The potential repercussions of the coronavirus amplify a long-standing issue for the state’s nearly 15,000 adjunct college faculty. Currently, if adjunct faculty do not teach during summer sessions, they are unable to collect unemployment, as summer has been interpreted as an “established and customary vacation period or holiday recess.”
Now, with most courses offered only online this summer and full-time faculty given priority in which classes to teach, Bill Lipkin, secretary/treasurer of United Adjunct Faculty of New Jersey, which represents almost 5,000 county college adjunct faculty, is voicing members’ concerns that many will not have any income this summer.
Additionally, if adjuncts are able to teach summer courses, some colleges are requiring faculty to be certified in the online teaching platform they use, Lipkin says. He notes that this was not the case in the spring, when adjuncts, like full-time faculty, transitioned from classroom to online instruction on short notice — and were not paid for the time it took them to convert the classes. The ability to collect unemployment, Lipkin says, would be a lifeline for many adjunct faculty. “We don’t want something for nothing,” he says. “We’ve been paying into unemployment all along.”
Legislation pending in state Assembly and Senate committees (A-2718 and S-801) would allow the adjuncts to collect unemployment during summer sessions. But these bills may be overtaken by broader legislation (S-2350 and A-4132) which contains the same provision and is being fast-tracked for final votes in both houses on Thursday. If passed, they could land on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk by Friday.
“Adjunct professors already pay into the unemployment insurance benefits system like every other employee, but currently can’t qualify to receive those benefits during the summer semester — even if they’re also denied summer employment,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-11th), a sponsor of A-2718, in a statement. “Given the nature of the crisis we’re currently facing, we must address this unfair system before the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates it even further.”