Who’s Running Virginia Commonwealth University?

Richmond Struggle is proud to introduce to you the people running your school. These are the folks who continually vote to increase the tuition at VCU, even while the University is sitting on a $1.6 billion dollar endowment, one of the largest in not just the country, but in the world. This information demonstrates just how little these people care about the students, faculty and staff at VCU, but unfortunately the problem is much bigger than any of these individuals. The nature of these particular people simply indicates the character of the system they serve. The whole board of visitors is not represented here, because some members are doctors, lawyers, or public servants who seem genuinely well intentioned. But intentions aside, in their position on the Board of Visitors they serve a patriarchal, white supremacist, capitalist system intent on expansion and profit, no matter the cost to students, faculty, staff, or the working class of Richmond. We must understand that no matter who fills these seats, these oppressive social relations will never change unless we force them to: organizing to build power, then smashing their structure and building our own. A genuinely democratic VCU is possible, with workers, faculty, and staff collectively supporting and empowering each other, and building real connections to the marginalized Black, immigrant, and working class communities of Richmond. This vision will never come to fruition, however, if the current administration is not challenged. And, without further ado, we now present…

Michael Rao

It’s good to be President. Michael Rao is really cleaning up in his position at the University, with an annual compensation of over $900,000 every year. University administrators are highly paid, but even in this elite group Rao stands out. He is not only the most highly paid public university president in the state, but the most highly paid state employee in all of Virginia. Clearly, Rao is on the right path. And that’s what life seems to be about for him: rapid growth and development. His career has taken him from Boston to Florida to Montana to Michigan and now to Richmond. Rao’s fast track to success indicates he is more concerned about personal aggrandizement than building a community of students, teachers, and workers. His tenure at Central Michigan University saw rapid growth in both the size and national prestige of the University. Rao’s grand vision involves much the same thing: he calls it the “Quest for Distinction.” In the administration’s own words:

Our strategic plan continues to provide a framework for capitalizing on the outstanding assets that form the VCU experience — a commitment to educational quality, an environment that embraces diversity, an evolving research program with substantial increases in extramural funding, pre-eminent academic programs, an engaged community and a growing alumni base.

The use of “capitalizing” is particularly telling. The goal is to grow the University, mostly through colonizing Black working class areas of the city. Rao’s membership on the board of Venture Richmond, a pro-gentrification think tank, is enough to betray these intentions. The statement above clearly shows that all the most vaunted things about VCU—research, a diverse student body—are seen by Rao as simply tools to support more growth and national distinction. This is not the mindset of an educator—it is the mindset of a businessman. Rao has shown himself to be quite a successful businessman—his $900,000 salary certainly indicates that—but is that the sort of person we want running an institute of higher learning? Higher tuition for students and lower wages for workers certainly promote “growth” of VCU, but who benefits from this growth? A quick look at the board of visitors will show you exactly who.

John A. Luke

The rector and chairman of the Board, John A. Luke is a true capitalist. He serves on the board of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think-tank dedicated to lobbying for pro-corporate and anti-worker initiatives. He is currently Chairman of the Board for Westrock, a $15 billion a packaging and specialty chemical business, the second largest corporation of its type. If “specialty chemical” sounds a little sketchy to you, you’re right. Westrock was formed from the merger of Rock Tenn Company and the Meadwestvaco corporation, the latter for which John A. Luke served as CEO. Some of Meadwestvaco the “specialty chemicals” include sulfuric acid, chlorine dioxide, chlorine, and methyl iodide, chemicals so special that Meadwestvaco, with Luke as CEO, felt it right to release 35,000 pounds of them into the air annually, in 2002 earning them the distinction of the 57th largest corporate producer of air pollution. But hey, when you’re earning John A. Luke’s compensation of $6 million a year, why let breathable air get in the way of your profits?

H. Benson Dendy III

With a name like H. Benson Dendy III, you pretty much have to be part of the American ruling class, and this man does not disappoint. Dendy spent most of his career working in the Virginia State Government, but has since branched out to the private sector. His VCU bio proudly declares that he has “extensive experience in helping international corporations develop business in the United States.” In the wacky world of the ruling class, that apparently sounds like a good thing. How exactly does he do this? Through the time-honored tradition of corporate lobbying (read: bribery and corruption), of course. Dendy uses his government experience to serve as president of the ominous-sounding Vectre corporation. Vectre offers its services to such corporate behemoths as GlaxoSmithKline and JP Morgan Chase to help them buy influence on both a state and local level. Dendy has moved beyond just Vectre, however: he also serves on the Board of Directors of The Advocacy Group, a nationwide initiative that connects corporate power with state lobbyists nationwide. Oligarchy doesn’t just happen—it takes a lot of dedicated people, and H. Benson Dendy III is doing his best to help.

 John W. Snow

At 69 years of age Snow’s net worth of $90 million puts him among the 100 richest people in Virginia, and he’s made a career of defending the interests of his fellow plutocrats. In the 80s, he was an advisor to Reagan’s policy team, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a neo-liberal thinktank dedicated to furthering the interests of big business through privatization and tax cuts. Other figures associated with it include neo-cons Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and John Yoo. He came to Richmond in the 90s as CEO of railway company CSX, which paid him $29.3 million over six years. From 94-96, he was chairman of the Business Roundtable, the main actor behind the passage of NAFTA, which devastated Mexico and Central America to reap profits for corporations. In 2003, he was Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush. His main accomplishment there was in selling the Bush tax cuts to Congress and the public, which amounted to a massive transfer of $670 billion from the public coffer to the private hands of the rich. Right now, John Snow is Chairman of Cerberus Capital Management, a multi-billion dollar private equity fund that owns shares in hundreds of multinational corporations. Among its assets is Freedom Group, which it owns wholly. Freedom Group is a coalition of firearms manufacturers, which Snow promised to divest from after the Sandy Hook shooting. Cerberus owns it to this day. Other interesting companies Cerberus owns are Dyncorp and IAP World Services, military contractors that profit from war by selling weapons, equipment, and mercenaries to the United States government for its imperialist adventures. Whether in the US or abroad, murder means big profits for John W. Snow.

Robert D. Holsworth

Robert D. Holsworth is a friend to pigs city-wide. His company DecideSmart Inc. “is committed to an ethos of public service and to providing clients with real world, cost-effective solutions to the challenges they face.” Now whatever the hell that means, we know one of the major clients Holsworth provides with “real effective solutions” is the VA Department of Juvenile Justice, which our city provides with bountiful funding while our schools crumble. There are certainly many “challenges” the department faces in its quest to criminalize and repress the Black youth of the city, but rest assured that Holsworth is finding them “effective solutions.” But that’s not all! Robert Holsworth did Richmond-Pig-in-Chief Rodney Monroe a solid by awarding him a degree for completing 6 out of the necessary 121 credit hours. Holsworth lost his position as dean for this fraud, but now he’s back in action on the Board of Visitors.

William M. Ginther

Want your university run like a ruthless, profit-driven corporation? Look no further than William Ginther. He has lots of experience with ruthless, profit-driven corporations, having spent 37 years of his life as Corporate Executive Vice President at Suntrust Bank. But even more interesting than the company he ran is the company he keeps. Disgraced former Governor Bob McDonnell—convicted by a federal court of felony corruption—received campaign donations of over $16,000. That probably has something to do with the fact that McDonnell later was the one to appoint him to the board. McDonnell may be out, but his appointees are carrying on his legacy. 

Colette W. McEachin

Collete McEachin is Richmond’s Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney, making her one of the highest-ranking law enforcement officials in her jurisdictions, a real pig’s pig. Her job description is to prosecute defendants for the State of Virginia, a state that disproportionately targets the poor Black population. No matter her own skin color, McEachin serves a key role in this city’s war on the black population, a war that counts among its casualties 85% of our city jail’s prisoners. McEachin is doing just fine for herself, though. She and her husband have multiple houses and apartments throughout Richmond and Washington DC. For her multiple residences. For you, a concrete cell.

Alexander B. McMurtrie Jr.

With a net worth of over $100 million, Alexander B. McMurtrie, Jr. doesn’t have to do much of anything, but keeps busy nonetheless. When he’s not raising your tuition, or kicking back at his multiple estates throughout Virginia, McMurtrie enjoys buying influence in elections. Over the years he has offered hundreds of thousands of dollars of gifts to politicians, in exchange. One of the recipients of his largesse was corrupt, convicted former Governor Bob McDonnell. McMurtrie paid over ten thousand dollars to fly Bob and his family to see a Notre Dame football game, among other things Something tells us he doesn’t show this same generosity to people who can’t grant him favors.

Ron McFarlane

Ron McFarlane is no stranger to the corridors of power. He’s married to Nancy McFarlane, the current mayor of Raleigh North Carolina. With the mayor’s office under their control, the McFarlanes have made sure to help their own circle come to power in Raleigh, and to continue in Raleigh the nationwide project of gentrification and the displacement of poor people. However politics turns out for them, they can always fall back on MedProRx, the $80 million dollar company they own.

Michael D. Frazier

Michael D. Frazier is ruling class to the core. He served for 24 years at corporate giant GE in various leadership roles, including CEO of GE Japan and executive vice-president of GE as a whole. He came to Richmond, however to work as CEO of local GE-offshoot Genworth Financial. For this position, he earns $2.72 million a year in salary and benefits. He’s also tight with disgraced Gov. Bob McDonnell. Frazier is a sports fan, which is why he headed the committee that brought the enormous waste that is the Washington Redskins training camp to town. Michael D. Frazier feels that he has not done enough to our city, however. That’s why his current position is an adviser to Blue Heron Capital and The Frontier Project. These two finance firms are instrumental in the gentrification and displacement plans that the ruling class has in store. Their function is to provide capital and assistance to hip, white business people seeking to displace the historically black residents of neighborhoods like Church Hill and Jackson Ward. The name Frontier Project is apt: they believe these territories must be colonized and civilized. Shame for the people that have lived there for decades, but such is progress. People like Michael Frazier know that progress necessitates casualties. Whether it’s black residents forced out of their homes, or poor students forced out of their school, he’s happy to oblige.
Rick Wagoner

Rick Wagoner is the former chairman and CEO of General Motors. During his tenure, the company lost $85 billion and laid off more than 25,000 workers. Rick Wagoner is one of the many people responsible for the 2008 financial crash that suffered very few repercussions. In exchange for GM receiving almost $50 billion dollars of public money, Obama personally asked Rick Wagoner to resign, which he promptly did. Don’t feel too bad for Rick, though, despite his incompetent leadership he retired with an exit package of over $10 million: $1.65 million in benefits per year for his first five years of retirement, $74,030 per year pension for the rest of his life, and a $2.6 million life insurance policy that can be cashed out at any time. And that’s not to mention the nearly $40 million he “earned” during his tenure. It sounds like GM takes care of its retirees, right? Not so much: while Wagoner was walking away with $10 million, working-retirees saw their benefits slashed.

Jaquelyn E. Stone 

Jaquelyn Stone is a partner at consulting firm McGuire-Woods. The sort of “consulting” this firm does is nearly exclusively that which serves the interests of massive corporations against the working class. For instance, for a large fee they can help your company avoid being charged for committing financial crimes, or as they delicately put it “prevent regulatory inquiries from becoming criminal issues” At the moment, McGuire-Woods is representing telecom giant Verizon against its striking workers. They are also taking the side of Goliath in a suit brought by the Seminole Indian tribe against the bank Wells-Fargo. In addition to her work with McGuire-Woods, Jaquelyn E. Stone also sits on the board of Venture Richmond, the organization doing its utmost in our city to push forward gentrification and displacement of poor black communities.

Well, that was fun…

From these brief bios, the class character of VCU’s administration becomes clear. They are not interested in creating a democratic space for learning. They are interested in rapidly growing the university, earning national distinction, and from that profit. It all comes down to the bottom line. Administration salaries continue to rise at the same time tuition goes up. If the University truly is in crisis—which seems unlikely, given the $1.6 billion endowment—why can’t they just cut their own obscene salaries? While they take home hundreds of thousands a year, students, faculty, and workers are shafted.

The Board has voted to increase student tuition has risen every year for the past decade. If they truly cared about making the University “inclusive,” a freeze on tuition is the only answer. They want “inclusion,” sure, but only from a specific subset of people: the ruling class. As more and more students balk at the idea of taking out predatory loans for a degree that today promises very little, VCU will increasingly become an enclave of the rich. The goal is not to include all students, but to massively increase the size and “distinction” of the school. VCU is metastasizing, buying up land in working class Black neighborhoods, gentrifying the city to make not just VCU but the entire city of Richmond a safe-space for the privileged few. Tuition increases don’t bother them—in their minds, if you can’t afford the tuition, you don’t belong at the school.

While VCU expands in size and prestige, spending its money buying up land and starting new construction, the faculty is increasingly being transformed into a low-wage, precarious body of adjuncts. 76% of VCU’s teachers are now adjunct faculty, taking home a pittance of usually less than $20,000 a year. There are no benefits, no healthcare, and absolutely no job security. The adjunct professor doesn’t know whether she’ll have a job next semester, much less in five years. Factoring in the hours and hours of grading and planning, the adjunct professor makes less than minimum wage, often relying on government benefits like Food Stamps just to get by. Without job security, there is no real academic freedom. Professors cannot take any risks or attempt bold new research when they know they can be dropped at any time if the administration disapproves. The school can certainly afford to pay more, provide tenure, a living wage and job security. But they don’t want to. It’s not about academic freedom for them, it’s about control. A low-wage, precarious workforce is a disciplined workforce. Adjunct, non-tenure track faculty are terrified to explore new or radical ideas with their students, and that’s just what the administration wants.

Professors are far from the only ones exploited. The food and sanitation workers of VCU are in a similar position. In line with neo-liberalism, VCU doesn’t hire food and sanitation workers directly, but contracts it out to Aramark. Aramark is known nationally as one of the lowest paying contractors, paying experienced workers around $10/hour, far less than a living wage. The corporation has been embroiled in multiple scandals regarding wage theft, unfair firings, and other exploitative business practices. They are also deeply connected with the prison-industrial complex, contracting with prisons and serving scarcely edible, maggot-infested food to prisoners, all to increase profits. By contracting out to Aramark, VCU is making sure those that do the most work on campus are paid the least and treated the worst. The workers are the life-blood of the University. It would shut down without their labor, and they deserve better than the corporate criminality of Aramark.

The VCU administration is set on unlimited growth, more construction, more “distinction.” In this quixotic “Quest for Distinction,” the people who truly make up the VCU community are left behind. The students, faculty, and staff of VCU do not care about how nationally distinguished or large the University is. They’re more worried about how much debt they can possibly take on, how they’re going to put food on the table. Just as the administration and Board shares a concern for growth and profit, students, teachers, and workers share a community of interest in creating a truly democratic university. Each of these groups deserve an equal voice in determining how the University is run. It is only through an organized coalition of workers, teachers, and students that we can throw off this parasitic administration, a worthless group of business, politicians, and bureaucrats that have no right to dictate to the real VCU community. At its best, higher education can serve the cause of liberation, liberation not just of its students, but of humanity. It is only in a truly democratic environment that this sort of education is possible. It is only through struggle that this democratic environment can be achieved. And it is only through organization that we can win this struggle.

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