Author Archives: James A. Bacon

One of Three Virginia Children Unready for Kindergarten

Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission

Roughly one third of Virginia children lack the social, self-regulation, literacy or math skills needed for kindergarten, finds a study on early childhood development released by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC).

(That estimate was derived from a representative sampling from 63 of Virginia’s 132 school systems, so a comprehensive statewide survey might yield a different percentage.)

Factors such as poverty, low birth weight, and maternal substance abuse place childrens’ early development at risk and strongly influence whether they will be ready for school. The scientific research is clear, says the JLARC report:

Very young children who grow up in — or are regularly exposed to — safe, language-rich, and healthy environments, with caregivers who support their curiosity and learning, are likely to enter school ready to learn. Conversely, children not exposed to such environments are less likely to be ready for school and are more likely to be held back, enrolled in special education classes, and perform poorly in later grades. Those same students are more likely than their peers to commit crimes, become teen parents, and rely on public assistance as they grow older. … Each of these outcomes can carry significant financial costs to government, including the state.

Virginia has 13 “core” early childhood development programs, including seven voluntary home visiting programs for expectant mothers, the Virginia Pre-School Initiative, the Child Care Subsidy Program, and two Individuals with Disabilities Education Act programs. The state spent $144 million on early childhood development programs in FY 2016; total federal, state and local spending amounted to $359 million.

An opportunity exists to improve the effectiveness of the state’s spending commitment without spending more money, JLARC concluded. “Careful attention is needed to whether programs are well designed, implemented as designed , and perform effectively.” But there is insufficient data to evaluate which programs are delivering the most bang for the buck. 

Bacon’s bottom line: By all means, we should evaluate the efficacy of Virginia’s early childhood development programs and reallocate resources to programs that deliver the most value. But such fine-tuning of the existing system amounts to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic when one out of three Virginia children is unready for kindergarten. Virginia appears to be experiencing what can only be interpreted as a slow-motion societal collapse.

Lagging childhood development is strongly correlated with poverty and other phenomena such as low birth weight and maternal substance abuse that are also strongly correlated with poverty. The percentage of Virginia’s population in poverty at present runs about 11%. Yet one-third (subject to revision if we could obtain statewide data) of children are unready for kindergarten. Why the three-to-one disparity? A big portion of the problem, I submit, is demographic: Mothers in poverty have more children than middle-class mothers do, and they have children at much younger ages.

At 64 years of age, I’m about to become a grandfather for the first time. My eldest daughter, whose baby is due in literally one or two days, is 32 years old. Like her 30-year-old sister, who wants to have children but is waiting until her family’s career and finances are in order, and like the vast majority of middle-class Americans, she waited until she completed her education, found a job, got married, saved money, and achieved financial stability. Poor people don’t hew to the same family planning logic. Although the number of teen pregnancies is declining, poor women tend to give birth at a much younger age than their middle-class peers do, and they tend not to be married. (This proclivity, by the way, applies to all races and ethnicities.)

Given the strong correlation between poverty and low literacy levels, substance abuse, single-parent households, child neglect and a host of other pathologies, it should come as a surprise to no one that the percentage of Virginia’s young children ill equipped for kindergarten is increasing. And it should surprise no one that the percentage of teenagers ill equipped to graduate from high school is increasing, and that the percentage of young adults ill equipped for college is increasing. The same problem is manifesting itself on every step of the educational ladder.

Yes, we need to treat the symptoms of this systemic problem by, among other things, helping prepare young children for kindergarten. But the same pathologies that hinder readiness for kindergarten also hinder progression to 1st grade and beyond. In the long run, the most important thing we can do is to persuade teenagers and young women that they can improve their lives by adopting bourgeois values — deferring gratification, staying sober and delaying child bearing until they have completed their education, formed a stable marriage, and found a stable job.

ACP Foes, Supporters Contend in ACP Environmental Hearing

After issuing a water-quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline last week, the State Water Control Board held a public hearing today to consider a comparable certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Public comment this morning tended to focus on the question of whether new Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) rules designed to cover pipeline construction in mountainous “uplands” are up to the task of protecting water quality.

Two hundred or more pipeline foes packed the Trinity Family Life Center in Henrico County to voice their support of speakers critical of the proposed 605-mile natural gas pipeline, mainly on the grounds that it will threaten water quality in mountainous western Virginia communities. But many of the speakers, including state legislators, retired employees of Dominion Energy (managing partner of the pipeline), and others expressed support for the project which they said will promote economic development in eastern Virginia.

Even with speakers limited to three minutes at the podium, the hearing was expected to last into the evening, and the water board was not expected to vote until tomorrow.

Opponents hammered home the argument that DEQ’s regulations were inadequate to protect water quality in steep mountainous terrain with landslide-prone slopes and complex karst geology with sinkholes and underground rivers. In particular, they charged, the Board relied upon ACP erosion-control plans that have not been seen yet to prevent sediment from fouling streams and underground drinking water.

A major sub-theme of those hostile to the pipeline was distrust of the regulatory process, which, given the approval of the MVP project last week, showed every sign of going against the pipeline foes. Typical was Cabell Smith, a Nelson County resident, who said that the regulations provided “no assurance” that water quality standards will be maintained under a “corrupt corporate and political system.”

Some insisted that democracy itself was under assault. Richard Averett, a landowner in the path of the ACP, called the pipeline an “unprecedented threat to eminent domain” and a “threat to democracy.” The pipeline, he said, will scuttle his plans to build a five-star boutique resort in the Rockfish Valley. In an impassioned speech that brought pipeline foes to their feet, he faulted “a corrupt governor more interested in mining the pockets of his pals and future donors than protecting the rights of citizens.”

DEQ devised the certification for upland water quality out of a concern that the existing regulatory framework did not address the unique problems encountered along the proposed pipeline route, said Melanie Davenport, DEQ’s water permitting division director. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates wetlands and streams, while a different set of regulations governs erosion & sediment controls. The 401 water quality certification, she said, fills the gaps.

DEQ acknowledges that the digging of trenches and laying of pipeline on steep, erosion-prone slopes can create problems that pipeline construction does not pose in flatland and hill country. Sediment-generating erosion is particularly problematic in karst terrain when underground water flows are out-of-sight and difficult to track. Therefore, said Davenport, the commonwealth decided to add an additional certification.

According to Davenport, conditions attached to the ACP water-quality certificate provide, among other features:

  • A prohibition against the removal of riparian buffers within 50 feet of surface waters.
  • A narrower construction right of way, 75 feet instead of 125 feet, as pipeline construction nears water and stream crossings.
  • Additional protections to accommodate karst terrain, including the use of dye-tracing studies to update karst maps.
  • Tougher conditions on the withdrawal of surface waters.
  • Tougher conditions on the release of water used in hydrostatic tests (conducted to measure the integrity of pipeline joints and seams).
  • Implementation of water quality monitoring plans to track erosion during and after construction.
  • Spill-prevention plans

A point made repeatedly by pro-pipeline speakers is that the DEQ regulations provide “added layers of protection” to water quality.

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, Del. Roxanne Robinson, R-Chesterfield, and Del. Buddy Fowler, R-Ashland, all spoke in favor of certifying the pipeline. Wagner said that added gas-transportation capacity is especially critical for economic growth in Hampton Roads, where some 100 large customers were called upon to curtail their natural gas consumption during the intense cold of the polar vortex a few years ago. The tight gas supply will make it difficult to recruit any energy-intensive industry to the region, he said.

“There is not enough upstream capacity today to serve existing customers and new customers,” confirmed Jim Kibler, president of Virginia Natural Gas, which serves Hampton Roads. Other than the ACP, he said, “We’re out of options for South Hampton Roads.”

“Our city and region need the supply of natural gas from the pipeline,” said Edwin C. Daly, assistant city manager of the city of Emporia in Southside.

Technology has advanced to the point where the ACP will be “the safest pipeline ever built,” said Paul McCormick with the International Union of Operating Engineers.

While a handful of critics disputed the positive economic impact of the pipeline, most pipeline foes focused on the negative impact on water quality.

Tina Smusz, representing the Virginia chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, called DEQ’s regulatory approach a “flawed framework” that ignores the impact of water-born toxins that could pose “grave health threats.” Toxins buried in sediments along stream banks could be exposed by erosion and make their way into local water supplies, she said. DEQ should get predictive data on toxin release before granting certification, she said. While DEQ proposes to monitor water quality and execute contingency plans should problems arise, that’s an inadequate after-the-fact solution, she added. Continue reading

Digging into Your Electric Bill

Apco = Appalachian Power Co. DEV = Dominion Energy Virginia. Source: State Corporation Commission.

Monthly electric bills for a typical Virginia household (using 1,000 kilowatt hours) increased by $48.64 for Appalachian Power Co. customers over the past 10 years, and $26.61 for Dominion Energy Virginia customers. Those numbers come from a presentation by Kimberly B. Pate, director of the division of utility accounting at the State Corporation Commission, at a hearing last week of the Commission for Electric Utility Regulation.

The cost to Apco of cleaning emissions from its coal-fired power plants, which accounted for three-quarters of its generation in 2007, pushed up electric rates much faster than it did for Dominion, which relied on coal for only 36% of its output. Apco’s rates, which were lower than Dominion’s for decades, are now almost at parity.

For policy geeks, it is helpful to plumb beneath the surface of those numbers to see what forces drove the cost increases. Pate looked at the three categories of rates, which, when combined, create the overall rate: base rates, which encompass mainly operating costs; the fuel rate; and RACs, or rate adjustment clauses that pay for capital projects like new transmission lines or power plants.

Over the past decade Apco experienced a 75% increase in its fuel rate, as seen above. However, because fuel is a modest portion of the overall cost, that increase added only $9.89 to the typical household’s monthly fuel bill. For Dominion, which benefited from declining natural gas prices over the decade, the rise in fuel prices was modest indeed, only 7%, and it added only $1.51 to customers’ monthly bill.

Base rates, the rates that were frozen by 2015 legislation, are the biggest component of overall electric rates. A 50% increase in Apco base rates added $25.75 to the monthly bill, making it the driver of its higher electric rates. By contrast, a mere 10% increase in Dominion base rates added $7.03.

RACs have been a major contributor to higher costs for both utilities. By adding four additional rate “riders” since 2007, Apco pumped up its average household bill by $13.00. Dominion added 11 rate riders, accounting for $18.07 in new expense passed on to rate payers.

Understanding how electricity rates are constructed illuminates corporate strategy.

For example, Dominion is facing potential multibillion-dollar liabilities to safely dispose of the coal ash at four of its power stations. Some of the costs are rolled into the base rate and some can be passed along to rate payers in the form of a rider. If the rate base stays frozen, those costs cannot be passed along to ratepayers, and shareholders will take a hit. Last month Dominion released a study showing a range of alternatives for burying the coal ash; one option, creating a central landfill to accommodate the material from the three largest coal-ash sources, could cost more than $4 billion. It’s not clear from an accounting perspective how much of that liability would be assigned to the base rate and how much could be passed through to rate payers. But, if Dominion were compelled to bury its coal ash in lined landfills, the utility potentially could take a body blow to the bottom line. Could coal ash liabilities have factored into Dominion’s suggestion last week that it was time to end the freeze? It’s a question worth asking.

Another example: Both Dominion and Apco are bringing more renewable sources, mainly solar and wind, into their electric generating portfolios. Renewables have high up-front capital costs (which would be recouped through a Rate Adjustment Clause), modest operating costs (recouped through base rates), and zero fuel costs (addressed by the Fuel Adjustment Clauses). Integrating renewables into the fuel mix would push electric rates higher initially but be almost immune to prices increases in the future.

Bacon’s bottom line: Different categories of cost have differential impacts on Apco and Dominion and their customers, depending upon their fuel mixes and upon how those costs are treated from an accounting point of view. Apco and Dominion make it their business to understand how those costs flow through to their bottom lines, and they adjust their corporate strategies accordingly. To defend the public interest, state officials need to understand the factors that drive their actions as well.

Before Expanding Medicaid, Examine the Program’s Outcomes

When Virginia lawmakers start cranking up the old Medicaid-expansion jalopy in January, they would be well advised to pay attention to a new study out of California — not exactly your reddest of red states, so this is not Republican propaganda.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology, used a California data registry to compare cancer survival outcomes of insurance over two decades (1997–2014). Summarizes the Federalist: “Improvements in survival rates during the time period the survey examined came almost exclusively from individuals with private insurance or Medicare. “[F]or patients with other public [i.e., Medicaid] or no insurance, survival was often stubbornly unchanged, or, in some cancers, declining.”

While survival falls short of that achieved by patients with private insurance, public insurance such as Medicaid does confer a survival benefit over no insurance for breast, prostate, and lung cancer. However, there was little or no benefit of public insurance over no insurance for colorectal cancer or melanoma, and the lack of improvement in survival is a concern. These findings suggest that the health care provided to publically [sic] insured patients with cancer in California is not adequately meeting their needs.

Got that? Medicaid is somewhat better than zero insurance for some cancers but no better for others. And in some cases, the study implies, it’s worse.

Meanwhile, debates are raging over whether Medicaid expansion has led to an increase in opioid addiction, and whether or not emergency-room usage has declined, as envisioned by the architects of the Affordable Care Act.

The assumption behind Medicaid expansion is that any health coverage, no matter how crappy, is better than none at all. But Medicaid reimburses physicians far less than private insurance and Medicare do, with the result that (a) many physicians don’t take Medicaid patients, and (b) some physicians may not provide the same quality of treatment. Also, one must consider the nature of Medicaid patients. By definition, they are poor, and poor people may interact with the health care system differently than the non-poor.

The California study inevitably will be cited by Virginia opponents to Medicaid expansion. And just as inevitably, supporters will find reasons to criticize it. Here’s how it works in early 21st-century America: Pick your desired political outcome, choose the study to justify it, and then shoot holes in opposing studies. Medical science becomes politicized just like everything else in our society that is mediated by the political class — but, of course, it’s all the other side’s fault.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Inks Labor Contracts

Now that the State Water Control Board has approved water-quality permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), the odds look exceedingly good that the board will approve comparable permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) as well. Indeed, state regulatory approval looks like such a lock that the ACP has signed project labor agreements with four major construction trade unions.

The agreements cover these four unions:

  • Laborers’ International Union of North America. Laborers install environmental control devices, perform ground clearing, coat and install the pipe and restore the right of way.
  • Teamsters National Pipeline. Teamsters transport personnel, materials and equipment.
  • International Union of Operating Engineers. Operators operate excavators, bull dozers, pipe bending and laying machines, cranes, forklifts and other construction equipment.
  • The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States. Welders weld and bend the pipe, install road bores and perform hydrostatic testing.

“This is the biggest job-creating infrastructure project we’ve seen in our region for many decades,” said Dennis Martire, LiUNA’s Vice President & Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our region’s infrastructure and bring back the middle class jobs that have disappeared from too many of our communities. Our members live in these communities, so we have a personal stake in doing this the right way and with the utmost care for safety and the environment.”

While the two pipeline projects will be a boon to the construction unions — 13,000 workers will be needed to build the ACP — landowners and others living along the path of the pipeline routes remain adamantly opposed to both projects.

“[Governor] Terry McAuliffe has harmed farmers, consumers, drinking water, and the climate by pushing the Virginia Water Control Board to give final approval today of the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network said after the 5 to 2 vote. “The 301-mile pipeline for fracked gas constitutes a colossal misallocation of resources and will permanently harm the Governor’s economic and environmental legacies.”

“We are thoroughly disappointed by the board’s decision. Thousands voiced their opposition to this pipeline based on evidence that it cannot be built without violating the federal Clean Water Act and the board’s obligation under Virginia law,” said Tom Cormons, executive director of Appalachian Voices. “DEQ created a rushed, haphazard process, limited the scope of the board’s review, and abdicated the state’s authority to the Corps of Engineers for oversight of pipeline construction at almost 400 water crossings.”

While pipeline foes have cited many reasons for opposing the two projects, they have focused in recent months on blocking state regulatory approval on the grounds that the regs cannot adequately protect water quality from construction on steep mountain slopes in karst terrain riddled with underground streams.

Having met defeat at every turn at the federal and state levels, the last resort is the courts. “We are considering all options,” said Cormons, “and expect the outcome will be determined in the courts.”

If Mountain Valley Pipeline breaks ground on the project, he added, “citizens along the entire route are prepared to watchdog every action, along every mile, every day of construction and afterwards, and compel agencies to act when violations inevitably occur.”

The water control board is expected to vote on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline this Monday.

Update: That was fast! Minutes after I posted this story, Appalachian Mountain Advocates announced that it has filed suit in Richmond’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. “The DEQ’s erosion and sediment control plans and stormwater control plans are incomplete and have not been presented to the Board,” said David Sligh, conservation director of Wild Virginia, which is allied with Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “Karst analyses are incomplete. Data related to specific waterbody crossings is non-existent. The Nationwide 12 permit has not yet been authorized and determined to be applicable.  The procedure is not based on sound science and is legally flawed. We cannot accept this betrayal of our trust and our rights without challenge.”

Let’s Hope This Act Never Grows Old

I’d never heard of the Church Sisters — Savannah and Sarah Church — until this week, when I read they were coming to play in Richmond. These young ladies who were raised in the heart of the Virginia coalfields, Dickenson County, and in Danville, meld Bluegrass and Gospel. The melody in this video, “Where We’ll Never Grow Old,” has a slow tempo but the twin sisters’ harmonies are lovely. (Skip through the first 30 seconds of the video to get straight to their performance.)

Southwest Virginia may be down and out economically, but the cultural traditions of Central Appalachia are as vibrant as ever. The twins have signed a record contract with Taylor Swift’s label, which could well push them into the big time.

More Tuition Increases Recommended at UVa

From the Daily Progress:

Applicants for the University of Virginia’s Class of 2023 may face sticker shock when applying to their programs. The university’s Board of Visitors Finance Committee approved tuition increases on Friday between 2.5 and 17.5 percent for incoming undergraduates.

It’s the third year in a row that increases for returning undergraduates remained below inflation, but administrators say increases are needed in some academic colleges to pay for high costs of instruction.

Annual increases in the schools of architecture, nursing, engineering and applied sciences, public policy and commerce range from $1,436 to $2,962.

The article did not provide an average tuition increase for the university as a whole.

Bacon’s bottom line: It makes sense to charge different tuition & fees for different schools and programs. After all, the educational products are very different. Costs vary widely from school to school, and so does competition, demand, and value provided. At the same time, this approach obscures the overall thrust of tuition policy. Is UVa moderating its tuition hikes, or is it delivering another round of overall increases. Did the UVa administration fail to provide an overall figure, or did the Daily Progress reporter fail to report it?

Update: A UVa Today article answers the main question I was asking: “Overall, the proposed weighted average tuition increase for all in-state UVA students is 3.3 percent, and the proposed weighted average for non-Virginians is 3.9 percent.”

Actually, Travel Times Are Faster on I-66, VDOT Says

Image credit: Virginia Department of Transportation

Many Northern Virginia motorists and politicians seem to be having mental breakdowns over the opening of HOT lanes on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway. Most notably, they point to the first-day, one-way $34.50 peak toll as an outrage against the driving public. Ironically, though, morning and afternoon commutes were faster during the first four days of HOT lane operation than the same period last year, asserts the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The average toll price during morning rush hour was $10.70 and during evening rush hour $3.80, stated VDOT in a press release issued yesterday evening. Only 39 vehicles paid the posted highest toll of $34.50. A third paid less than $10. And average travel times for the 10-mile route were 10 to 12 minutes compared to 15 to 30 minutes last December.

VDOT analysis also showed that of the 13,307 vehicles that used I-66 Inside the Beltway between 5:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Monday, 5,082 were carpoolers who traveled free. Traffic was heavier but travel times were comparable during the evening commute the other direction.

“Contrary to the continued political rhetoric of critics, I-66 Inside the Beltway Express Lanes tolls have been based on sound planning and with the ultimate goal of improving travel for everyone,” said Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne. “We want to move more people, improve connectivity and provide additional travel choices. This is about unlocking gridlock on I-66 as Governor McAuliffe pledged.”

VDOT also noted that, except for an incident that closed two or three lanes of traffic on Route 50 Monday evening, travel on parallel roads such as Route 50, Route 29, and Route 7 were “either similar or improved compared with last December.”

The VDOT statement did not address observations that serious delays occurred at points accessing I-66 inside the Beltway.

Bacon’s bottom line: Assuming VDOT is not cherry picking its data, it appears that the HOT lanes are working as advertised, and that the people who are most upset by the HOT lanes are those who were prepared to be upset by HOT lanes to begin with. However, any conclusion is preliminary until the public has had a chance to review and critique the travel data.

More People Still Leaving Virginia than Moving In

Source: StatChat blog

Virginia has experienced its fourth consecutive year of domestic out-migration, reports Hamilton Lombard with the University of Virginia’s demographic research group in its StatChat blog. Prior to 2013, Virginia had never experienced a year of out-migration since the Internal Revenue Service began collecting data in 1978. (The data is based on address changes for households filing income taxes.) Virginia’s population is still growing thanks to a surplus of births over deaths, but the growth rate has slowed from 80,000 a year in the 2000s to 50,000 for the past four years.

Lombard attributes the out-migration largely to the impact of sequestration-related cutbacks to defense spending on the economy in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. He also suggests that the high cost of Northern Virginia housing may play a factor in the exodus.

While Virginia still experiences net in-migration from traditional feeder states in the Northeast, it is exporting population to fast-growth Sunbelt cities. The largest cohort of immigrants is in the 26- to 35-year-old age range, although Lombard expects to see a growing number of retirees leaving the state for lower-tax climes.

Adjunct Faculty: Higher Ed’s Lumpenproletariat

Heide Trepanier at her studio. Photo credit: Style Weekly. Her artwork hangs in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts but as a VCU adjunct faculty member, she would get paid only $3,000 for teaching an art course next spring.

I have a pet theory. One of the reasons that employees of colleges and universities are so politically liberal and obsessed with inequality and privilege is that colleges and universities themselves are such unequal and hierarchical places. Those on the lower rungs feel oppressed. Those on the upper rungs feel guilty.

A case in point: A group of adjunct art faculty members at Virginia Commonwealth University has circulated a petition calling for a pay increase. The part-time instructors, who are hired on a contractual basis and are not on the tenure track, currently are paid $800 per credit, a sum that is scheduled to rise to $1,000 per credit this spring. But adjunct faculty members are calling for pay of $2,000 per credit.

“A lot of people feel exploited,” artist Heide Trepanier, who has worked as an adjunct at VCU, told Style Weekly. “Things like the School of the Arts don’t pull in big funding,” she says, “so their big way of [making] money is pulling in more students and cutting costs. You have these upper-level administrators earning hundreds of thousands of dollars and most of the people there teaching, who are in direct contact with the students, [have no chance] for full tenure track positions.”

Adjuncts receive no benefits or no free parking, the cost of which Trepanier says translates to teaching one day a week free. “Adjuncts don’t have any say in the process. VCU is using a successful business model that is not working in higher education. Now they’ve got a problem because the majority is starting to organize.”

The inequality is national in scope, not limited to VCU. There are wide disparities in universities between similarly educated and qualified individuals and the pay and privileges (like paid sabbaticals) they enjoy. Adjunct faculty are the lumpenproletariat of the academic world. Above them, the petite bourgeoisie, are “instructors” who, though they may not be on a tenure track, do enjoy the benefits of full-time employment. Then come the gentry and aristocracy: the assistant professors, associate professors, and full professors. Within the ranks of full professors, there are innumerable gradations of pay and status. The elite occupy endowed chairs, with endowment-funded supplements to their salaries, and are assigned a complement of graduate students. And, unless they violate the code of politically incorrect behavior and discourse, they enjoy virtually life-time job security.

Granted, not all adjuncts, instructors, and professors are equally accomplished. Some contribute more intellectually to their fields — through research and writing — than others. The irony for institutions whose primary mission is to educate people is that the most accomplished professors — those who have reached tenure — do the least teaching. They get the lightest teaching loads so they can devote more time to pursue research and writing. The system is captive to the publish-or-perish phenomenon in which those who create knowledge (much of it of dubious value) are valued far more highly that those who disseminate it.

I have two close friends who are, or have been, adjunct faculty members of Richmond-area universities. One has a law degree, the other has a Ph.D. in psychology — the same educational credentials as those who occupy much loftier positions in the academic hierarchy. Both have intense and/or engaging personalities and both, I would wager (although I have not seen them in a classroom setting) are engaging teachers. As it happens, both are women, which may or may not be typical of adjunct faculty generally. And both either are, or have been, frustrated or embittered by their treatment.

Universities respond that they would love to increase pay for adjunct faculty but they just can’t. Cutbacks in state support for higher education, you know.

Here’s how Shawn Brixey, dean of VCU’s School of the Arts, justifies the pay disparities, as summarized by Style:

He notes the fiscal reality that budget cuts occurred last year, which leaves little discretion “beyond meeting unavoidable costs.” Throughout the years, tuition increases have, for the most part, replaced state funding cuts. He adds that the university’s administrative costs are “very low compared to like institutions” and that he’s working on generating new revenue streams to ease the tuition burden.

“We know that faculty compensation at VCU of all types – including for our teaching and research faculty and administrative and professional faculty – is below the average of that of our peers and fellow state tier 3 institutions,” Brixey explains via email. “The administration is working to improve that. They have made adjunct faculty compensation a top priority for the FY19 budget.”

Brixey has a point… assuming you accept the hierarchical nature of the faculty as an immutable feature of higher education at VCU and nearly every other nonprofit college and university in the country.