KU Against Rising Tuition hosted a press conference Thursday with representatives from the American Association of University Professors and the Laborers’ International Union of North America. The press conference focused on research the groups have done that reveals an issue with how the University of Kansas is spending money, which they conclude may result in the University being removed from the Association of American Universities.
“We are hanging on by our fingernails,” said Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, Committee A chair of the Kansas chapter of the AAUP. “We are closer to getting kicked out of the AAU than at any other point.”
The Association of American Universities is an organization made up of the country’s leading research universities that have an influence on policies in higher education, according to the AAU's website. Sophomore Wesley Cudney, president of KU ART, said that membership in the AAU greatly affects the salary of students after college.
“Students who go to the University of Kansas make $16,000 more a year than those who go to Kansas universities not in the AAU,” Cudney said. “We also did research into AAU schools in Iowa and Missouri and the trend holds.”
KU ART noted specific cost increases at the University that they have protested in the past, such as the University's private jet and increases in student fees and tuition. During his presentation, Cudney also tackled new topics, such as the decrease in University faculty and faculty pay shown in reports from the AAUP. Barrett-Gonzalez said that these decreases are having direct effects on how faculty operate in their departments.
“Our faculty are being poached on a regular basis,” Barrett-Gonzalez said. “A lot of departments are hurting severely.”
Beyond students and faculty, Jeremy Hendrickson, the business manager and secretary-treasurer of LiUNA Local Union 1290PE, attended the press conference on behalf of University staff members, such as maintenance workers and landscapers. Hendrickson said the issues with spending at the University reflect those he represents as well.
“We’re understaffed. We’re unable to provide for the students, their safety, their wellbeing,” Hendrickson said. “This has really got me working with Wes and talking to him more in regards to what’s been going on. This has really became a strong sticking point, especially representing the men and women here at the University.”
The press conference was originally scheduled as a roundtable discussion on the budget with Chancellor Douglas Girod, but the event had to be postponed, said Joe Monaco, the director of strategic communications at the University, in an email.
KU ART, AAUP and LiUNA decided to hold a press conference in place of the roundtable to present to the public three bills they are drafting for the State Legislature before the next legislative session. The bills’ intentions are to place limits on luxury travel for employees of public universities, to increase salary bases for long-term employees of public universities and to increase transparency for large projects for universities.
“What we’re hoping is that there will be some genuine interest shown by lawmakers who want to demonstrate that they’re serious about stamping out waste and increasing transparency,” Barrett-Gonzalez said.