GTAC Labor Day Letter to the Editor

In case you missed it, KU Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer recently accused our community of being unreasonably attached to a desire for “certainty” and said we are simply “not motivated to seek understanding”. She is upset that we sought understanding by listening to expert scientists and scholars, in the areas of epidemiology, public health, disability studies, health equity, and accessibility in higher education, all of whom advised staying online. In her statement, Bichelmeyer did not once acknowledge that in some things, we have the right to certainty.

First, KU workers and students had the right to be certain that decisions about us would be made with us through our system of shared governance. Instead, KU refused to include University Senate in their decision making and refused to engage with the GTA union until they filed suit.

Next, our students deserved to be certain that their instructors would have the time and ability to create accessible and quality online curriculum driven by a Provost whose area of expertise is exactly that – the pedagogy of online learning. Instead, they are struggling alongside first year GTAs, some only months from their own time as undergraduates, creating coursework on the fly, with no training in pedagogy, classroom management, or basic tools for student accessibility.

Finally, the entire Lawrence community deserved to be certain that the Bichelmeyer and Chancellor Doug Girod would take proactive and science-informed action to reduce unnecessary harm to our community. Instead, Bichelmeyer and Girod have chosen to treat the lives of students, workers, and Lawrencians as disposable. Even today, they refuse to tell us how many deaths would trigger a shut-down, or how many of us can be written off as an “acceptable loss”.

Now Bichelmeyer suggests those of us who concurred with the well-sourced positions of top experts are just hampered by anxiety, naively attached to facile certainty. But for the Provost to dismiss the scientific and ethical positions informed by research and scholarship is to negate the entire mission of our University. Worse, choosing to strategically manage their image instead of strategically managing public health and quality education is unacceptable. KU administrators are not responding to a threat to public health – they are a threat to public health.

Right now, Provost Bichelmeyer and Girod are forcing workers and students to interact in-person prior to receiving Covid-19 test results; the student clinic is refusing to test people with close extended contact with those infected with Covid-19; and despite Bichelmeyers’ crowing about mass testing, workers and students have experienced testing errors, lost or delayed results, and this past weekend, an entirely unstaffed KU testing site, where people with appointments were met with an empty parking lot. Throughout this, these workers and students are forced to become walking, talking infection vectors. Rather than “Jayhawks Rising”, we have Covid-19 levels rising.

Although Bichelmeyer and Girod insisted that “overwhelming” undergraduate demand required in-person reopening, the truth is that their survey was fraudulent, undergraduate students have filled nearly every course offered online, students who enrolled in-person have now requested over 2,000 accommodations towards online learning, and this Labor Day, those same undergraduate students will be striking to protest the very thing Bichelmeyer and Girod are risking lives to provide.

This Labor Day, Provost Barb Bichelmeyer and Chancellor Doug Girod must do as they insisted was right all along by following the leadership of our undergraduate students and closing this campus.

In solidarity,
President Neill Kennedy
Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition
AFT Local 6403 at the University of Kansas