Access to Unemployment Benefits

By Cassandra Leveille

More than half of U.S. faculty members now work in one or more part-time appointments, generally on a semester-by-semester basis. Many more, both full- and parttime non-tenure-track faculty members, hold renewable academic-year appointments. Those serving in contingent appointments often do not know until a semester actually begins whether they will have a job for that semester and do not know in May whether they can expect to be employed at the same institution in the fall. For these teachers, summer and winter breaks are periods of unemployment.

This instability of employment is exacerbated in the current economic climate as colleges and universities cut costs through reducing their commitments to those in contingent positions. Joe Berry, chair of the Chicago Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor and a member of the AAUP’s Committee on Contingency and the Profession, notes, “If that were not enough, our employers persist in wrongly asserting that we have ‘reasonable assurance’ of reemployment in order to save themselves the cost of increased unemployment insurance premiums.” Federal law requires all education employees to demonstrate that they do not have “reasonable assurance of reemployment” in order to be eligible for benefits, a hurdle that other employees do not have to surmount.

The AAUP holds that unemployed faculty members, like other workers, are entitled to unemployment insurance benefits. That is why it supports the National Unemployment Compensation Initiative. As part of the initiative, faculty members in contingent appointments are encouraged to file for unemployment benefits during the summer and other periods of unemployment between terms. The initiative’s Web site,, provides information about rights and eligibility to file for unemployment benefits, including how to file claims and pursue appeals if necessary. The goal is to help non-tenure-track faculty members succeed in obtaining unemployment benefits and thereby block the challenges to their claims that are often made by their employing institutions.

“This is particularly important in the present economic recession that exacerbates the faculty majority’s inability to earn a living wage,” said Mayra Besosa, a lecturer in world languages at California State University, San Marcos, and the co-chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Contingency and the Profession.
The National Unemployment Compensation Initiative also aims to establish a network in which faculty members report their experiences of filing for unemployment benefits for the benefit of those planning to file in the future. Ideally, non-tenure track faculty members will file for unemployment in groups in order to make a stronger case (1) that the majority of faculty members have no reasonable assurance of continued employment and (2) that denial of unemployment benefits to this class of eligible workers is a systemic injustice.