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Off the Payroll

Without collective bargaining, a group of community college adjuncts could lose state retirement benefits.

By Tyler Miller  

A community college in rural Michigan is considering a proposal to remove adjunct faculty members from its payroll and instead hire them through an employment agency to avoid paying into their state retirement accounts—a move designed to garner savings that has been questioned by some higher education professionals and the National Education Association.

The arrangement would save Kirtland Community College in Roscommon County $100,000 a year while leaving faculty across campus in the lurch.

"This is one of the most outrageous things I've seen in higher education, and represents another example of institutions' lack of commitment to the people who provide education to our students," said Jim Rice, president of the National Council on Higher Education and professor at Quinsigamond Community College.

Under the proposal, Kirtland would outsource the adjuncts’ hiring to Professional Educational Services Group and would pay PESG the adjuncts’ salaries in addition to a 14 percent fee. As the employer of record, PESG would cover the adjuncts’ Social Security and withhold taxes but wouldn’t have to fork out a state retirement contribution.

Affected employees would pocket an extra 3 percent of their salary – a small comfort for no longer having the security of a defined-benefit pension in their retirement years.

At Kirtland, 38 full-time faculty and 110 part-time faculty serve the college’s more than 3,000 students. Since its adjuncts aren’t unionized, Kirtland could partner with PESG without collective bargaining. The situation demonstrates the need for college faculty to organize to protect their right to have a say in their working conditions.

Earlier this summer, the higher ed magazine Academe noted that “low pay, almost nonexistent benefits, inadequate working conditions, and little or no opportunity for career advancement” persist for contingent faculty in the U.S. despite their growing presence in college and university classrooms.

Kirtland officials are weighing the pros and cons of the plan before making a final decision, though one local newspaper has reported that the college’s president, Dr. Tom Quinn, hopes to have an agreement in place with PESG by January 2010.

PESG supplies more than 22,000 substitute teachers to school districts throughout the Great Lakes region, according to the company’s Web site.


Higher ed faculty and staff represented by NEA