A fact-finder studying Kansas University graduate teaching assistants' effort to unionize chipped away Wednesday at the administration's arguments against the move.
KU graduate students want to unionize, but KU officials contend GTAs aren't employees under state law and therefore can't form a bargaining unit.
The Kansas Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) will settle the dispute.
Monty Bertelli, PERB's hearing officer and fact-finder, directed his attack at KU's first witness, Howard Mossberg, who is KU's vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and public service.
Bertelli used citations from state statute to dispute KU's position during the third day of a campus hearing in the Burge Union.
He first asked Mossberg to read aloud a law that defined public employee as any person employed by a public agency. KU is a public university.
"It's a rather simple definition," Bertelli said.
"We do concede there are aspects to it that have an employment nature. Our position is that we offer GTA appointments to people," Mossberg said.
Mossberg said "appointments" are similar to an internship in which a student receives financial aid. It's not an employer-employee relationship, he said.
Bertelli then handed Mossberg a copy of a contract KU requires GTAs to sign. The contract used the word employee to identify GTAs, he said.
"I'm not clear how your argument fits," Bertelli said.
Meanwhile, Bertelli said the effect of creating a GTA union was irrelevant to determining whether graduate students have a right to form a bargaining unit.
Mossberg had said formation of a union would adversely affect the academic relationship between university departments and GTAs.
He said establishment of a system in which GTAs are allowed to negotiate terms of employment -- salary, health insurance and child care, for example -- would strike at the "heart of ... things we consider to be collegial."
GTAs are represented by Scott Stone of the Kansas Association of Public Employees. The university's attorney is Karen Dutcher.
Based on evidence gathered at the campus hearing and on Bertelli's recommendation, PERB members will determine later this year whether GTAS may form a union.
If PERB approves, GTAs will vote on whether to start a union and select a bargaining agent. No GTA would be required to join a union.