Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When the IRS is Your Best Hope

When the IRS is your best ally, then you know you are in a world of hurt.  The IRS is now pushing universities to more accurately count the hours adjunct faculty work.  Why?  Because universities seem to be as scummy as some of the big businesses that are cutting back on the hours of workers to evade the requirements of Obamacare. 

Of course, this should not be surprising since the proliferation of adjunct positions is in large part due to the strategies of universities to avoid paying the expenses (that would be benefits) that accrue to tenured and tenure track faculty. 

A series of companies have announced that they would be firing workers or cutting hours to avoid Obama care, and my reaction has been to say: well, I guess that is the last time I eat at Wendy's or whatever.  The problem here is two-fold: I don't know which universities are and are not manipulating hours to evade Obamacare; and the only threat I really possess is not sending my daughter to such a place.  That is a one shot threat.  On the other hand, I already have a strong preference to send my daughter to a school that is less reliant on adjuncts.  Why?  A) Because of my preferences as a professor--I do not want to encourage schools to rely on the non-tenure track; B) I have a belief that adjuncts have much less time to do their job well.  If they get paid, on average, less than $3k per class, then they need to teach how many classes to get by?  A heap of them.  Sure, tenure track folks care about research and have to do service, and big classes can mean that profs do not learn students' names, but I still think that folks like myself can pay more attention to the students with our two or three course load, compared to someone teaching five courses and driving all over the place to teach them. 

I do wish that universities, when promoting themselves to potential applicants, would not just list the %  of teachers who have terminal degrees (PhDs, MFA's, whatever) but list % of tenure and tenure track folks.  That is the 21st century signal that the place cares about the quality of education.  Hiring adjuncts to fill in gaps is one thing, but when they become the modal way to deliver classes, then it is clear that cost structures are a higher priority than the creation/dissemination of knowledge.

Again, I am biased in all of this, so take what I say with a grain of salt.  Instead, consider that the adjuncts need to rely on the IRS.  That says it all.


R. William Ayres said...

To be fair, a great many management decisions about how many classes a particular adjunct teaches are made by chairs, who have neither the expertise nor the incentive to engage in game-playing with hours to avoid some kind of benefits trigger. A central university administration could, I suppose, impose a blanket requirement that ALL adjuncts be below a certain level of hours. For departments that have favorite adjuncts (favorite because they're reliable and teach really well and the students love them), this would suck and the faculty would raise a ruckus - so you can't do this quietly. Otherwise, I don't think it's going to be easy for any university to "tinker at the margins" to cut hours below some threshold quietly. And given how decentralized these kinds of things tend to be, especially at larger universities, I doubt that much of it is happening.

But I could be wrong. Even with my career travels, I've only taught at a half-dozen places - there are thousands of others.

Chip said...

at my college we can hire full time temporary faculty, who do get benefits. But we are only allowed to hire part-time faculty at no more than two courses per semester -- College policy is that more than that qualifies them for health care and other benefits.

This was not always so, it was a decision made a few years ago, explicitly as a way to not have to pay benefits. So even as chair I'm not allowed to hire an adjunct to teach more than two courses per semester. They're way ahead of this game unfortunately...