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Article updated: 3/12/2013 3:30 PM

Adjunct faculty protest community college cutbacks

By Kimberly Pohl

Concerned that community colleges are cutting the teaching hours of part-time faculty to avoid providing them health care under the Affordable Care Act, educators are imploring presidents to reconsider.

A few dozen faculty members representing several institutions protested the monthly meeting of the Illinois Council of Community College Presidents at the Westin Lombard hotel on Friday.

"If you don't have contingent labor, you don't have community colleges," Roosevelt University faculty member Beverly Stewart said afterward. "They shouldn't just unilaterally change working hours and put everyone in a position where they're not making enough to survive."

Under the health care act, employers with 50 of more "full-time equivalent workers" must offer health plans to employees who work more than 30 hours a week beginning in 2014, or face possible fines.

But the Internal Revenue Service has yet to determine the guidelines regarding what will be considered full-time for adjunct faculty. It's anything but cut-and-dry, considering certain courses require more time preparing, grading and time on other tasks.

As a result, community colleges attempting to craft upcoming class schedules are "erring on the side of caution," Oakton Community College spokeswoman Janet Spector Bishop said.

Bishop said the Des Plaines-based community college, where adjuncts teach 65-70 percent of classes, recently instructed departments to assign adjuncts no more than 21 "learning hour equivalents" in 2013.

She said there are intimations that the IRS will set the threshold at 22.5 hours, so Oakton's figure ensures the adjuncts won't qualify as full-time employees.

"This is a short-term solution, and we plan to go through a thoughtful and collaborative process to make sure we're addressing a very complicated solution the best way we can," Bishop said.

Stewart said the move will result in a significant drop in income for adjuncts, and could force some to go on Medicaid.

At Harper College in Palatine, where the 687 part-time faculty teach slightly more than half of the courses, administrators are keeping current policies in place for the spring and fall terms in 2013 but are looking at the summer term.

"We want a certain number of full-time faculty and a certain number of adjuncts in order to manage our budget," Harper spokesman Phil Burdick said.

"But nothing's been decided yet."

More full-time faculty could lead to higher expenses for community colleges, and possible tuition hikes.

Burdick said the American Association of Community Colleges is advocating on community colleges' behalf to get some clarity out of Washington, but that no timeline is in place.

Stewart said if community colleges were to "look at the data," they'd find many adjuncts are already covered through a spouse or a full-time job.

"They're erring in a way that is thoughtless," Stewart said.

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