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Out of a Job?
Here's How and Why to Apply for Unemployment

Are you a full- or part-time faculty member on a short-term contract or no "contract" at all, with no guarantee of a job next term? Or are there faculty like this in your department? Are you unpaid when you are not teaching?

As you are probably aware, more than half of all college teachers work under these tenuous conditions. Our employment is tied to student enrollment, budget allocations, institutional need, and other unpredictable events that may occur to either create a class or cancel it. We are, in other words, hired on a contingent basis: from year to year, semester to semester, or class to class. We do not have, to use the language of federal unemployment legislation, "reasonable assurance of re-employment." Thus, much of our so-called free time is spent looking for other temporary work or worrying about their next semester's income. During this time, we should be receiving unemployment insurance benefits.

Yet many part-time and other term faculty don't check to see whether they are eligible. Others are denied on grounds of having "reasonable assurance of re-employment," a phrase in federal law whose invocation by postsecondary employers has been challenged, most successfully in California and Washington, by arguing that employment which depends on variables like enrollment, funding, and administrative prerogative cannot constitute reasonable assurance.

That's why the AAUP supports the National Unemployment Compensation Initiative. This initiative is designed to help eligible contingent faculty obtain unemployment compensation. The initiative offers information on applying and suggestions for group activity to strengthen our claims and protect claimants from employer retaliation. Plans are to collect statistics on patterns of activity around unemployment claims, with one ultimate goal of lobbying to change the problematic "reasonable assurance of re-employment" clause.

The AAUP encourages all contingent faculty to apply for unemployment insurance, or forward this e-mail to someone who should. We, like other workers, are entitled to this benefit when unemployed. The time between teaching terms is unemployment for us, not a paid "vacation." Higher education employers must learn that they can't have it both ways. Either they employ faculty (and other staff) with real assurance of continuing employment or they must allow contingent and laid off employees access to unemployment insurance benefits.

For more information, see the National Unemployment Compensation Initiative Web site. You may also find helpful Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits for Contingent Faculty: A Manual for Applicants and a Strategy to Gain Full Rights to Benefits, available for sale in the AAUP store and as a free download on the Web site of the Chicago Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor. This guidebook was partially funded by the AAUP.