuncts’ work hours to get them below the 30-hour-a-week threshold for employer-provided benefits.

However, the guidance offered by the IRS on Monday is likely to play out differently for some adjuncts because the circumstances under which they work can vary.

A Minimum Standard

Maria C. Maisto, president of New Faculty Majority, an adjunct-advocacy group, said via email that she had heard from unionized adjuncts who say they aren’t required to go to meetings or hold office hours, so counting those tasks as part of their work hours isn’t possible. For now, she said, she sees the regulations as providing a minimum standard for how adjuncts’ work hours should be counted.

Although some parts of the rules aren’t entirely clear, Ms. Maisto said, the IRS has still managed to draw attention to the special work circumstances of adjuncts.

“The key takeaway from this is that the IRS recognized that there is a lot of complexity to contingent faculty work,” Ms. Maisto wrote. “They listened to all of us as carefully as they listened to the colleges and ACE, and they are, in their own way, doing what we recommended, which is to force a conversation about what can “reasonably” be said to constitute the appropriate amount of work done by faculty in order to provide a quality education.”

David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges, said his group was generally pleased with the regulations, which he said “reflect the fiscal realities facing community colleges” and the conditions under which they employ adjuncts.

Community-college leaders had been concerned that the regulations might impose “substantial additional health-care expenditures” on their campuses, Mr. Baime wrote in an email, but a preliminary analysis suggests that will not be the case. “The regulation does not appear likely to induce most colleges to make broad-based changes in their approaches to employing adjuncts,” he said.

An ‘Alarming Snapshot’ of Adjunct Labor

Source: Chronicle Vitae
Date: January 24, 2014

by Sydni Dunn

When Rep. George Miller, a Democrat from California, launched an online forum asking adjuncts to submit stories of their working conditions, contingent faculty greeted the effort with cautious applause. Finally, a national public figure was speaking up about higher education’s deepening labor gap. But would the talk lead to any substantive action?

Weeks after the forum’s submission deadline, that has yet to be determined. But today Democrats in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, on which Miller serves, weighed in with a 36-page report detailing its findings.

The report draws on 845 stories submitted by adjuncts in 41 states over the course of six weeks. For the most part, it echoes news articles and other recent research on adjunct labor: “Contingent faculty often earn low salaries with few or no benefits, are forced to maintain difficult schedules to make ends meet, face unclear paths for career development, and enjoy little to no job security.”

But it also suggests a possible solution: passage of the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights Act of 2013, a bill introduced last February that would, among other things, extend Affordable Care Act coverage mandates and family and medical leave protections to part-timers. (The bill was referred to a House subcommittee in April and has languished since.)

This is just one idea, though, and there’s no indication that the bill will soon make headway. Miller said in a statement that he plans to work with fellow committee members, universities and colleges, and contingent faculty to posit more solutions to the “troubling issues.”

The report’s findings will help guide those discussions, said Julia Krahe, communications director for the education and workforce committee.

‘Just-In-Time Professor’

Miller said that the report—“The Just-in-Time Professor: A Staff Report Summarizing eForum Responses on the Working Conditions of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education”—is “in no way an exhaustive account of the circumstances of adjunct faculty,” but it raises “some serious concerns.” It pairs data gathered from the forum entries with anonymous quotes from the respondents.

The respondents, despite varied education and work backgrounds, submitted stories that were largely consistent, Krahe said. While some said their employment situation was better than others, citing union contracts or access to benefits, most shared the same difficulties.

Highlights from the findings include:

Contingent faculty often have low pay and few, if any, benefits. Of the 845 forum respondents, 166 supplied information on how much they are paid per course. Most respondents indicated they made between $2,000 and $3,500 per three-credit hour course. Of the 152 respondents who listed their estimated annual teaching salary, the average was $24,926.

More than 60 respondents reported salaries that would put them beneath the federal poverty line for a three-person family. Some respondents said they were on federal assistance programs like Medicaid or food stamps. One added: “During the time I taught at the community college, I earned so little that I sold my plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for [my child’s] daycare costs.”

On top of low pay, 75 percent of the respondents who discussed the topic said they did not receive benefits—either because their employer didn’t offer them or because they were otherwise ineligible. One adjunct wrote: “The health care plan that I could buy into costs more than my take-home pay on even a good year. My retirement plan is to work until they bury me.”

Most respondents teach several courses per semester and travel among several institutions. Nearly half of the adjuncts who specified their course load taught either two or three three-credit-hour courses per semester. But because some respondents took on many additional courses, the average course load is just over three.

Those instructors are also teaching at multiple universities at a time. Of respondents who gave information about the number of schools they served, 48 percent taught at two institutions, 27 percent taught at three, and 13 percent taught at four or more. Most identified themselves as “freeway flyers.” One respondent said: “My commute at the highest point was 900 miles per week; at the lowest it was only 550 miles per week.”

Adjuncts lack job security and predictable schedules. 95 percent of respondents who spoke on the matter said they had no job stability and did not know whether they would be teaching courses from one semester to the next. Furthermore, some adjuncts said they often find out if they have a course just days before the semester begins.

More than 100 respondents said they have never had sufficient time to prepare for their courses. One wrote: “I taught four courses in the fall, but was not told until the day before spring semester started that I wouldn’t have any classes for the spring. I was unemployed with no notice.”

Adjuncts report receiving little professional support. Several problems were cited frequently: a lack of administrative support, difficulty securing copies of required textbooks and students’ email addresses, limited access to professional-development courses, and inability to participate in departmental meetings.

One adjunct recalled: “Although I’ve been at my … very decent university job for the past 15 years, a tenured professor asked me, ‘So, you’re teaching for us this semester?’ Why am I not part of this ‘us’ after so much dedicated teaching, year after year?”