Lecturers to get benefits

Regents to require colleges to provide health, retirement coverage to long-term teachers

Sun Follow-up

April 14, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,sun reporter

The University System of Maryland agreed yesterday to require its colleges to provide traditional benefits to long-term contractual lecturers, who occupy an expanding second tier of the state's teaching work force.

The Sun reported in December that nearly 300 full-time instructors at five colleges were not eligible for retirement and other benefits. At Coppin State and Frostburg State universities, some lecturers who had been in their jobs for more than a decade weren't even getting health insurance.

Under the new policy approved yesterday by the Board of Regents, colleges must provide individual health coverage to all full-time contractual lecturers. Starting in the fall of 2008, lecturers with a decade of continuous service also will receive retirement benefits comparable to regular state employees. In the fall of 2009, those employed for at least six years will get retirement benefits.

"We feel that this policy provides very meaningful benefits to an important category of staff who are providing very significant services to our students," said Chancellor William E. Kirwan.

David Parker, president of the system's faculty council, said the new policy is "a good start" but falls far short of what is needed.

"It doesn't do anything meaningful," said Parker, a math professor at Salisbury University who has been calling for reform. "It's nice. We don't want anyone to lose a benefit they wouldn't otherwise receive, but it doesn't address the underlying issue."

The fundamental problem, according to Parker, is the lack of uniformity among employment benefits at Maryland's public colleges and universities, though lecturers everywhere perform similar work. "It's just not fair," he said.

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

There are more than 700 full-time lecturers among the university system's eight traditional college campuses. Of those campuses, the ones that have routinely employed full-time lecturers without full benefits are the former teachers colleges: Towson University and Coppin State in the Baltimore area, as well as Bowie State, Frostburg 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 have said.

Reaction to the new benefits policy by current lecturers was mixed yesterday.

"I think it's really exciting," said Susanna Sayre, who has taught writing at Towson full time since 1998. "I was thinking of moving into another position where I could accumulate retirement benefits, but this actually encourages me to stay here longer."

Cynthia Bombino, a full-time lecturer at Salisbury for five years, was underwhelmed.

"I think it's insulting," she said. "Most employers don't make you wait that long to get your retirement benefits. We are the workhorses of most departments. I just don't understand why they can't treat us like any other faculty."

Parker said some faculty were worried that colleges might try to circumvent the retirement benefits rule by reducing lecturers to part-time status after six years, and then re-hiring them, thus restarting the eligibility clock.

Towson President Robert Caret, whose university employs about 150 full-time contractual lecturers, discounted that notion. "It's possible, but I don't think it'll happen much," Caret said. "I don't think anybody will be abused."

After the regents unanimously approved the new policy without discussion, Parker presented an alternative solution: Convert all full-time contractual lecturers to regular state employees, as they are at the University of Maryland, College Park and other campuses.

Parker acknowledges that approach would be far more expensive, estimating the annual cost at $3 million to $4 million. The policy adopted yesterday would cost only about $8,000 a year for every qualifying lecturer, officials said.

Irwin Goldstein, the associate chancellor for academic affairs who oversaw the drafting of the new benefits policy, said his office would consider Parker's proposal.

But the Salisbury professor was not hopeful. "I'm afraid it's going to ultimately be up to the legislature and the governor," Parker said. "We have got to put a stop to this."

Parker said he has started talking up the issue with lawmakers on the Eastern Shore.


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