Exploitation and Privilege at VCU

VCU adjuncts protesting for fair pay. Credit: VPM News

by James A. Bacon

Bacon’s Rebellion has devoted considerable digital ink over the years to explaining how Virginia’s higher-ed institutions exploit its students through unconscionably high tuition and fees. But it is useful to remind ourselves that colleges and universities are rigidly hierarchical and exploit the knowledge workers at the bottom of that hierarchy as well.

Adjunct professors at Virginia Commonwealth University protested outside the office of President Michael Rao the other day, demanding better pay and benefits. Currently, an adjunct with a full teaching load makes about $20,000 a year, or about $1,000 per credit. They’re asking for $3,000 per credit.

“We want a raise to our base pay, which is currently low enough that an adjunct can work full-time and be below the poverty line,” said Rose Szabo, a member of VCU Adjuncts Organizing for Fair Pay in an interview with Virginia Public Media. Full-time-equivalent adjunct faculty don’t even get health benefits.

At VCU, like nearly all universities, tenured professors sit at the top of the faculty hierarchy, tenure-track professors underneath, non-tenure-track “instructors under them, and adjunct faculty members working on precarious, one-year contracts at the bottom. Faculty members at the top of the academic pyramid get paid more, have more job security, have lighter teaching duties, and enjoy benefits like sabbaticals and travel.

The hierarchy extends beyond the faculty. At VCU, like other institutions, senior administrators are the highest paid of all. in 2019 President Rao was the highest-paid state official in Virginia, earning compensation of more than $1 million. His salary has increased by more than $120,000 since 2017.

VCU spokesman Michael Porter told VPM that adjuncts’ base pay of $1,100 per credit represents an increase from $738 in 2017. While they may not receive health benefits, he added, adjuncts do have access to employee health service, a tuition benefit and professional development support.

In recent years VCU faculty and administrators have devoted considerable effort to pursuing “social justice” in race relations, overhauling curricula, renaming buildings and memorials, and generally expostulating about the need for “diversity, equity and inclusion.” In the realm of academic theory, cultural Marxists today are fixated on relationships of power based on race/ethnicity, sex, and gender identity. College administrators, like those at VCU, are all too willing to indulge that fetish. The more people focus on the evils of “white privilege” and “systemic racism,” the less attention they pay to the very real privileges enjoyed by senior faculty and administrators.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


6 responses to “Exploitation and Privilege at VCU”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    At one point, the adjunct teacher was primarily someone who was teaching a class on the side, in addition to a full-time job. Most of the time, the subject matter of the class was related to the job. Over time, I have been an adjunct at J.Sargeant Reynolds, VCU, and UR. I did it because I like teaching and I could use the extra money. The amount I was getting paid, however, definitely amounted to slave labor, especially if one figured in the class prep time and the time spent grading papers and tests. (Yes, I required written reports and had discussion questions on tests.)

    The full-time adjuncts are folks who have earned a PhD, but could not land a regular faculty position. If VCU, or any school, is going to use an adjunct to teach a full class load (3 classes), it is unconscionable not to put that person in a full-time instructor position. Otherwise, it is exploitation, pure and simple.

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Wow! That sucks. In 2005, my last year as an Adjunct Associate Professor, I was paid $70/hr classroom time with an expectation of office hours. Based on 14 weeks at 3 hours per week that was $2980. These guys are getting ripped.

    Oh, and that 3 hours for every one in class is the instructor. Students are at maybe 1:1.

    BTW, it’s not unusual for these guys to adjunct at multiple campuses… they call them “Roads Scholars”.

  3. Kathleen Kreutzer Avatar
    Kathleen Kreutzer

    Very clumsy show of hand here – “The more people focus on the evils of “white privilege” and “systemic racism,” the less attention they pay to the very real privileges enjoyed by senior faculty and administrators.” In most occupations, more senior people earn more privileges, right? And putting real social processes in quotes and trying to connect it to adjunct pay just shows you have an axe to grind. I don’t often agree with you but usually you do a lot better making a case for your viewpoint. This is just a weak and flimsy screed shaking your fist at higher ed and anti-racism. You can do better.

    1. KaseyClu Avatar

      In most occupations more senior people still do their, ya know, job. The very real perk of the senior faculty is no longer doing their essential job (teaching) so it is more like slavery and racism after all.

      Like many of the posters here, I am a former adjunct. One place the dean flipped out when I had the audacity to ask for a raise $300/semester. And it still would not have made it to the VCU current salary.

    2. In the not-too-distant future I’ll be offering more evidence for my depiction of higher-ed administrative elite as a predominantly white oligarchy.

  4. Irene Leech Avatar
    Irene Leech

    Nancy, You are right on instructor time per teaching hour, especially since so much is virtual. And yes, we’re lucky to get 1:1 from students anymore.

    All, At least at my university, there is no longer an easier ride for senior faculty. The demands for productivity and higher than average teaching scores from everyone do not decline at tenure but continue throughout a career. In fact, my college now has faculty workload agreements that aim to push the envelope – and provide stronger means of holding our feet to the fire, and to get rid of us if we don’t. They don’t think that committee work, professional organizations, and outreach work should account for but 20% of work time/effort. Much that we’re required to do doesn’t “count” for anything. A faculty member who isn’t carrying a full workload must be independently wealthy and able to afford to lose the job.

    Make sure you have accurate information – and aren’t just making assumptions.

Leave a Reply