AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CHANCELLOR AND PROVOST FROM ONEKU FACULTY
SOME QUESTIONS FROM OneKU: WHO IS NEGOTIATING WITH KU’S GRADUATE STUDENT UNION? WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM? WHO GETS PAID DURING THIS CRISIS?
December 10, 2020
Organizing towards securing a more democratic, transparent, and fair university—one less committed to austerity for its workers and full rewards for its private partners—continues on a number of fronts at the University of Kansas.
We at OneKU can answer only the first of the questions in our subtitle. The university has hired Ryan Denk of the Kansas City, Missouri law firm McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips (MVP Law) to negotiate with the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition (GTAC). The rate at which Denk is paid appears to be $280/hour during what have already become protracted negotiations. This comes in addition to the participation of university general counsel, who have handled such bargaining in the past. The zoom room where negotiations occur generally contains at least two attorneys on the university’s side and none on the union’s.
We are told regularly that KU hasn’t a dime to spend: that salaries must be reduced, that retirements need to be engineered. Chancellor Girod even included a grim paragraph reminding us of looming furloughs, program closures and layoffs in his November 25th Thanksgiving email! And yet attorney’s fees—here and in athletics -- proliferate. So too does spending on outside contractors and search firms. Where specifically was the money found to hire Denk? Through what mechanism was a decision made to spend here when we are constantly told of the significance of more and more cutting? How much did KU spend to retain Denk’s firm through calendar year 2023?
The specific choice of Ryan Denk raises more questions. A graduate of both KU and KU Law, Denk advertises himself as experienced counsel available to employers fighting discrimination and disability claims. At a moment when KU speaks loudly of commitments to racial and gender equity and inclusion, the hiring of Denk works against these important goals. Buying this high priced anti-union firepower demonstrates bad faith on the part of KU’s administration and reveals a disturbing disregard for one of our most important communities: our graduate students. KU is seeking to remove the anti-discrimination clause in the contract it has with GTAC. We therefore call for the termination of KU’s arrangement with MVP Law and an explanation of the process through which the contract with them was undertaken and what the costs of retaining it are.
The current base salary for GTAs is $17,500 per academic year. They are charged fees per credit hour of enrollment on top of multiple other fees, all deducted from their base pay. They are not paid in summer and health care is not included.
It is unfair to overmatch the resources of GTAC in negotiations about salaries, working conditions, and protection against discrimination. Nor should KU be fighting so hard to keep graduate student funding appallingly low and graduate instructors disempowered. But KU should also stop spending on outside contractors. As with the hiring of MVP Law, KU’s decision to pay the RPK firm $750,000 to restructure its “business model” remains largely hidden in discussions of the budget crisis. Since the summer, OneKU has demanded transparency in matters related to KU’s budget. We succeeded in tempering the administration’s obsession with in-person teaching during COVID, one that was not only dangerous but also misread the desires of students. We will continue our campaign for transparency and for ending emergency governance, against cutbacks that are unevenly pushed through and largely unexplained and for an end to spending on new contracts without oversight.
OneKU is a grassroots organization of faculty, lecturers, librarians and staff who are committed to addressing the current and ongoing crisis at the University of Kansas. If you are interested in working with us, contact OneKU through our website at https://www.onekufaculty.com
 See, https://www.kansan.com/news/ku-argues-to-cut-non-discrimination-language-from-graduate-teaching-union-contract/article_bd38c568-2a0b-11eb-9fb7-8b6d464326fb.html
 See, https://mvplaw.com/people/attorneys/ryan-denk/
 See source in footnote 1.