What To Do If… You Want to File for Unemployment for #AdjunctSummer–The Illinois Academic Personnel Questionnaire

August is the Cruellest Month-RCBFirst in the Series “What To Do If…”

NFM is cross posting this information in conjunction with and with the permission of  PrecariCorps, on whose blog this first appeared.

Summer is the starving season for adjuncts. Few of us get summer classes, and when we do, they are rarely enough to support us. Often the pay comes late into the summer and, because most of us live paycheck to paycheck, that leaves us with gaps in our ability to pay our bills. Applying for unemployment seems only logical, but we’re often unsuccessful, thanks to legislative exceptions to the rule crafted specifically for K-12 teachers, who have a summer break, but a “reasonable expectation of employment” in the fall, since they are usually full-time salaried and often tenured faculty. Sometimes, if we are initially successful, we can be overruled after funds have already been disbursed and the state will demand a refund, which is just another hardship for us.

NFM has been working with the U.S. Department of Labor to have them issue a clarification of this rule that will allow adjuncts to apply successfully for unemployment between terms in more places. In the meanwhile, below is a strategy that seems to work in Illinois, and may work elsewhere, from an Illinois resident and PrecariCorps Managing Director. Please be aware that this is not legal advice, simply an example of what works for one person in one place. In addition to this information, COCAL also has a pamphlet on applying for unemployment benefits.

Two weeks after filing for unemployment, I received it in my mailbox—a finely-wrought series of questions that seems to function as trip wires and booby traps designed to deny academics unemployment but which actually serve to help the state agency determine whether the reasonable assurance clause in federal law is applicable or not, as President of New Faculty Majority (NFM) Maria Maisto explained. The Illinois Academic Personnel Questionnaire was written with the K-12 instructor in mind, which is evident in questions about substitute teaching, and reveals a clear lack of knowledge about how higher education employment functions in the post-NAWD economy, evident in phrases like paid sabbatical.

You should know two things: 1) NFM, AFT, NEA, and SEIU have been in conversations with the Department of Labor to issue new guidance to state agencies about the inapplicability of a key clause in federal law to the situation of contingent faculty, and 2) We should share all unemployment information and stories with NFM so it can present them as further evidence to the DOL and to state agencies of the ways in which contingent faculty are being denied their right to unemployment compensation.

The Myth of Reasonable Assurance

Before the series of questions begins, the state warns us that we are ineligible if we are in a break between terms/years or have “reasonable assurance” that we will work next term/year, but neither apply. We aren’t often given summer classes, although our schools are still in session, so we aren’t in fact in a break between terms. Due to the precarious nature of our jobs and “contracts,” a word that must always be put in quotes if we use it at all, we never have “reasonable assurance” of work. So, what are the questions, and how should we answer them so the state can understand this as we do?

First, it asks basics like name of employer and dates of employment.

Second: Did your employment end with the end of an academic year or term, or at the start of a vacation period or holiday recess? Yes/No. In my case, the answer is yes, as my assignment was complete after May 15th, and I was not given any summer classes.

Third: What is the reason for your unemployment? (Select One):
Summer break
Semester break
Paid sabbatical
Customary vacation period
Holiday recess
Other:____________ (Please explain)

As none of the above euphemisms describe a typical #AdjunctSummer and the reasons behind it, “Other” is the only appropriate answer. My explanation was simple: although my school has a summer term, I was not offered any courses or additional work.

Maisto gave me this advice: “You can make the case that the next academic term is the summer and that you have no assignment for the summer term. Some people have been successful with this argument, especially since more and more schools are offering more and more summer classes. If they come back with a claim that summer is not an academic term, then the next move is to say that even if the next term is fall, you do not have reasonable assurance. As a contingent faculty member, by definition, you do not have reasonable assurance for any future work.”

Adjunct “Contracts” Admit Precarity

The next question that requires closer attention has to do with our “contracts” for fall semester: Do you have written, verbal or implied agreement to work for an academic institution in the next academic year, term or the period immediately following the vacation period or holiday recess? Yes/No. Maisto advises us to answer No: “Be ready to supply any documentation from your employment documents that has the inevitable language that asserts the institution’s ‘right’ to rescind the course assignment for any reason including funding and enrollment.” At Columbia College Chicago, this document is called an Adjunct Faculty Teaching Assignment Form, and it includes four sentences that admit to the precarity of our work:

As always the final decision of who teaches each course is the sole prerogative of the department chair. No teaching assignment can be considered final until student registration is completed [underlining in the original]. In the event that one or all of the classes listed below are cancelled, you will receive the $250 cancellation fee per course as defined in the PFAC [Part-Time Faculty Union at Columbia] agreement. In the event your teaching assignment changes during the semester [stress is mine], your department will complete a teaching re-assignment form, send a copy to the Provost’s Office, and give you a copy for your records.

When do we want it? YESTERDAY.

Whatever the rationale, be it budgetary restrictions, underenrollment, your department or administration failing to follow your union’s collective bargaining agreement, a full-time or tenure-track instructor’s course not filling, or a graduate student needing a course for practicum, it’s more likely that we won’t have the same schedule we were originally offered when the semester begins. Keep in mind the adjunct truth that it’s more likely for us to lose classes than to maintain them. We all have stories about that, even those of us with a union. That’s what unfair labor practices (ULPs) are for.

So when you answer the next yes/no question, Do you have reason to believe that you will be rehired to work for the next academic year or term?, answer No. Maisto advises us to be prepared to provide evidence of our own or other adjuncts’ courses being withdrawn after the initial offer, so save those emails, talk to your colleagues and unions if you have them, collect documentation, and be ready to defend your right to stable, predictable employment.

Brianne Bolin


Majority Rule Rises!

Welcome to the reboot of New Faculty Majority’s blog!

It’s been a while since we’ve posted here because, well, our staff, like most contingent faculty, are pretty busy trying to stay alive, while also furthering the work of NFM. But the past year has brought a number of both accomplishments—which we’ll be highlighting here—and changes in personnel. So let me introduce our new blog editor and Communications Committee co-chair, Lee Kottner. You might know her from her fierce Twitter and Facebook presence, where she is also an administrator for both the New Jersey City University (NJCU) AFT Local 1839 page, and the Local’s Adjunct Faculty Caucus page. She is Recording Secretary of Local 1839 and a member of City University of New York’s (CUNY) Professional Staff Congress. Lee teaches composition and research at both NJCU and CUNY campuses and lives in New York City. Her writing and activism show that she is equal parts “disruptive innovator” and creative organizer.

Essential old posts from the eponymous blog originated by our late NFM colleague (and namesake of our award for Extraordinary Faculty Activism) Steve Street will soon be archived here. The editorial policy that will govern our rebooted blog can be found here. In the spirit of Steve’s love of wordplay, our new name recognizes not only that contingent faculty are the majority, but that our voices need to be at the center of efforts to confront contingency and to change the rules governing faculty employment in higher education.

So we’re looking for contributions from contingent faculty and allies across the country and anywhere else contingency is a problem for faculty, covering a large number of issues and topics that will help us make and enforce those new rules. This is not a forum for complaints but a place to bear witness, expose exploitation, exchange tactics for change, and plot solutions. We want:

  • Essays on current higher education issues as they relate to contingent faculty
  • Essays on the relationship between K-12 education issues and educators and higher education
  • Essays on the growing alliances between contingent faculty and activists in the student debt and low-wage worker movements
  • Analysis of current reports, trends, and data in higher education that relate to contingent faculty
  • Responses to articles on adjunct issues published elsewhere in the media
  • External cause-related news/events (with commentary)
  • Activism tips/opportunities/actions/resources
  • Organizational news and announcements
  • Research and funding opportunities
  • Calls for Papers
  • Teaching and survival tips
  • Profiles
  • Book reviews
  • Videos
  • Interview Q&As
  • Photo essays
  • Personal stories about adjunct faculty experiences, especially how teaching as an adjunct affects your ability to be the best teacher and scholar you can be

Please see the “Submit a Post“ page for more detail.

We’re also planning some regular features to keep you informed and amused, in addition to Joe Berry’s regular COCAL updates:

  • Weekly curated roundup of news
  • News about NFM’s activities, past and future
  • Check-ins from adjunct unions/caucuses re: bargaining wins/actions/problems
  • State and national education legislation watch
  • Action alerts
  • The Gallery of Shame: send us photos or descriptions of the most exploitative, egregious institutional policies and contracts you’ve encountered.
  • The Gallery of Fame and Hope: tell us about victories in the use of collective power to secure ever-better policies and contracts. Feel free to acknowledge courageous and principled colleagues, administrators, students, trustees, and others who can inspire by example.
  • What to Do If…: An advice column drawing on adjunct organizer/activist expertise from across the country

We’ll also be expanding the sidebars, to give you more links to the growing number of fearless individual adjuncts and contingent advocacy and support organizations and unions, too. So if you have a link for us, please submit it to the blog as you would a writing query.

A brief word about nomenclature. We use the word “adjunct” as synonymous with “contingent,” which covers both full- and part-time faculty not on the tenure track, particularly those on renewable contracts of some sort: visiting professors, post-docs, 1-5 year renewables, semester-to-semester precarious professors/lecturers/instructors. This is not to diminish anyone’s status, or to narrowly define it. In fact, Maria has often suggested that one solution to the ongoing debate about nomenclature is to call contingent faculty “Extraordinary Faculty.” However, we recognize that the general public has largely adopted the term “adjunct” in its rapidly increasing attention to the crisis of contingency in higher education, and we note with pride the now-widespread use of the Scarlet A as a symbol of the movement. So if you are teaching or researching for a higher educational institution without job security, a living wage and benefits, and/or being given the opportunity to work toward tenure, you fit our definition of adjunct.

Lee wanted to hit the ground running when we brought her on, so you’ll see the blog gradually transforming over the coming weeks as she continues the reboot/rebirth process. We both hope that you will help out by submitting posts and sharing your knowledge—and courage—here, so that your voice is a critical part of making higher education run by Majority Rule.

Maria Maisto
President/Executive Director, New Faculty Majority/NFM Foundation

Maria (j.Shanker)

Lee Kottner
Communications Committee Co-Chair
and NFM Foundation Board Member

Adjunct Wage Theft Moi

P.S. If you’re not a member yet, please don’t forget to join and support our efforts. Dues are on a sliding income scale.