While University of Kansas officials and representatives of the union that supports its roughly 1,100 graduate teaching assistants were mid-negotiation Monday afternoon on a new contract for those graduate student workers, a demonstration just outside the building where those talks were taking place indicated just how fraught tensions are at Kansas’ flagship university.
Spearheaded by KU’s Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition, the group of more than four dozen demonstrators equipped with chants and signs standing outside of the university’s administrative building comprised far more than just graduate teachers. Tenured faculty, families and children, undergraduate students, and some furry friends stood just outside of Strong Hall for more than an hour seeking to overturn budget cuts that GTAC estimates would eliminate 40% of graduate workers by the fall semester.
The message was simple: “Stop the cuts.”
In a statement prior to the protest, GTAC communications chair Katie Hinders told The Lawrence Times that at the end of February, university administration sent out departmental budgets for the 2021-22 academic year following “years of consistent underfunding and previous deep cuts.”
In those budgets, GTAC said, the university isn’t being transparent about the breadth of its proposed cuts, forcing the organization to piece together the true impact on the graduate worker population on its own. That analysis, they said, showed that graduate positions may be cut by as much as 40%.
Rough math indicates that would mean some 440 of KU’s 1,100 graduate teaching assistants wouldn’t be able to continue not only their teaching, but their own education and degree programs.
“The financial problems caused by impotent financial management before, during, and after the pandemic do not justify unilaterally overriding shared governance and systematically devaluing our institution and our degrees,” Hinders said in a statement. “GTAC demands KU immediately rescind these devastating proposals, restore all GTA jobs, and offer a one-year extension to all graduate workers.”
Jennifer Nielsen, a graduate student in the philosophy department, spoke to the crowd on the importance graduate workers bring to both the KU student and employee populations.
“I just heard that GTAs here have been cut by 40%. This means 40% of our graduate students may not graduate,” she said. “This means minority students, poor students, vulnerable students, queer students and allies, we are in danger right now. I’m very scared right now that I won’t be able to graduate, and this is my life. This is my dreams.”
A KU spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions from The Lawrence Times sent early Monday afternoon about when department budgets had to be submitted, whether the university is instructing 40% of GTA positions to be cut from across those budgets, or whether the university had a response to the concerns raised at Monday’s protest.