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VCU Addressing Some Adjunct Demands After Faculty Recommendations

People in graduation robes stand on steps
Adjunct professors from Virginia Commonwealth University read a list of demands outside the office of university President Michael Rao. (Photo: Alan Rodriguez Espinoza/VPM News)

The administration at Virginia Commonwealth University says they’re working to meet some demands being made by adjunct faculty. The changes come after adjuncts and other staff formed a union, and a body of over 100 faculty members echoed their concerns in a report.

One of the changes the VCU Faculty Senate recommended in their report was to pay adjuncts for their preparatory work if a course is cancelled last minute. Without a course cancellation stipend, adjuncts aren’t compensated for some of their work.

In an email, VCU spokesperson Mike Porter said the administration is working on this policy: “We are making progress on a proposal to compensate adjuncts whose courses are cancelled at a late date.”

Porter also said the provost’s office supports raising pay for adjunct faculty, “as evidenced by our efforts to raise the minimum salary and include adjuncts in faculty salary raises.” At a recent Board of Visitors meeting, the university recommended raising per credit pay for adjuncts to $1,200, up from $1,100.

The Faculty Senate report says $1,200 per credit hour is still not enough, and calls for VCU to raise per credit pay to “at least $1,650,” based on MIT Living Wage calculations. Meanwhile, the recently formed VCU Chapter of United Campus Workers union is asking for adjuncts to be paid $3,000 per credit.

The Faculty Senate report also scrutinized VCU’s reliance on adjunct faculty. During the Spring 2021 semester, the university employed 567 adjunct staff, with 30% of them working in the Arts department. Citing the American Association of University Professors, the report says hiring adjunct staff should only be done in “emergency situations,” and adds that “the student experience and the health of the university suffer” when there is an overreliance on adjuncts.

“It is the position of the AAUP that the health of a university lies in increasing its number of full-time faculty. Furthermore, continually offering adjunct faculty contracts instead of creating full-time faculty opportunities perpetuates the exclusion of these employees from the benefits afforded to full-time faculty,” the report reads.

In his email, Porter said VCU will be developing new full-time faculty positions over the next year.

“What we emphasize, however, is that the adjunct appointment category is a part-time, temporary appointment, and there appears often to be confusion over this fact. Individuals who wish for full time salaries need to pursue full time faculty appointments,” Porter said.

Last week, the administration received criticism from unionized staff for capping maximum credits adjuncts can teach per semester.  The university says this is a “positive” change that will make adjuncts who teach more than six credits eligible for full-time employment. 

The union says the policy is “rushed” and will result in adjunct layoffs. The cap could also result in fewer payable hours for some teachers, which has prompted VCU United Campus Workers to characterize the policy as “retaliation” for their union activity.

In a recent press release, the union praised the Faculty Senate’s report, calling it “a win for students, adjunct faculty and self-governance.”

“Ultimately the Faculty Senate agreed that if we are to chart a path forward that honors the work of adjuncts, it cannot be a policy that results in hours being cut for those who are already serving the university,” VCU United Campus Workers said.

The senate approved submitting its report by a 53-3-1 vote. Besides the aforementioned recommendations, the report also calls on VCU to provide adjuncts with more teaching materials and technology resources, and it encourages VCU to explore better health insurance options for adjuncts.