At VCU, adjunct professors make up as many as half of total instructors in some departments. Now they are campaigning to receive a living wage from the university that relies on their labor.
Roughly 100 Virginia Commonwealth University instructors are demanding what many adjuncts across the state want: a fair wage. Pay for adjunct instructors would more than double if requests are met.
Adjunct instructors marched last week through campus to VCU President Michael Rao’s office to deliver their demands, which include a meeting with Rao on March 19 and a response by March 30.
Tom Burkett, a founder of VCU Adjuncts for Fair Pay, is an adjunct instructor at the VCU School of the Arts.
“We look at our pay as one defining thing that can bring up the quality of life and the accessibility of teaching at the higher education level,” Burkett said.
The group delivered demands to the president’s office on March 4 because certain in-person and hybrid classes at the university began that day, Burkett said.
VCUarts employees first launched the group in 2017 because the majority of instructors at the School of Arts are adjuncts, Burkett said. VCUarts adjuncts comprise 51 percent of instructors, according to VCUarts spokesperson Teresa Engle Ilnicki. The university employed 691 adjunct faculty members this semester and 3,193 total faculty members last fall, according to VCU spokesperson Chris Katella.
VCU Adjuncts for Fair Pay is making demands for all university adjuncts, not just VCUarts instructors. Burkett said the movement was revamped because of the lack of living wage for adjunct instructors. VCUarts adjuncts were paid $800 per credit hour in 2017 and the group demanded an increase to $2,000 per credit hour, according to a letter addressed to Rao. Most classes at VCU are three credit hours.
“We saw a small pay increase, but nothing that substantially met a livable wage,” Burkett said.
The base pay is the same for graduate and undergraduate adjunct instructors and increased from $1,000 to $1,100 over a year ago, according to VCU spokesperson Michael Porter. VCU budgeted almost $400 million on all instruction for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, according to the university’s budget.
VCU Adjuncts for Fair Pay group now demands an increase in base pay from $1,100 per credit hour to $3,000 per credit hour, which is a 172 percent increase. The requested pay increase would bump adjuncts with a maximum teaching load above what some full-time faculty earn.
VCU Adjuncts for Fair Pay, who want demands met by next semester, asked for a one-year contract for adjuncts. The group requested $1,000 compensation for cancelled classes because of the labor that goes into development. The group also pushed for a policy that would limit adjunct cuts as demands are put into place.
VCU Adjuncts for Fair Pay also wants access to health benefits. Adjuncts are currently not eligible for health benefits, according to Porter.
VCU adjuncts can teach a maximum of nine credits, or three classes, each fall and spring under the Manpower Control Act. Adjuncts are also eligible to teach six credits, or two classes, in the summer. If an adjunct instructor taught eight classes, they would make $26,400 per year.
The median household income in the city is just over $47,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly a quarter of the city’s residents live in poverty, census data show.
Adjunct instructors acknowledge their role as part-time workers when they sign contracts, Porter stated in an email.
“Many of them enjoy the flexibility of a part-time position,” Porter stated.
Old Dominion University in Norfolk pays adjunct instructors between $1,043 to $1,263 per credit hour depending on the adjunct employee’s rank, according to ODU’s website.
Adjuncts at Virginia Tech do not have a base pay, according to Michael Copper, compensation analyst at the university. The adjuncts are paid based on class demand and level of experience.
Burkett said the group has about 100 active members from different VCU departments who attend meetings.
“What we’re looking for is leadership that takes inequality and looks at it as a justice issue with the university and will respond,” Burkett said.
Jon Rajkovich, another member of VCU Adjuncts for Fair Pay and a VCUarts instructor, said he wants the university to become a model for paying adjuncts fairly. He is “rooted” with his family in Richmond and is committed to teaching at VCU, but he wants to see compensation for adjuncts increase.
“I think that could happen,” Rajkovich said. “Especially with the right administration in place; it’s possible but it’s an upward push.”
The petition circulated on Twitter and Instagram and gained support from gubernatorial candidate and former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy. The group is grateful Carroll Foy supports labor movements, Burkett said.
Carroll Foy said in a statement she’s witnessed Virginia schools be denied resources, and will work to ensure quality of public education.
“This disinvestment has hurt our educators, including adjunct professors who deserve to be paid a living wage and fair benefits,” Carroll Foy stated.
VCU Adjuncts for Fair Pay plans to protest until the university meets its demands.
“It’s not about pitying us; it’s about creating systemic change at the university level,” Burkett said.
Written by Katharine DeRosa, Capital News Service. Top Photo: VCU Monroe Park campus; photo by Noah Fleischman.