Graduate Students Host Demonstration Over Impending KU Budget Cuts

A crowd gathered outside of Strong Hall on Monday as Graduate Teaching Assistant Coalition (GTAC) representatives negotiated with University of Kansas administrators over proposed budget cuts. The protest group met at the Kansas Memorial Union and walked towards Strong Hall soon after, chanting, “Stop the cuts!” as they went.

Protestors move towards strong hall, where negotiations were held Monday, March 8. Photo by Kelsie Crable | @CrableKelsie

The scope of the department cuts are currently unknown to the public. The Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition estimates that the proposed budget cuts would lead to a 40% reduction in the number of GTAs. GTAC president Neill Kennedy said the cuts would lead to larger class sizes and fewer class options for undergraduate students. 

Many groups participated in the march, including GTAs, faculty members, alumni, and undergraduate students. The protesters were concerned about what potential cuts could mean. Hannah Bailey, instructor of record in American Studies, said cuts could affect those who are already years into their graduate education.

“A lot of us rely on GTA positions not only as our job, but it’s necessary for us to complete our degrees. A lot of us have been in school for four or five years and are finding out we might get cut,” said Bailey

The recent budget proposals continue a trend in the sometimes tense relationship between graduate teaching assistants and university administration.

In September of 2020, GTAC represented GTAs who engaged in a strike for the closure of campus amid rising COVID-19 infections, according to the University Daily Kansan. University administration told strikers that the strike was illegal and they could face disciplinary action up to and including firing. 

Speakers were conscious of the ways that wage freezes and cuts could affect already marginalized groups. International students may find themselves particularly harmed by reductions in GTA positions. International students are limited in the work they can perform. Pavel Valencia, graduate student in the physics department, said wage cuts and freezes are of particular concern to him.

“It’s indispensable to me to have this GTA position. Actually, I send 30% of my salary to my family in Mexico,” said Valencia.

 Elise Higgins, GTAC union member and steward, said that although cuts will harm faculty across the board, they are most concentrated on more vulnerable groups.

“I’m really fed up with all the ways that KU has made cuts to the most marginalized, lowest paid people on campus,” said Higgins. 

Department budgets are due March 26. GTAC plans on continuing to organize through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as under the hashtag #NoGTAsNoKU

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