During the past summer, Graduate Teaching Assistants at the University of Kansas fought to survive another summer of unemployment amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past month, areas across the United States, including Lawrence, have seen a resurgence of the virus, especially the more contagious Delta variant. In response to this ever-changing and increasingly threatening situation, GTAs have waited to hear from KU’s administration about the University’s plan of action.
Instead, the semester began this morning without any real plan. Reasonable questions and concerns from GTAs, faculty, and staff about how KU plans to keep students, workers, and their families safe were dismissed as in-person learning began today. This dismissive attitude is prominently evident in the public relations statement sent from the Provost last week. This statement displays the open hostility and derision the KU administration holds towards the very people who fulfill the mission of this institution by teaching classes and conducting research at KU. Most alarmingly, it further demonstrates that the KU administration, in its commitment to profits over the well-being of its workers and students, is willing to risk the health of its communities for the pursuit of profits.
On August 20, after a summer of silence and lack of planning from KU, instructors eager for institutional guidance on how to prepare for the fall semester in the face of a surge in the Delta variant received “Thoughts on Preparing to Welcome our Students and Course Format Questions,” an email statement from Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer. Her email, which should have included clear information about covid policies for the upcoming semester, instead consisted of unsubstantiated data meant to support their unilateral implementation of in-person teaching this fall. This policy stripped instructors of their ability to choose their method of instruction to best protect themselves, their families, and the broader KU/Lawrence community. It replaced it with an unworkable system of case-by-case accommodations that jeopardizes the well-being of the communities KU claims to serve. It is GTAC’s belief that amid a worsening global pandemic, in which breakthrough cases among the vaccinated are rising across the nation, KU failed to protect its workers. The KU administration leaves us no choice but to do what is necessary to protect ourselves.
Bichelmyer’s suggestion that instructors who want to move their courses online due to personal covid concerns are failing undergraduates and risking the financial security of the university is a callous misrepresentation of the issues at hand. Many members of the KU community want to be in person, but want to do so safely. Yet, KU administration failed to provide safe and healthy working conditions. They not only refuse to give instructors the autonomy they need to protect themselves, they have removed many of the previous covid protections on campus.
The administration’s “concern” about losing state funding—if they followed the advice of expert scientists and physicians—is not “appropriate justification” for then jeopardizing the health and safety of our community. GTAC calls on the KU administration to sue the state to change regulations around vaccination and online learning, and give instructors the right to choose our working conditions that best protect ourselves, our families, our students, and the wider Lawrence community. GTAC implores all campus workers and students to choose their own health and well-being over this institution’s bottom line.
GTAC Executive Board