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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Wanna know what’s up with healthcare reform? Me too. A recent trip to the northeastern quadrant of Iowa led me to the town of Waverly, population about 10,000.

This seemed like an ideal place to take the temperature of our country’s healthcare opinions because: One, about two years ago President Barack Obama got his start with a Primary victory in Iowa on the way to the top office in the nation, and two, since his inauguration Obama’s approval rating in polls has dipped from 80-plus percent to below 50 percent.

Arguably one of the contributing factors to this change in public opinion was the introduction of healthcare reform proposals. Business owners in this small Midwest town provided a revealing look into what folks think about healthcare reform, and why President Obama’s proposals have not always been met with open arms.

One Waverly business owner was concerned about the implications of expanding public healthcare. Bertil Anderberg, owner of two salons, Tren D Hair And More and Cost Cutters Family Hair Care, said America has the best healthcare system in the world. Why else would the Mayo Clinic be filled with international patients? he said.

The Tren D Hair owner, who grew up in Sweden, provides a healthcare option for his employees.

“I know all about socialistic healthcare,” Anderberg said. “That’s the worst possible thing they can do here. You are going to stay in line like a bunch of heifers to get some help from the doctor, and then he’ll give you a pill and say ‘come back next week.’ Then go in this line. He’ll give you a pill again and say ‘come back in two weeks,’ and then you’ll go back over here again.”

The business owners I spoke with related to the healthcare reform question with different, yet interesting and revealing, viewpoints.

American Family Insurance agent Kristi Demuth said she was conflicted by the healthcare conundrum. The 20-plus year insurance veteran said she sees healthcare reform from two different perspectives: the consumer and the insurance agent.

From the consumer point-of-view, Demuth said there are situations when people are denied insurance options based on non-recurring or dormant conditions. While she acknowledged the needs of insurance companies to impose these pre-existing conditions clauses, there are times when these rules impose undue financial duress on otherwise healthy individuals.

From the consumer’s perspective, loosening the pre-existing conditions clause would be an improvement, according to Demuth.

Demuth said she would also welcome reduced premiums. But that scenario becomes less likely if insurance companies make it easier for people with pre-existing conditions to purchase plans without as many strings attached. In fact, premiums would likely go up, not down, according to Demuth.

Waverly, Iowa American Family Insurance agent Kristi Demuth says she sees the healthcare reform question from two views: the provider and the receiver. Neither gives a clear answer. In fact, the opposite is true. It is complicated. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Waverly, Iowa American Family Insurance agent Kristi Demuth says she sees the healthcare reform question from two views: the provider and the receiver. Neither gives a clear answer. In fact, the opposite is true. It is complicated. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Demuth said more communication between doctors and insurance companies could reduce costs.

If you see a doctor who has followed your health history over a long period of time, and you have the same health concern, such as allergies, every year, an office visit might not be necessary in order to write a prescription.

“It’s different if you’re a brand new client to a doctor,” Demuth said. “I don’t have a problem with that. But what I struggle with is that continually having to go to the doctor when you know that’s what you have just because you’ve had it so many times.”

One business owner was disturbed by the concept of politically administered healthcare.

Government intervention could only make matters worse, according to Osage resident Vernon Martin. Countries with socialized healthcare put elderly folks at a significant disadvantage in terms of receiving care, the construction company owner said.

“I know a girl in Canada for instance, and she’s a nurse up there,” Martin said. “And what happens up there? The old people get pushed back. People that should be getting care, and they aren’t getting care because they aren’t sick enough to be serious. You know, you take a number. They don’t care. Right now at least the healthcare system is providing for the old folks.”

Martin, whose wife is also a nurse, said government intervention would translate into problems.

“The government’s trying to come in here and set up a health program that’s going to take care of everybody and supply everybody with everything – yeah right,” Martin said. “When has the government ever gotten their fingers into anything that they haven’t screwed up?”

While no clear solutions emerged from conversations with business owners in northeast Iowa, one reality did come to light: Americans, as a group, are at the same time passionate and mixed about healthcare reform.

Copyright 2009

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by Ian Lopez

The Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor demonstrate their dissatisfaction in Chicago in 2004. As higher learning institutions increase employment of adjunct faculty opposition to current contracting practices is building. Image courtesy of AAUP.

The Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor demonstrate their dissatisfaction in Chicago in 2004. As higher learning institutions increase employment of adjunct faculty, opposition to current contracting practices is building. Image courtesy of AAUP.

Educators of the Me Generation are getting shortchanged. Some say the students are too.

A lack of benefits, security, health insurance and a paycheck one-third the size of your full-time peers aren’t the most enticing benefits when scanning the job market.

It is, however, the reality faced by many of the hundreds of thousands of adjunct college professors across the nation.

“Without a contract, the college can literally do to adjuncts and full-time faculty as it wishes,” said Harper College Adjunct Faculty Association President Ilona Sala (HCAFA). “There is totally the feeling that adjuncts are treated as menial laborers who can be bumped at a moment’s notice.”

The HCAFA formed in 2005 in an effort to protect the job security of adjuncts who have taught at least a three-credit course for four consecutive semesters, and holds 460 professors under its umbrella. With this union in place the college can no longer just get rid of adjuncts for no reason, according to adjunct mathematics professor and HCAFA Treasurer Janice Cutler.

“Most of us are just as qualified as any of the full-time faculty,” Cutler said.  “I know a whole lot more [adjunct professors] with more letters behind their name than most [full-timers].”

Across the nation there are currently 800,000 adjuncts, two-thirds of all professors in the United States.  Over the years the numbers have been moving up too, with as much as 46 percent of all faculty being adjunct in 2003 and 22 percent in 1970.

“It’s definitely a trend,” said John Curtis, research director for the American Association of University Professors.  “It’s been going on for three decades, and current economic situations will make things worse.”

Curtis shined light on points made by HCAFA members as well, saying that choosing faculty members standings between full and part time doesn’t come down to qualifications, but is just a matter of fortune.

Adjuncts don’t go through the usual process associated with loosing a teaching position – a board meeting, review process, etc. – and don’t technically get fired. Instead, Curtis said, most just don’t get hired back as one semester progresses to the next, and this can be done without a reason being offered.

While most full-time faculty receive salary with health benefits, most adjuncts are paid on a course-by-course basis, according to Curtis.

The difficulties resulting from institutions relying on part-timers poses threats beyond the realm of the worker, crossing over into the learning experiences of students enrolled in courses taught by part-timers.

Adjunct teachers may not be able to raise issues or challenge students because a college or university can get rid of a part-time professor, according to Curtis. This job insecurity increases particularly in cases where too many students pass or fail.

“It’s a lesson learned quickly – [adjuncts] can’t challenge or be too demanding,” Curtis said.

Contacting instructors outside of class is another hurdle created by heavily relying on adjunct faculty, according to Curtis. The part-time professors often do not have on-campus offices or school email addresses.

“We often receive reports of part-time faculty having to meet with students in the parking lot,” Curtis said.

New York University graduate student employees protest disproportionate compensation in April 2006. The American Association of University Professors also participated in the event. Image courtesy of AAUP.

New York University graduate student employees protest disproportionate compensation in April 2006. The American Association of University Professors also participated in the event. Image courtesy of AAUP.

Curtis added that academic freedom in the classroom is an issue that is constantly faced, and students may have difficulty getting letters of recommendation when applying to graduate schools because of how easily institutions can let part-timers go.

Furthermore, because of the typically low pay, adjunct professors usually have other sources of income – teaching at other institutions, for example– and may not be able to devote as much focus as a full-time professor would.

“Contact with faculty outside of the classroom is widely correlated to student success by a variety of measures,” said Treseanne Ainsworth, an undergraduate advisor for Boston College’s English Department.  “It also makes faculty seem peripheral to the university from a departmental standpoint.

Ainsworth, who recently went from an adjunct to full-time position with no tenure, said   though most adjunct faculty do exceptional work under difficult circumstances, less travel time between campuses means more time spent on research, course preparation and with students.

In June Ainsworth proposed a model for adjuncts that would give them pay for services they provided to students outside the classroom including being a mentor, advising and developing courses. Though tenure may not be an option, the contracts are shooting for five to ten year agreements as opposed to the one to three year contracts already in place at some institutions.

“This plan will stick as long as contracts are honored, and faculty continue to do quality work,” Ainsworth said. “I am optimistic about both.”

Copyright 2009

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