KU students turn up at chancellor’s residence to protest ‘wasteful’ ownership of private jet

photo by: Nick Krug

University of Kansas students from right, Cheyanne Teasley, Kansas City, Mo., sophomore; Stewart Merz, Lawrence junior; Cory Thomason, St. Louis freshman; John Styers, Shawnee junior; and Jacob Steinle, Shawnee junior, hold signs Monday, April 23, 2018, outside the chancellor's residence protesting the university's use of a private jet.

As part of a continued movement to convince the University of Kansas to sell its private jet — deemed a waste by some, an efficiency by others — dozens of KU students on Monday protested in front of Chancellor Douglas Girod’s campus residence.

Chants of “Address the debt, sell the jet,” “Our money, our problem” and “Do like us, take the bus” rained down on Girod’s residence, 1532 Lilac Lane, for just more than an hour.

The protest was organized by KU Against Rising Tuition, a student group that has made selling the university jet a primary focus in the roughly 16 months the group has existed on campus. University reports have equated the cost to run and maintain the jet to be roughly $2,800 per day whether or not the jet is being used — something the students see as wasteful, considering the rising costs of tuition coupled with a lack of increases to staff and faculty pay.

“If we sell the jet, we’ll lower tuition and raise professor pay,” Lev Comolli, president of KU Against Rising Tuition, said during the protest.

Comolli said the reasons for Monday’s protest centered on conversations, or a lack thereof, that his group has tried to have with KU officials.

“We haven’t had much work from them, and that’s the unfortunate part,” he said. “We’ve talked to people working in the Legislature, people running for governor; they’ve been very clear that the state can’t do anything to help us … The only person that can make this happen, that can make this change is the chancellor.”

Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, an aerospace engineering professor at KU, serves as an adviser for the group and said he was proud to see such a level of activism.

“If you’re inactive, bad things happen. Democracy is a participatory sport,” he said. “The numbers (around the jet) stunned me when I first read them. So wasteful. And they keep cutting faculty salary, they keep cutting staff salary and they keep jacking up tuition.”

Barrett-Gonzalez serves on the University Planning and Resources Committee, which he said dug up a lot of the numbers that inspired the activism of KU Against Rising Tuition. He also expressed concern regarding an upcoming University Senate meeting where a report on the jet’s usage was scheduled to be read but now may not be allowed.

“The University Senate president just sent an email saying ‘No, we don’t have time for the jet presentation’, even though the Senate had already voted to have the presentation,” he said. “So I’m going to show up on Thursday and I’ll have one-, five- and 10-minute presentations. One of [KU Against Rising Tuition] will make a motion to move to hear the report.”

In a statement to the Journal-World, Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, director of news and media relations for KU, said the university was glad to see student interest in its business operations.

“We appreciate our students taking an interest in the university’s business operations. The university has owned a plane for more than 40 years, and we use it because it is an efficiency tool with a clear return on investment for the university,” Barcomb-Peterson said in an email. “We encourage students to learn more about KU’s aviation strategies by viewing the KU Aviation Services fact sheet available online.”