VCU Workers Claim They’ve Been Penalized For Unionizing

By Dogwood Staff

May 1, 2021

VCU administration say they’re doing to this to fulfill demands by some adjuncts.

RICHMOND-Earlier this week, adjuncts, student workers and faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University announced plans to form a union. Now members of the new union claim they’re being targeted through cuts in pay and fewer working hours. 

According to emails obtained by Dogwood, university Provost Gail Hackett directed the Deans of VCU to reduce all adjunct instructors to six credits a semester. Adjuncts are currently permitted to teach up to nine credits in the fall and spring semesters, along with an additional six during the summer.

This course of action would cut adjuncts’ teaching loads during the academic year by up to a third. The union argues that the move is designed to keep adjuncts from being able to argue that they deserve full-time benefits.

That would mean a reduction in base pay and hours for some adjuncts, from approximately $28,800 to $21,600 per year. The living wage for a single adult with no children in Richmond is $31,900 a year, according to the MIT living wage calculator.

Fighting for Shared Governance

Shared governance is a principle espoused by university administration where decision-making is split between administrators, faculty, and the board of governors.

But Rose Szabo, a union organizer and former member of VCU Adjuncts Organizing for Fair Pay (VAOFP), the union’s predecessor, said this latest decision by Provost Hackett was the latest in a long line of attempts by the administration to undermine that principle.

“You can see that these issues are part of a pattern – the administration erodes shared governance so that they can unilaterally push these austerity measures onto the most vulnerable members of the VCU population,” Szabo said.

VCU administration invoked shared governance earlier this year when responding to demands by VAOFP. Those demands – for a living wage, access to campus healthcare, and stable contract terms – were presented to the administration directly by VAOFP. But the administration redirected them to the faculty senate for study and evaluation. The senate has not yet made its recommendation on those demands.

According to the email sent by Provost Hackett, “[President Rao] has directed us to informally follow this policy effective immediately.”

Szabo pointed out that this was a double-standard.

“This policy is being issued directly to the deans from the provost, without, as I understand it, any input from the deans,” they said. “Without any kind of input from faculty senate, which is ostensibly the governing body in charge of making any decisions about adjuncts and our benefits.”

The Administration’s Response

In a statement to Dogwood, Michael R. Porter, associate vice president of public affairs at VCU, said, “we recognize that this change may place a financial strain on some academic units.”

But he also claimed that they were fulfilling some adjunct demands by “changing our adjunct practices to allow those teaching a minimum of three courses per semester to become eligible to be term faculty with benefits.”

It was not clear from the administration’s statement how many adjuncts would actually be offered term faculty positions.

Provost Hackett’s email encouraged departments to create new full-term faculty positions, but recognized that the move “is going to cost some [departments] considerably more to cover your courses.”

The email did not indicate that the administration would fund the conversion of adjunct positions to full-term faculty slots, even as it directed Deans to enact the policy “effective immediately.”

Despite all of that, Szabo says they’re still optimistic about the future of organized labor on campus, “I think that if we all work together it’s going to become really apparent really quickly that we can run a better university.”

Jakob Cordes is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach him at [email protected].

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