LAWRENCE, Kan. (KSNT) – The faculty and academic staff at the University of Kansas (KU) announced on Monday that they intend to organize a union to improve working conditions.

The staff at the Lawrence and Edwards campus would be represented by the United Academics of the University of Kansas (UAKU), which would represent over 1,500 full-time and part-time tenured and non-tenured-track faculty, including teaching research, clinical and online professors.

The union would also represent lecturers, curators, librarians and scientists who conduct grant-funded research.

“KU has long enjoyed high rankings for academics and recognition as a premier research university, but that status is at risk,” said Lisa-Marie Wright, an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Sociology. “Faculty and academic staff need a voice in decisions, especially when the student experience is at stake.”

According to the UAKU, the campaign was prompted by several issues, including KU’s attempt to suspend tenure and what they believe is an over-reliance on short-term contracts. In addition, the UAKU said in a news release they believe wages are not competitive compared to other flagship universities.

“A union will help us retain outstanding teachers and researchers that provide the quality of education our students deserve,” said Berl Oakley, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences.

In January 2022, the Kansas Board of Regents gave the leaders of six state universities more flexibility to suspend or fire employees under a temporary policy. The policy will be in effect until Dec. 31, 2022.

The board gave CEOs of the universities 45 days to create frameworks they would use to determine whether to suspend, dismiss or fire employees. 

“We also believe it will open up universities to potential abuses of power and could lead to numerous lawsuits around discrimination and harassment,” Aleksander Sternfeld-Dunn, a Wichita State University associate professor representing the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents, said. “We believe that the policy, as stated, is really using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and we think there are far more positive ways to go about managing financial difficulties.”