Faculty Senate Calls for College’s Adjuncts To Be Paid A “Living Wage”

by H. Teague

Faculty Senates have typically excluded non-tenured faculty. In fact, Faculty Senates have remained bastions of privilege, as an AdjunctNation feature article revealed. In 2005, the Iowa State University Faculty Senate debated whether to recommend the creation of tenure-eligible part-time faculty positions. In March 2011, the Faculty Senate approved revisions to the Faculty Handbook policy on non-tenure-eligible faculty (3.3.2.1). These revisions require colleges to develop optimal non-tenure eligible faculty (NTEF) percentage limits.

However, the Murray State University Faculty Senate recently passed a resolution demanding that the university compensate adjunct faculty at “livable levels,” both in terms of pay and benefits.

Faculty Senate President Kevin Binfield said the resolution was in response to concerns that MSU could limit the number of hours adjunct faculty members can teach in order for the university to avoid having to pay health benefits to those employees as required by the Patient Protection and photo, commonly referred to as “Obamacare.”

“Under the University administration’s tentative plan, adjunct faculty and part-time staff who currently work more than the 30-hour-per-week load identified as the threshold under the ACA will have their hours capped below that threshold,” Binfield said in an email explaining the resolution. “While our resolution addresses adjunct faculty, the University’s tentative policy also affects a number of Murray State staff.”

The resolution itself states that adjunct faculty members “receive less compensation for their work than is merited” and “have teaching schedules that exceed the proposed limit on the number of credit hours they can teach during a semester (9 credit hours).” It further states that the “proposed limit of adjunct faculty credit hours will limit further the ability of adjunct faculty to earn a reasonable wage.” The resolution recommends “that reasonable compensation be provided to adjunct faculty consistently across colleges and departments” and that “the development of a University-wide procedure and policy for hiring full-time instructors/lecturers from the ranks of adjunct faculty who consistently teach a full-time equivalent load.”

Dr. Jay Morgan, provost and vice president of academic affairs,  said  university administrators were looking at ways to cut or save about $3.3 million in the 2014-15 budget. No official policy has been adopted, but the administration did not want costs to escalate in the meantime, so academic units were instructed to budget their adjunct instructors at no more than nine credit hours until a firm plan could be put in place. He said some decisions would likely be made within a few weeks, and a recommended policy would be brought to the MSU Board of Regents for review at its next meeting on Dec. 6.

“This is not something that we can solve within a week or two,” Morgan said. “We’ve already begun looking at what the numbers of adjuncts are, what the potential costs per adjunct for health insurance would be, and then also what our academic needs are going forward. Basically we’ll be capturing where we are and then looking at what we can do going forward, and then the Board of Regents has asked us to get back with them, most likely at the next meeting, about what our plan would be.”

Morgan said he and administrative staff had not yet discussed the senate resolution. He said he didn’t know how close the university could come to meeting the recommendations included in the resolution, but that the administration was open to looking at them and seeing if they could be managed within next year’s budget.

Morgan added, “The senate passes recommendations from time to time, and from an administrative standpoint, we’re certainly happy to look at them and do due diligence and study the costs associated with them. We can’t do everything that’s recommended, but I think we do a pretty good job of at least trying to consider what is passed on by way of recommendation. But again, it comes back to balancing it within the budget.”

Binfield said that if the university were to adopt a policy limiting the number of hours adjunct faculty members can teach, it could not only deny them health insurance coverage, but also hinder their ability to purchase insurance on their own.

“Murray State has an opportunity to distinguish itself among American universities and to live up to its (Chronicle of Higher Education) ranking as a ‘Great College to Work For’ by offering livable pay and health insurance to its adjunct faculty members,” Binfield said. “The Faculty Senate hopes that the University avails itself of that opportunity.”

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