U reassesses lecturers’ health benefits

The Affordable Care Act may change a handful of University of Minnesota lecturers’ health care eligibility.

U reassesses lecturers’ health benefits

Hailey Colwell

In preparation for the changes the Affordable Care Act could make to employee health benefits, the University of Minnesota is calculating which lecturers will be eligible for coverage.

Because the IRS hasn’t specified how colleges should calculate the amount of time non-tenured faculty members spend working, the University is re-examining lecturers’ workloads to ensure it follows the new health care law when it takes effect in 2014.

While the ACA uses the number of hours employees work to determine who should have health care benefits, the University defines workload by the number of credit hours taught. Colleges are grappling with how to translate this into ACA’s terms.

At least two colleges — the University of Central Oklahoma and the College of DuPage in Illinois — plan to accommodate part-time faculty with health benefits by creating a special lecturer classification for non-tenured instructors who teach at least 75 percent of a full-time professor’s workload, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Because the University will have to offer coverage to employees working 75 percent time — 30 hours per week — or more, the Office of Human Resources is examining the lecturer employee class to see who might be affected, said Dann Chapman, director of employee benefits for OHR.

Although a handful of lecturers may be affected by the 30-hour rule, Chapman said OHR has to do further research to see how many people fall into that category.

While the academic community has raised concerns that colleges may cut faculty members’ hours to avoid giving them health insurance, Chapman said that isn’t the case at the University.

“If there’s somebody that should be eligible that we haven’t caught, we will make them eligible,” he said.

If OHR were to find part-time lecturers working more than 30 hours per week, it would most likely change their appointment to reflect how much they’re actually working, Chapman said.

Translating credit hours taught into hours worked is not something OHR has had to do before, Chapman said. It’s currently looking at areas where a clear record of hours worked doesn’t exist, where staff would have to calculate it.

The law will not affect adjunct professors, Chapman said, because they aren’t paid employees and are therefore not eligible for health care.

Graeme Stout, who’s worked as a full-time lecturer for the University’s Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature and will teach as a part-time lecturer next fall at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, said it can be “scary” for part-time lecturers to approach 30 hours per week.

“The school is required to pay your health care benefits,” Stout said, “and some people are quite worried that that will then lead to your dismissal for the following semester.”

Capper Nichols, a lecturer for the Department of Writing Studies for more than 10 years, said the University has been “pretty good about benefits” for non-tenured instructors.

“My sense is that some places are kind of cut-throat,” he said, “but my experience at the [University] has not been that way, not for the most part.”

Though his department has been pressured to keep costs down, Nichols said it has made an effort to hold onto instructors even if they aren’t on the tenure track.

“They seem pretty committed to everybody working in the department.”