PARIS -- They come in the autumn, when the grapes lie heavy on the vines. They leave in late spring, after the cherries are off the trees in the Pyrenees and the hops harvested in Alsace. Under French law they are considered "saisonniers," or seasonal workers. But instead of spending their days picking apples, they toil in the university classrooms of Paris, teaching French language and literature, art history and political science.
The use of adjuncts -- part-time faculty who have little possibility of tenure or permanent employment -- is increasingly common in U.S. colleges and universities. But European law gives workers more rights, and French workers are among the most protected in Europe -- unless, it seems, if they work for an American university.
Nadia Malinovich came to Paris 10 years ago. The author of a book on French and Jewish identity, she has a doctorate from the University of Michigan. Yet like many American academics in Paris, she found herself moving through a series of temporary jobs without full benefits or security, and where she was paid only for the hours she actually spent in the classroom.
She has taught at a University of California program in Paris and New York University's Paris center.
"It was clear to me right away that this was not going to lead to a real job," she said of the U.S. programs. "There's no security, no benefits. I only managed because my husband had a regular job."
Dr. Malinovitch, who had also taught at the Institut d'études politiques, commonly known as Sciences Po, eventually found a job in the French system. As a maître de conférences (roughly the equivalent of an associate professor in the United States) at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne, she is considered a civil servant and enjoys all the protections of French labor laws.
That security may be why, out of more than a dozen academics teaching at American study-abroad programs in France interviewed for this article, she was the only one willing to be identified.
"The problem is that French law doesn't protect us, and American law doesn't know we exist," said a teacher at both the N.Y.U. and Columbia programs in Paris, who declined to be identified because she felt it would put her jobs at risk. "If you get sick, you don't get paid. Women are entitled to at least 16 weeks' paid maternity leave under French law, but if they find out you are pregnant, they simply don't renew your contract for the next semester. None of us have any job security."
Robert Hornsby, Columbia University's assistant vice president for media affairs, declined to comment.
Emilia Doerr, a spokeswoman for the University of California's Education Abroad Program, said by e-mail, "We understand that the employment regulations in France are complex. The University of California Education Abroad Program partners with a third party to provide instructional support to our Paris program."
John Beckman, vice president for public affairs at New York University, said by e-mail that many of the adjuncts who teach at the university's Paris campus "are French nationals who have full-time appointments at French institutions of higher learning." He also said the university pays the French government at least 50 percent of faculty salaries to cover benefits like health care, pension contributions and unemployment insurance.
"It is unfounded to say that our adjunct faculty do not receive these benefits; my understanding is that they can (and do) take advantage of maternity leave, sick leave, professional development, just as all other French employees do," Mr. Beckman wrote.
French citizens who teach at the Paris campuses of U.S. universities say conditions are the same for them.
"If I get sick and have to miss a class, I don't get paid," said a French citizen who has taught at Columbia University's Reid Hall campus in Paris, as well as at the Paris programs run by N.Y.U., Wellesley and the University of Chicago.
"When I did my Ph.D., I taught in the French system, where if you got sick, you just got sick," said the instructor, who asked to be unidentified because he feared losing his job. "With the American schools, the contract is for so many hours, so if you get sick, you have to make up any hours. Otherwise, if I miss a class, I don't get paid."
He has not been offered a long-term contract in the five years that he has worked for U.S. school programs in France and juggles five classes a semester at four different institutions.
"We are like the migrants who pick apples, with a new contract every semester," he said.
According to the Adjunct Project Web site, adjuncts at Columbia in New York earn $5,000 to $7,500 per course, while N.Y.U. pays about $5,000 to $10,000. Salaries at the Paris campuses of both schools are about €80, or $108, an hour, or roughly $4,000 per semester for a three-hour-a-week class.
The pay, at €80 an hour, is only for contact hours, the French instructor said. "We only get paid for when we actually teach -- not for marking papers or class preparation," he said.
In contrast, schools like the American University in Paris, a private institution chartered by both U.S. and French law, seem to operate under a stricter set of criteria.
Neil Gordon, dean and vice president for academic affairs of the American University in Paris, confirmed by e-mail that benefits at A.U.P. included virtually unlimited, state-subsidized, paid sick leave; maternity and paternity leave; unlimited unpaid leave with the guarantee of return to work for any parent of a child younger than 3; generous paid holidays; and a "mutuelle," or third-party insurance, that brings the state medical insurance coverage up to 100 percent.
"While French salaries in academia, as elsewhere, are generally lower than American, the benefits that accompany the job render employment here highly competitive with America," he said.
The American University in Paris is required to offer most of its faculty permanent contracts known as C.D.I., or "contrat à durée indeterminée." The overwhelming majority of A.U.P. faculty are on these contracts, like at most French universities.
A small number of A.U.P. staff, typically those who fill in for faculty members on parental leave or sabbatical, are hired under fixed-term, temporary contracts known as C.D.D., or "contrat à durée determinée."
According to Nadia Achache, director of human resources at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, "if you work under a C.D.D. and they want to hire you again, they have to offer you a permanent contract."
"Sometimes we need 'vacataires,"' she said about freelance contract workers. "They only come for a couple of hours a week, for two or three months."
But Linda Jarvin, dean of the Paris College of Art, said that more than half of the faculty there were on temporary contracts, with 45 percent working as freelancers. The college, which was formerly linked to Parsons The New School for Design in New York, awards both U.S. and French degrees.
She said that working freelance "is a choice we offer them."
"You get paid a higher rate, because we don't have to pay employee taxes," Dr. Jarvin said. "That goes directly to the employee."
"The majority of our teachers are adjuncts. It's important to expose our students to teachers who have active professional lives," she said, referring to the fact that many adjuncts also work as artists, designers or critics. "Besides, this is a school, so we will never have a need to hire someone for the full 12 months."
"It's true that French law allows academics to be hired under fixed-term contracts -- it's exactly the same rule as for agricultural workers," said Jean-Marc Wasilewski, a Paris-based human rights lawyer. "But those are supposed to be limited to 18 months."
"The problem is that it's up to the employee to prove they really have a permanent job," Mr. Wasilewski said of those who wanted full benefits. "You can go to a labor tribunal -- what we call a 'Conseil de prud'hommes.' But you have to be able to prove the abuse."
Many of the teachers at U.S. programs in France interviewed for this article said they feared going public.
"I know of many cases when faculty dissent of any kind led to nonrenewal of contracts," said an American Ph.D. holder who worked at a program in France, who asked not to be identified because he feared losing his job. Like the other Americans interviewed, he described himself as a "vacataire," or freelance worker.
Mr. Wasilewski, the lawyer, said that freelance workers had even fewer rights than teachers on fixed-term contracts.
"The contract can be broken at any time," he said, adding that such positions were only supposed to exist inside public institutions.
French law requires anyone working as a freelancer in a university to have a permanent job elsewhere, partly to make sure their social insurance is covered. Even the conditions allowing for the use of fixed-term C.D.D. contracts were recently tightened under a law passed in March known as the Loi Sauvadet.
But Dr. Malinovich, the American professor teaching in France, said that U.S. study-abroad programs seemed to operate outside such strictures. "The places I worked never asked if I had an 'employeur principal.' It's almost like they operate in a separate universe," she said.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.