University real estate purchase leaves adjuncts demanding fair salary

Photo by Erin Edgerton
Photo by Erin Edgerton

Adjunct professors are looking for answers as to why university money isn’t being put toward equitable pay in the wake of VCU’s latest multi-million dollar purchase of the Mansion 534 nightclub’s property.

Tom Burkett, an adjunct professor in School of the Arts, is active with VCUarts Adjuncts Organizing for Fair Pay, a group seeking equitable and fair pay for all adjunct faculty members at VCUarts. He helped organize a petition to put adjunct pay as a top university priority in December and the university told him that raising student tuition would be the price to pay for increased adjunct salaries.

“Those two didn’t need to be connected together,” Burkett said. “So when you see VCU continue to buy real estate…but then also link employee pay directly to student tuition dollars, it just doesn’t seem like something is quite adding up, or we’re just not being heard.”

The university bought the two-story facility on North Harrison Street in conjunction with the university’s plan for real estate acquisition, said VCU spokesperson Michael Porter.

Burkett said it came as a surprise to VCUarts AOFP members that VCU’s decision to invest in more real estate was prioritized over current university problems.

“We’re definitely against the acquisition of a multi-million dollar building without there being really a sound plan,” he said. “Spending like that could really focus on ways that we could improve the health of people already working at VCU, and also really examine what’s happening with tuition dollars currently being collected and spent.”

Jeff Eastman, university planner, said the purchase was part of a large university objective called the Master Plan. The plan is currently in the design phase, which involves scenario modeling and assessing potential campus development. This means planners are deciding which sites around campus should be developed or renovated.

“The future use of the building will be considered along with other sites during the design phase,” Eastman said. “In the near term, the space will be used by the School of Arts for much-needed classroom, critique and exhibition space.”

Burkett wants to see university expansion be more cognizant of the city’s overall success.

“We don’t need real estate,” Burkett said. “I think there are ways that we can be allies to local businesses that already exist, Black communities that exist and places that already have significant meaning and function for Richmond in ways that we can bring our students and faculty and classrooms in more.”

VCUarts AOFP will be holding an open meeting at Sediment Arts on March 16. Burkett said part of the Master Plan may be impeding on existing businesses — not only properties that have already been purchased by the university. Those establishments have been referred to as “open space.”

“There are just still a lot of questions in terms of what they’re considering open space and how they’re defining open space for VCU to expand,” Burkett said. “A lot of the arrows that were depicted on [Master Plan] maps were over local businesses that are currently existing — and in a lot of ways thriving.”

Nia Tariq, Staff Writer

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