Austin Community College To Trim Hours To Avoid Health Benefits

austinNovember 25, 2013

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz, Austin American-Statesman

Nov. 26–Austin Community College plans to reduce hours for some adjunct faculty members to avoid having to provide them health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The policy, outlined in a memorandum from college officials late last week, isn’t sitting well with some of the part-time teachers. Not only would they not receive health coverage from ACC, but the reduced workload would decrease their pay.

Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, ACC must offer health benefits to an employee who works an average of 30 hours or more per week, according to the memo from Ben Ferrell, the college’s executive vice president for finance and administration, and Geraldine Tucker, vice president for human resources.

“The impact of this legislation is that the College will more closely comply with” its rule limiting adjunct faculty members to nine credits per fall or spring semester, they wrote. That’s a workload of three typical classes.

In addition, they wrote, adjuncts will be limited to 28 hours a week through any combination of teaching and hourly employment. Some adjuncts supplement their teaching with such hourly work as tutoring.

David Albert, an adjunct who teaches government, questioned the policy in a column in the Adjunct Faculty Association’s newsletter, asserting that a three-credit class requires at least 10 hours of work a week, with three such classes amounting to at least 30 hours.

ACC, citing a state formula, said each class involves six hours of classroom and other work, or 18 hours for a three-class load.

“Besides class time,” Albert wrote, “adjuncts prepare and revise lectures, PowerPoints, handouts and Blackboard assignments; read academic journals in their discipline; respond promptly to student email; grade papers; hold office hours; attend faculty meetings; write letters of recommendation, and fight with substandard copiers and computers that … constantly break down.”

Of 1,961 faculty members at ACC, 1,418 are adjuncts — including 140 staff members who already receive benefits — and 543 are full time, said Alexis Patterson, a college spokeswoman.

No more than about 50 adjuncts currently work 30 or more hours a week, said Mike Midgley, vice president for instruction. He acknowledged that the figure is based on the state formula that assumes six hours for each class but said that’s a reasonable formula.

Adjuncts will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and some could be moved to full-time status “where it’s in the best interest for the college and students,” Patterson said. Extending health benefits to all is “not a sustainable option.”

ACC spends $14 million a year on health coverage that runs $6,000 to $10,000 a year per person, Patterson said.

Becky Villarreal, who teaches three English classes a semester, tutors 20 hours a week as well, a combination that makes her a full-time employee. As such, she already gets health insurance from ACC.

“I’m very fortunate,” Villarreal said, “and I just want my other adjunct friends to have the same thing.”