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Adjunct professors protest limit on work related to health care law



Last modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2013
From restaurants to classrooms, employees who are considered part time are facing cuts in their weekly hours in advance of the full rollout of the federal health care reform law.

Locally, that means the number of courses adjunct professors at the Community College System of New Hampshire can teach will be limited next semester, capping potential earnings at about $10,000 for some who use the jobs as their main source of income.

The IRS released proposed rules in January requiring colleges to count time spent outside the classroom, either in preparation or grading, but advised colleges to “use a reasonable method for crediting hours of service,” instead of providing a national formula. Employees who work 30 or more hours in a week are considered full time under the federal law.

Using a formula that each credit hour translates to three hours of work, including preparation and grading, the Community College System of New Hampshire has asked campus administrators to limit adjuncts to nine credit hours – or about 27 hours of work each week – next semester.

In an email to department leaders in February, NHTI Vice President of Academic Affairs Pamela Langley wrote, “it is the new healthcare bill that is driving this, since it would require that we pay health benefits (not prorated ones, but the same ones) to adjuncts teaching 75% or more of a full-time load.”

On Tuesday, New Hampshire adjunct professors stood outside Manchester Community College to protest the limit.

Some said the realization that the health care law they once supported is being used against them was a harsh reality to swallow.

Craig Lange is a member of the team that has been negotiating for a contract since the adjuncts joined the State Employees’ Association two years ago. When the health care reform law passed, he was with a group of adjuncts at a system board of trustees meeting.

“We all applauded when the news came in that (the law) passed. . . . I didn’t think it would go this way,” he said.

Lange, who has taught science at the community colleges in Nashua and Manchester for the past seven years, said he’s somewhat surprised to be in such a similar situation to his 18-year-old son, who works at a fast-food restaurant.

“I’ve seen it coming to us for a while now, because they’re doing it there, hiring a lot of people and limiting their hours so they don’t have to give benefits.”

System Chancellor Ross Gittell could not comment in detail on the considerations for adjunct health benefits because of ongoing negotiations with the union, but said that the system is caught weighing student access through affordable courses against increasing benefits for employees.

In their budget request to the Legislature for the next biennium, system officials asked that funding be increased to 2010 levels, after being cut by 20 percent in 2011.

“The broader public good was helped by the Affordable Care Act and we’re doing the best in the context of our limited budget and our focus on student success. Difficult decisions have to be made, and while we appreciate what the adjuncts bring to the community college system, we are focused on students, on our financial model, and in the context of decades of rising health care costs, you can’t just isolate this point in time and criticize what we’re doing, without looking at what’s happening across the country,” he said.

Both private colleges and state-run higher education systems are using the same limits on course hours to limit exposure to the health care reform requirements, including colleges in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

At a hearing in Washington, D.C., before a panel of IRS officials, six groups representing higher education and adjunct faculty spoke out Tuesday against campuses that are using the guidelines to skirt the Affordable Care Act provisions.

Though the IRS has promised previously to provide further guidance, the Chronicle reported the panel gave no indication when that might happen.



(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)