‘Everyone is just terrified’: KU graduate students fear 40% of their teaching positions will be cut, hold campus protest

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Members and supporters of the union representing graduate teaching assistants at the University of Kansas gathered on Tuesday, March 8, 2021. The group was decrying cuts that they fear will happen to the GTA program as KU negotiates a new labor agreement amid a larger budget crisis at the university. The group marched to Strong Hall, where labor negotiations were underway.

Graduate students at the University of Kansas led a protest Monday afternoon related to possible budget cuts they say will result in the loss of Graduate Teaching Assistant positions.

Neill Kennedy, the president of KU’s Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition (GTAC), said in a phone call with the Journal-World Monday morning that they expect up to 40% of GTA positions could be eliminated.

Colleges and schools told individual departments how much money they would need to cut from their budget at the end of February, according to Kennedy, and instructions were to not cut tenure or tenure-track faculty. Kennedy said no universitywide announcement has been made about the departmental budget cuts, so GTAC has been gathering information from members in various departments about how many GTA positions might be cut. KU has around 1,100 GTA positions, Kennedy said.

A KU spokesperson did not respond to specific questions such as how many GTAs might lose their positions and whether all departments have to make the same number of cuts. But spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson did issue a statement about KU’s budget crisis.

“As the chancellor and provost have stated many times, we are working to address a $75 million fiscal year shortfall that the university is facing,” Barcomb-Peterson said in an email to the Journal-World. “In this process, individual departments will be making decisions throughout the spring.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Zack Flowers, center, readies his sign as part of a protest where graduate teaching assistants at the University of Kansas expressed concerns about possible cuts to the GTA program.

As the Journal-World has reported, Gov. Laura Kelly’s budget recommendations include a 5.3% cut to KU’s base appropriation, which would cut KU’s state funding by $13.6 million — $7.6 million at the Lawrence campus and $6 million at the medical center.

Graduate teaching assistants are not the only people wary of losing their positions at KU. In January, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a temporary policy that would allow university CEOs the power to suspend, dismiss or terminate employees, even tenured faculty members. KU is still considering whether it will implement the policy, which has been met with fierce opposition from KU employees as well as higher education colleagues across the state and nation.

Kennedy, the GTAC president, said her union thought KU leadership should find other ways to solve the budget crisis that don’t include eliminating the positions of GTAs or tenured and tenured-track faculty.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A crowd of about 70 people attended a protest on March 8, 2021, in front of Strong Hall at the University of Kansas. Members of the union that represents graduate teaching assistants at KU were protesting as negotiations between the university and the union were underway inside Strong Hall.

“We want them to be creative in how they find money to fund the mission of this university, which is teaching and research at its core,” said Kennedy, who is a doctoral candidate in American Studies.

In discussing what other ways KU might solve its budget crisis, Kennedy mentioned receiving help from KU Endowment or using some of the money that was raised during a recent one-day fundraising campaign that garnered a record-breaking nearly $3.4 million.

Kennedy said that department budgets will be finalized on March 25 and that for now graduate teaching assistants have no idea whether their positions will be cut.

“Everyone is just terrified, really,” she said.

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