Jul. 24, 2014

Adjunct healthcare

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February 18, 2014

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In response to a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to offer health insurance to employees working at least 30 hours weekly, former Governor Robert McDonnell, R-Va., required all public colleges to limit part-time adjunct professor hours to an average of 29 per week. We feel that not only are professors’ hours nearly impossible to quantify given the scope and responsibilities of their job, but that Virginia colleges and students would benefit from providing those professors with health insurance.

Quantifying professors’ hours requires taking into account their duties outside of the classroom, which is extremely difficult. To help colleges determine whether they will be required to provide part-time professors with health insurance, the Obama Administration designated that for every hour a professor spends in the classroom, she spends another 1.25 hours in preparation. Arbitrary and inflexible, this designation hurts adjuncts who spend more than this precise ratio of time working outside the classroom: emailing students, grading papers, creating lesson plans, researching, meeting with students outside of office hours, and attending department meetings. Limited by Virginia’s part-time 29-hour ceiling, adjuncts may be underpaid or discouraged from doing their best work.

A limit on adjuncts’ hours may diminish the quality of their work and hurt both students and the College. Students do not base a course’s value on the status of the professor teaching it, only on what they can get out of it. However, adjuncts may be limited in how much time they can spend with students outside class; similarly, they might not teach effectively if they know they will not be compensated for the additional hours they spend making lesson plans. Students with adjunct professors deserve the same quality and attention they would receive from regular professors, just as adjuncts deserve comparable pay and benefits for the same work. The College is currently the number one public school in undergraduate teaching: Let’s keep it that way.

If Virginia maintains its hour ceiling for adjuncts and does not provide them health insurance, it will ultimately discourage future professors from teaching at Virginia public colleges. Millions of Americans rely on employer-based health coverage and often choose their jobs based on whether it will be offered; this especially applies to adults over 26 years old, who are no longer on their parents’ insurance plan. The College will not look attractive to adjuncts seeking financial security if we refuse them health insurance. Similarly, current adjuncts may flee the College upon receiving a better offer. For the sake of our education and out of fairness to hard-working professors, Virginia needs to offer health coverage to adjuncts.

Imposing a limit on the number of paid hours for adjuncts based on an arbitrary quantification of those hours will devalue professors’ time and discourage them from giving students the best possible educational experience. Refusing to offer them health insurance will hinder the College’s ability to hire quality professors, who will likely be looking for those benefits. In requiring public colleges to conform to these standards, the commonwealth of Virginia has made a shortsighted decision — one that we hope will be revised by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Katherine Chiglinsky recused herself from this staff editorial to remain unbiased in her reporting.

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