Part-time faculty from the University of Akron and other Northeast Ohio schools took advantage of a sunny day Wednesday to protest decisions to limit their work because they might become eligible for health care.
“Why am I being punished with my hours cut?” asked Pam Polcover, a math tutor at UA who often works 11 credit hours a semester. She was among about 20 protesters carrying large red signs outside the school’s student union.
An Internal Revenue Service ruling is pending that would determine the workload when a part-time instructor would be eligible for health insurance. Some schools estimate that threshold would be at more than nine credit hours a semester. UA is guessing that point would be eight credit hours.
That means about 400 of the school’s 1,014 part-time faculty would see their hours cut in the fall so the university would not be obligated to give them health care, an expense estimated to cost $4 million.
The university already faces a $26.7 million deficit and that figure could reach $30 million without cutting the part-timers’ hours.
The move comes as many part-time instructors across the nation are complaining about pay and a lack of benefits, and universities, especially Akron, are concerned about their increasing reliance on part-timers.
Part-timers represent 56 percent of the faculty at UA by head count and are instructors for 40 percent of the credit hours taken by students.
“The question about the number of part-time faculty this institution has has been in my viewfinder since I’ve been here,” said Mike Sherman, the school’s provost for almost three years.
He said the school is in the middle of studying the workload of all kinds of faculty and has not reached a conclusion of what the proportion should be between full- and part-time instructors.
In the interim, he is working with other area universities facing the same health-care problem to share the names of part-timers in an effort to keep their hours up.
For example, an instructor might work six hours at UA and six more at Kent State to fill her needs.
Part-timers on the UA campus Wednesday used the opportunity to complain about a variety of things, including pay.
Jim Zupanic teaches engineering technology at Youngstown State University and came to Akron to carry a sign that said “Wanna teach College? Poverty wages. No Health Insurance. No raise in 20 years. No respect.”
He knows firsthand the income differences between a tenure-track, full-time professor and part-timers like him. He is making $800 a credit hour, or $2,400 a semester for a three-hour course. Before he retired as a regular professor, he was making $75,000 a year.
Tenure-track professors are responsible for research and other services to the school that part-timers are not asked to do.
“I never felt they were well paid at any time,” said Zupanic, 65. “I definitely feel they are underpaid now.”
Paula Levin, who teaches three humanities classes at UA, makes about $8,000 a semester. She is retired from private practice as a psychologist.
“The only way I and people like me can afford to do this is Social Security,” she said. “It is so unfair to the young people.”
She had 75 essays to grade waiting at home, a three-day task.
Karen Schubert holds two master’s degrees and teaches English at Youngstown State. She said she never earned more than $15,000 in a year and is on public assistance.
“We have so much angst about that,” she said.
Sherman said it’s not personal.
“It’s not about [part-timers] or any individual, it’s about the institution really assuring its own financial integrity and they do provide a valuable service to the institutions. They are valuable contributors to our success.”
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.