Colleges roll back faculty hours in response to Obamacare

File Photo: Obamacare supporters react to the  U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold President Obama's health care law, on June 28, 2012 in Washington, DC....
File Photo: Obamacare supporters react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold President Obama's health care law, on June 28, 2012 in Washington, DC....
Mark Wilson/Getty Images/File

As employers prepare to implement the Affordable Care Act, it’s not just low-wage fast food workers who are feeling the heat. Adjunct faculty from at least four universities will also see their hours cut as colleges try to reduce the number of full-time employees whose health care they need to cover.

The four schools are Florida’s Palm Beach State College, Pennsylvania’s Community College of Allegheny County, Ohio’s Youngstown State University, and New Jersey’s Kean University. All four of those schools are state-owned.

Gwen Bradley, a senior program officer for the American Association of University Professors, said the AAUP’s National Committee on contingent faculty was “deeply concerned” by the emerging trend.

“Adjuncts are very precarious anyway,” said Bradley. “They usually have very low wages, and are often already below the thresholds for health care. But for those people who have it, being cut down to lose it is very devastating.”

Only contingent faculty—as opposed to full-time, tenure-track faculty—would be affected by the change in policy. Since the Affordable Care Act requires that employers provide health care to any employee who works 30 hours per week or more, universities like Palm Beach State College have opted to cap the time that contingent faculty are allowed to work at just below the 30-hour benchmark.

“It’s about having their course load reduced so they’re teaching less and having less paid for their salaries,” said Craig Smith, the director of the American Federation of Teacher’s higher education division. For many contingent faculty members, “it’s not like they were receiving health care in the first place.”

Teachers’ associations like AAUP and AFT are bracing for the shift. Next week, AFT will host a webinar for its members addressing “the implications of the Affordable Care Act for contingent faculty.” In the meantime, both organizations are hoping the federal government will require universities to count time spent outside the classroom as part of adjunct faculty’s work hours.

Bradley applauded a recent IRS ruling which she said determined “that failing to take into account grading and prep is not reasonable” when it comes to calculating employee hours. Smith said that AFT had been “making comments to the Treasury Department and encouraging them to write the regulations in such a way that for part-time faculty, the hours they work are counted correctly.”

In recent months, several major restaurant chains have also announced their intention to cut employee hours in response to Obamacare. A Nebraska Wendy’s franchise and a Taco Bell in Oklahoma are the latest chain restaurants to adopt the policy. Though professors are better compensated and better educated than fast food workers, both the higher education and fast food industries are heavily reliant on part-time labor—increasingly so, in fact. According to AAUP data [PDF], the percentage of university faculty with only part-time status has been steadily increasing since at least 1975.

Colleges and universities who plan to cut hours even further, said Smith, are “just using the Affordable Care Act as an excuse.”

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Kean University denies that the school’s policy on hours for faculty members is new, or has anything to do with Obamacare.

“The assignment of courses to all faculty members is a matter of academic judgment. It has nothing to do with a new university policy or the Affordable Health Care Act,” said Kean University’s Matthew Caruso over e-mail.