Inside Higher Ed Reports: St. Mary’s College Contingent Faculty Win Important Unemployment Insurance Agreement

For some adjunct faculty, the summer isn’t a vacation. Without classes to teach, paychecks stop. Unemployment insurance can help cushion the blow of three months of no work, especially since many adjuncts who depend on teaching as their primary income, even those working a full-time course load throughout the year, make less than $30,000 a year.

Unfortunately, colleges across the country routinely contest the eligibility of contingent faculty to collect unemployment benefits, under the pretext that these faculty members had a reasonable assurance of employment for the next semester.

As Inside Higher Ed reports:

 “Elise Miller, also a lecturer at Saint Mary’s, said she too applied for unemployment benefits and was initially rejected. But after explaining to state officials that she did not have reasonable expectation for enrollment because a summer course she was supposed to teach was canceled due to low enrollment, the benefit checks started rolling in.

But she said she has dealt with other issues with the college. Miller said she often wouldn’t hear whether a course she was assigned to teach was running or not until the very last minute and her contracts wouldn’t arrive until October, even though she had been lecturing for weeks.

‘It was so angering to me, this is so inconsiderate, and by then I had become a part of the SEIU organizing committee and my consciousness was raised a little bit,’ Miller said.”

Working together, contingent faculty at St. Mary’s College addressed this important issue with the school’s administration so faculty could have the peace of mind that legitimate IU claims wouldn’t be contested. Now, they have an understanding that contracts contingent upon funding, enrollment or program changes are NOT a “reasonable assurance of employment,” and that the College will stop contesting the eligibility of contingent faculty to collect unemployment benefits.

It’s a huge victory for contingent faculty members at St. Mary’s and as Inside Higher Ed states, could be a “launching pad for a larger union battle.”

For faculty in California, check out this valuable webinar by San Jose State biological anthropologist and California Faculty Association leader Jonathan Karpf who lays out the rights of lecturers and adjunct faculty to Unemployment Insurance between semesters.