Adjunct Professors And Unemployment Benefits During The Summer

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If you work as an adjunct faculty member for a college or university, can you qualify for unemployment benefits during the summer months? Maybe. A lot depends on how your employer responds to requests for information from the unemployment office. Here's what you need to know about your situation.

Adjunct professors have no guarantees of future employment. 

If you're an adjunct professor, you have a lot of companions these days. Three out of four U.S. professors are considered adjunct faculty, hired on short-term contracts without tenure. While you are technically laid-off over the summer months when your services aren't needed at the schools, you remain on the school's list of faculty members. Classes are still tentatively scheduled under your name for the fall.

The reality, however, is that you could find yourself without a class to teach - or a job - very suddenly. By the time the fall semester rolls around, the administration may find that financial cutbacks are forcing them to cut funding to one department or another. If your field of expertise isn't in vogue, or enrollment in the classes you offer is slight, the schools are under no real obligation to employ you once school actually starts.

For all practical purposes, you are unemployed without any guarantee of future employment the moment the regular school year ends and your usual period of summer unemployment starts. However, the unemployment office (and your school) may not see it that way.

Unemployment may be denied based on the school's statement.

Essentially, whether or not you can easily claim unemployment benefits depends a lot on your employer. Some schools, like the University of Akron in Ohio, have routinely disputed unemployment claims by its untenured faculty, claiming that the adjunct faculty members have a "reasonable assurance of employment" once the fall semester rolls around.

This "reasonable assurance" effectively transforms you to a seasonal employee that's under contract. In many states, that makes you ineligible for unemployment benefits during the summer months. 

Successful appeals are being won in many states.

However, adjunct faculty in various states have begun to successfully appeal the denial of unemployment benefits.

In a University of Akron case, for example, an adjunct professor successfully won her appeal for benefits when the university's administration admitted to the unemployment board that the professor could lose her position even on the first day of classes. In a California case, adjunct faculty successfully appealed directly to the college's administration in order to have the contractual language changed so that it clearly showed that employees had no reasonable expectation of employment come fall. The college also agreed not to fight unemployment requests.

If you're an adjunct professor and you want to collect unemployment benefits, review your contract carefully and talk to your school's human resource department before you file. That can help you understand the likelihood of collecting unemployment over the summer without complications. However, if your initial claim is denied, contact an unemployment lawyer in your state to discuss the way to approach an appeal and to schedule unemployment hearings.