Part-time state college profs sue for benefit equity
By Kristin Palpini
With the number of part-time professors on the rise at college
campuses, a group has banded together in an effort to gain benefits
similar to their full-time colleagues.
In late November, unions for the state's public college and university
faculty, the Massachusetts Community College Council and the
Massachusetts Teachers Association, filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior
Court seeking coverage for 400-500 employees who teach multiple courses
per semester at different public institutions, but are not considered
eligible for state health insurance.
If successful, health insurance could be extended to many of the
part-time professors on the state's community and state colleges, as
well as the University of Massachusetts campuses. Extending coverage to
community colleges alone could cost the state as much as $2 million per
"The state should be paying to cover their health insurance, but the
state refuses to do so," said Joseph T. LeBlanc, MCCC's president.
LeBlanc argues that hundreds of adjuncts fit the state's definition of
long-term part-time employees. That is, they work at least 18 hours and
45 minutes per week, which qualifies them for the state employee health
insurance plan, administered by the Group Insurance Commission.
"The state, as an employer, should be doing the right thing," LeBlanc said.
Lisa Boodman, counsel for the GIC, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is being filed at a time when colleges and universities are
increasingly hiring part-time faculty, also known as adjuncts or
lecturers, to teach at their schools.
Across the nation, about 46 percent of faculty are part-time professors, according to the American Federation of Teachers.
Community colleges typically have a higher concentration of adjuncts.
At Greenfield Community College, for example, about 68 percent of the
faculty is part-time, which is comparable to the national average.
In 2003, there were 3,824 part-time professors teaching at the state's
16 community colleges. In 2009, there were 4,340, a 13 percent increase
in six years, according to the MCCC.
"If we're going to continue to overuse them then I think we should be providing them with health insurance," LeBlanc said..
Adjuncts are less costly, as schools are not required to provide them
with health insurance and generally pay them less, and they are
typically hired on a per semester basis.
LeBlanc, who has been working with professor advocacy groups for 10
years to get part-time faculty on the state plan, said legal
representatives for the state will argue that because adjuncts are
hired on a per-semester basis, they do not qualify for the state plan.
However, many adjuncts teach semester after semester at the same institution.
"The state says these instructors only teach term to term, but I could
point out people who have been teaching term after term after term for
8, 10, 20 years," LeBlanc said.
John Cipora, a sociology professor at Holyoke Community College, counts among that group.
Cipora, one of the five faculty plaintiffs named in the MTA MCCC
lawsuit, has been teaching at least three courses per semester at HCC
since 2001. He has no health insurance.
"It would cost me $500 a month," Cipora said of purchasing insurance
for himself. "The only way I can afford that is if I stop paying other
bills, and I'm not going to do that."
Since 1999, health insurance premiums have gone up by 131 percent,
outpacing workers' wages, which rose by 38 percent over the same
period, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which
annually tracks changes in health coverage and costs. Premiums rose
faster than inflation, which grew by 28 percent over the last 10 years.
Meanwhile, the average adjunct at a public Massachusetts institution earns $3,000 to $5,000 per three-credit course.
"In spite of the fact that many of us teach far more than half-time
loads, we're still considered employees when it's convenient for the
state and then we're consultants when it's convenient for them," Cipora
"Fortunately," said Cipora, a single man living in Palmer, "I have my health. Knock on wood."
Beside the paycheck, there are other differences between adjuncts and full-time professors.
Traditionally, part-time professors spend less time preparing for
classes, usually share or have no on-campus office space and are
generally less available to meet with students or their colleagues.
"I'm not trying to draw a direct equation here. I know full-time folks
do a number of things that we don't," Cipora said. Still, he said,
"there should be some equity."
Kristin Palpini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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