The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
By David Kociemba
This is the seventh in a series of Academe Blog guest posts arranged by the AAUP Committee on Contingency and the Profession in celebration of Campus Equity Week. For information on and resources for CEW, see the national website at http://www.campusequityweek.org/2013/.
There’s a new benefit worth tens of thousands of dollars that will cost your institution nothing—but they’ll fight to deny it to you anyway. It’s the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Act, which forgives certain kinds of education loans of individuals working in public service jobs… if they’re certified as full-time. There’s the catch: qualifying for this program by working 30 hours a week in public service also might qualify you for eligibility for health care under the Affordable Care Act. Unlike the ACA, however, hours working multiple part-time jobs can be combined to meet eligibility requirements.
I’ll provide a quick overview here, although you can read the details on this page of the US Department of Education website. You need to work 30 hours/week to qualify. You need to make 120 on-time, full, scheduled monthly payments on certain kinds of federal student loans under certain kinds of repayment plans since 2007, which means 2017 is the earliest anyone will get the remainder of their balance forgiven. Missed payments don’t disqualify you. You need to work with your employers to certify your workload with this form and your loan servicer on this form.
While this loan forgiveness program isn’t a new law, its regulations were clarified this year to take into account the peculiarities of employment in academia and most of the public service sector, noted for its use of part-time labor. You can combine your workload from multiple nonprofit institutions to meet the 30-hour standard. You can average your work across the employment year to meet the minimum. You also qualify if you work eight months a year but are counted as having worked a full year by your employer. Since many contingent faculty work at multiple schools, have uneven workloads, and may or may not teach the fewer summer courses available, this reinterpretation of the regulations makes it feasible for all faculty to qualify.
There have been two ways that colleges and universities have resisted certifying its workers as full-time. They’ve cut back hours for staff and courses for faculty so that they fall below the minimum. The only way to fight such Papa John’s tactics is to put public pressure on the institution through media exposure, union advocacy, and solidarity across the institution.
Since even corporate giants faced a backlash for cutting hours, more media-savvy schools have sought to cut hours by redefining the credit hour as it applies to measuring faculty work from what it meant for student work. For students, the federal minimum requires two hours of out of class work for every hour of class instruction. Some institutions mandate a 1:3 ratio for student workloads. If you calculate faculty workload using the 1:2 federal minimum standard, then teaching three 4-credit courses would mean 12 hours of in-class instruction requiring 24 hours of class preparation, research, grading, assignment writing, email, course web site design, research and writing for publication, and conference attendance. (Office hours may or may not be counted separately for your workload, depending on institutional policy.)
However, higher education administrations have started claiming that the federal credit hour does not measure faculty workload. Instead, they want to use a 1:1 ratio for professors and a 1:2 ratio for students. With a 1:1 ratio, faculty would have to teach 15 credits (4-5 classes) per semester to qualify. It’s such an arcane way of denying benefits that they feel it will be harder to hold them accountable in the court of public opinion.
Fortunately, you can fight back.
You can note that the IRS said to use “a reasonable method for crediting hours of service” for faculty. Two reasonable methods cited were a 1:3 credit hour ratio and by percentage of credit hours taught by contingent faculty to those faculty considered full-time. The IRS explicitly describes counting only in-class time for workload to be “unreasonable.” You can use your institution’s definition of the credit hour for student work to put the onus on the administration to defend altering it for faculty workload. A representative from Lumina Foundation for Education seeks to adandon the credit hour as “… a pricing measure, a financing measure, or even a faculty-workload measure…,” a statement that surely suggests that the current federal minimum credit hour ratio of 1:2 is the industry minimum standard for calculating faculty hours .
Second, credit hour shenanigans by administrations promote solidarity across faculty rank. Every professor finds it deeply offensive to be told that teaching requires so little work. Almost every faculty and staff member has massive student loan debts and sees their collective interests threatened. Administrators can expect a fight from every faculty member, not just the vulnerable and contingent.
At Emerson College, our adjunct faculty union got allies immediately from the tenure-line union president, the Faculty Assembly chair, and others in administration. We got research help from New Faculty Majority and the reference librarians. We educated Human Resources on the issue and signaled to the college’s legal team how seriously we took this issue. Our president was surprised, assuring faculty that the proposal would never have gotten the necessary approval from academic administration. HR might very well have been testing the waters. If you intervene early, you can show administrations that it’s not worth the trouble, before they make the decision and feel they have to stand on principle.
Finally, there’s always direct action. Parents doing the college’s admissions tours with their teens will no doubt be disturbed to learn that your school expects so little class preparation from its faculty. Your local newspaper’s reporters might also be interested, if you linked this issue to a protest. Bad PR generated by leafleting college tours and doing teach-ins during Parent’s Weekend definitely draw the attention of administrators.
Even if you lose this fight with your administration, you should still register your public service hours with your employer. After all, the IRS is supposed to issue regulations defining hours worked for professions where hours worked don’t define employment well, such as salespeople, pilots, or faculty.
And since the average adjunct faculty member makes less than $3,000 a course, you’re likely teaching more than the four or five classes a semester necessary to qualify under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Act anyway.
Currently serving as the president of the Affiliated Faculty of Emerson College union and as a committee member for the AAUP Committee on Contingency and the Profession, David Kociemba has taught courses in media history, television studies, disability studies, digital media and culture, video art, and fandom studies. He is considered an expert on Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, taboo-breaking video games, and internet cat videos.
For information about the AAUP Committee on Contingency and the Profession, see http://www.aaup.org/about/committees/standing-committees.