Perks denied to USM staff

University lecturers in Md. system get no health, other benefits

December 17, 2006|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

Jennifer Torgerson, a full-time lecturer at Coppin State University since 1999, frequently teaches six courses every semester, nearly double the instructional workload of a typical university professor.

For her labors, the 38-year-old philosophy instructor with two master's degrees receives a base salary of about $33,000, plus overtime, but no health insurance, retirement plan or other fringe benefits afforded to most regular full-time state employees.

Despite personal difficulties - she has $45,000 in debts from graduate school and can't afford the $4,000 annual cost of a health insurance policy - Torgerson hasn't considered quitting. "I don't know what else I can do," she said with a rueful laugh. "I love to teach. They've kind of got me."

Torgerson's predicament is similar to that facing as many as 300 full-time lecturers at five University System of Maryland campuses. Systemwide, lecturers occupy an expanding second tier of faculty who make up about a third of the full-time instructional work force: semi-permanent contractual employees who are neither part-time adjuncts nor traditional professors.

For a wealthy state that aspires to build a first-rate system of higher education, the precarious employment of a substantial portion of its instructors strikes many faculty leaders as an embarrassing inconsistency. Maryland's failure to provide full benefits to many full-time lecturers might be unique nationally, experts said.

After years of de facto invisibility, these lecturers are drawing fresh attention as faculty members like Torgerson begin to demand recognition and job security.

"In the [University System of Maryland] we have a virtually unique situation ... a significant and increasing number of full-time faculty who do not receive the same employment benefits which are provided to the staff who clean the blackboards at the end of the day," said David Parker, chairman of the Council of University System Faculty, in remarks before the Board of Regents this month. "This is a national distinction that the state and the [system] do not need."

Expressing surprise at Parker's claim, regent Chairman Clifford M. Kendall asked system staff to examine the issue.

The internal investigation began just days before the release last week of a report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) decrying the nationwide trend toward hiring so-called "contingent" faculty, or limited-term and part-time instructors, and away from the traditional professoriate whose academic freedoms and work conditions are protected by tenure.

Unlike professor-level faculty, lecturers are typically hired on annual renewable contracts solely to teach introductory courses, not conduct scholarly research. They frequently do not have the doctorates that would make them eligible for most tenure-track jobs.

Between 1975 and 2003, the number of such full-time, non-tenure-track appointments grew from 13 percent to 19 percent of the national higher education work force, according to the AAUP report, while the percentage of tenure-track positions declined from 37 percent to 24 percent.

Even as they identified the Maryland situation as symptomatic of a larger trend in academia, national higher education experts said they were unaware of other public university systems denying regular employment benefits to their full-time college teachers.

"It is exceptionally rare that a system does not embrace this cohort with a full panoply of benefits that other full-time academic workers receive," said Richard J. Boris, a political science professor at the City University of New York who studies labor relations in higher education.

John W. Curtis, who co-wrote the AAUP study, said of the affected Maryland lecturers, "It sounds like an unusually exploited group of faculty, actually."

There are more than 700 full-time lecturers among the university system's eight traditional college campuses, officials said.

Of those campuses, the only ones that routinely employ full-time lecturers without full benefits are the former state teacher's colleges, according to Parker. They are Towson University and Coppin in the Baltimore area, as well as Bowie State, Frostburg State and Salisbury universities.

Those schools merged with the University of Maryland network in 1988, but they maintain a separate payroll system, which partly accounts for the difference in employment practices, officials said.

As of this year, Towson, Salisbury and Bowie all offer their full-time lecturers some health insurance subsidies, though not retirement and other benefits, Parker said. Coppin and Frostburg, which employ 17 and 30 such faculty members, respectively, do not offer even health insurance.

At Coppin, three lecturers have been employed in that status for 10 years or more, according to personnel records obtained by The Sun.

Frostburg and Coppin will begin offering some health insurance to lecturers next year, system officials said.

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