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VCU adjunct professors demand 172% pay increase

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.

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By Katharine DeRosa

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 just kind of look at our pay as really a kind of 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% 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% 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 canceled 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.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Ridge Elementary’s Erin Rettig named Virginia’s 2021 Elementary School Counselor of the Year

Rettig was surprised by Henrico County Public Schools leaders and members of her family at an April 30 announcement at Ridge. She will be recognized at the Virginia School Counselor Association’s annual conference in October.

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The Virginia School Counselor Association has named Erin Rettig, a school counselor at Ridge Elementary School, its Elementary School Counselor of the Year. Rettig was surprised by Henrico County Public Schools leaders and members of her family at an April 30 announcement at Ridge. She will be recognized at the Virginia School Counselor Association’s annual conference in October.

This is the second straight year the award has been presented to an HCPS school counselor. Last year Lila Hiltz of Donahoe Elementary School won the statewide honor.

“I love anything that brings attention to Ridge,” said Rettig. “It’s a very special school. It has a great school climate, it’s very inclusive. We have students from all different backgrounds and staff from different backgrounds … I love being at a school where all are welcome.

“I was very surprised … I really didn’t think about the nomination after it was submitted. I have always had the mentality that it’s students over everything — what’s best for them is the priority. So I really wasn’t doing anything different or trying to earn an award. I’m very thankful that they honored me and it really affirms the important work I’m doing at Ridge Elementary.”

Originally from Virginia Beach, Rettig joined the staff at Ridge in 2004 after earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from James Madison University and a master’s degree in school counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2020, she earned certification in school counseling from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the profession’s highest mark of accomplishment.

The annual awards for elementary and secondary school counselor of the year are based on implementation of a comprehensive school counseling program and the American School Counselor Association’s guiding national model.

In naming her the commonwealth’s elementary school winner, the Virginia School Counseling Association said, “Your application and letters of recommendation clearly showed that you not only support the national standards for school counseling within [your school division], but also advocate for the profession throughout your community. Your dedication to your students and increasing efforts at collaboration with fellow educators are admired and appreciated!”

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PHOTOS: University of Richmond celebrates in-person graduations

The University of Richmond awarded more than 1,100 degrees during a series of in-person, school-specific ceremonies May 7th through 9th.

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The University of Richmond awarded more than 1,100 degrees during a series of in-person, school-specific ceremonies May 7th through 9th.

The University awarded the following degrees:

  • 783 undergraduate bachelor’s degrees from the School of Arts & Sciences, Robins School of Business, and Jepson School of Leadership Studies,
  • 32 bachelor’s degrees and 95 master’s degrees, through the School of Professional & Continuing Studies,
  • 25 MBA degrees through the Robins School of Business,
  • and 137 juris doctor degrees from the Richmond School of Law.

The University of Richmond provided an in-person, residential educational opportunity for the entire 2020-21 academic year. Most students completed their classes in person with about 300 studying remotely.

From Chicago to Amsterdam and San Francisco to London, graduating seniors are heading to jobs and graduate schools around the world. The class of 2021 has secured jobs at highly-coveted companies and organizations, including Tesla, Teach for America, and the U.S. State Department. Students are continuing their education at some of the world’s premiere graduate institutions, including Yale, Harvard, and Oxford.

By the Numbers

  • The Class of 2021 includes 63 international students who represent 24 countries.
  • More than 230 students in the School of Arts & Sciences conducted undergraduate research in the arts, social sciences, humanities, and sciences.
  • The Robins School of Business’ Student Managed Investment Fund’s growth and value fund grew to a combined value of more than $1M this year, the first time the fund has hit this milestone since it was established in 1993. This year was also the first that Robins School students will graduate from UR with a business analytics concentration.
  • 22% of law school graduates earned the Carrico Center Pro Bono Certificate for completing 120 hours of service throughout their three years, collectively performing more than 6,000 hours of service.
  • The 81 members of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies Class of 2021 logged about 26,000 hours fulfilling their course service-learning requirements and Jepson internships. Three seniors were also named Jepson Scholars and awarded full scholarships to pursue one-year master’s programs at the University of Oxford.
  • For their capstone projects, Master of Nonprofit Studies students in the School of Professional & Continuing Studies conducted more than 2,800 hours of original research, engaging a wide range of nonprofit and civil society stakeholders in the Richmond area, throughout the U.S., and in Afghanistan.
  • Even with fewer study abroad experiences available in 2020 and 2021 due to travel limitations related to the pandemic, 61.7% (483 students) from the class of 2021 completed study abroad, research, and internship programs around the world with university support. Some of these experiences were virtual.
  • According to the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, 27 graduating Bonner Scholars logged 23,457 hours of service throughout their four years.

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Graduation plans vary across Virginia universities

College graduations will still look different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but more Virginia universities are returning to in-person ceremony.

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By Sarah Elson

College graduations will still look different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but more Virginia universities are returning to in-person ceremony.

Graduations will be held online, in person or a hybrid format. Gov. Ralph Northam announced last month preliminary guidance for graduation events, which continues to be updated.

“The acceleration of the vaccine program and the decrease in new COVID-19 cases make it safer to ease restrictions on activities like in-person graduations,” Northam stated in March.

Graduation events for K-12 schools and colleges will operate under two sets of guidelines, depending on the date. Graduation events held outdoors before May 15 will be capped at 5,000 people or 30% of the venue capacity, whichever is less. Graduation events held indoors may have up to 500 people, or 30% of the venue capacity, whichever is less.

More people can attend graduations held on or after May 15. The governor’s orders allow an increase to 50% of venue capacity or 5,000 people at outdoor graduations. Indoor events cannot exceed either 50% venue capacity or 1,000 persons.

Attendees must wear masks and follow other guidelines and safety protocols to ensure social distancing.

Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond will hold a university-wide commencement ceremony online on May 15, according to a statement the university released last month. Individual departments can decide whether to hold in-person graduation.

VCU College of Humanities and Sciences will hold three in-person graduation ceremonies outdoors on May 15. The ceremonies will be held rain or shine on an outdoor field used for sports. Guests are not allowed to attend, but the ceremonies will be livestreamed.

 Britney Simmons, a senior VCU mass communications major graduating in May, has concerns about attending an in-person event.

“I’d prefer that graduation is online,” Simmons stated in a text message. “I’m still uncomfortable with large gatherings and wouldn’t feel comfortable with me or any of my family attending and putting their health at risk.”

Federal health agencies called for a pause of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this month due to reports of blood clots in some individuals who received it. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration panel late last week recommended restarting the J&J vaccinations, with an added warning about the risk of rare blood clots.

“The university really put its hope in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and that lots of students would be vaccinated by commencement,” said Tim Bajkiewicz, an associate professor of broadcast journalism at VCU and the communications director for the American Association of University Professors. “Because of the pause that the CDC put on that vaccine, it really kind of blew a huge hole in those plans.”

Students and faculty originally scheduled to receive the one-dose J&J shot had to temporarily shift to a new timetable with the incremental, two-dose shots that could make it harder for everyone to receive a vaccine by graduation.

VCU spokesman Michael Porter did not respond to multiple requests for comment about any possible problems the university might encounter from that pause of the J&J vaccine.

“The ceremonies are already super stripped-down,” Bajkiewicz said. “But still over this whole thing is a pronounced risk of getting COVID-19.”

Virginia Tech in Blacksburg will have 16 in-person commencement ceremonies by college from May 10 to May 16 at Lane Stadium, the university’s football stadium. Graduating students are required to register and students are allowed to invite up to four guests.

Virginia Tech will also hold a virtual commencement ceremony on May 14.

Sarah Hajzus, a senior industrial and systems engineering major at Virginia Tech, said she would prefer to have graduation in person.

“Small, in-person [graduation], if we were to do it by major I feel like that would be ideal,” Hajzus said.

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville will hold its commencement outdoors on May 21 to May 23 for the class of 2021. Students will walk the lawn and process to Scott Stadium, where each student can have two guests. The class of 2020 will also get a chance to walk and attend a special ceremony, according to U.Va. President Jim Ryan.

Other Virginia universities will hold spring graduation completely online. George Mason University released a statement that its spring commencement will be held virtually. The ceremony is set for Friday, May 14 at 2 p.m.

 VCU students and employees are not required, but encouraged, to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Over 43% of the state’s population had received at least one-dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

“It is really sad that I won’t be able to have an in-person graduation since I looked forward to having one all four years, but I think everyone’s health is more important than a graduation ceremony,” Simmons stated.

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