Skip to main content

Open Letter for a Just Kentucky Higher Education System During and Beyond COVID-19

Karly Safar
Social share icons

Sign our Open Letter here:

Dear President Capilouto, all Kentucky public higher education administrators, Commonwealth of Kentucky Legislature, and Governor Andy Beshear:

We, the undersigned employees of public higher education institutions across the Commonwealth of Kentucky and supporters of a better Kentucky college and university system, write to you with a list of demands regarding the current COVID-19 health crisis and with our vision for the future of higher education in the Commonwealth.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis we are facing immediate threats to our overall well-being that heighten already precarious working conditions. These include a lack of adequate and secure funding, especially for graduate students and contingent faculty, and insufficient access to healthcare resources. We also bear the burden of increased workloads and inadequate technological support due to sudden transitions to online teaching and the expanded needs of our students. For many of us, our research and other duties have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, we should not be held to the standard time-to-degree and tenure restrictions.

Campus workers are also experiencing unprecedented mental health pressures related to these concerns, as well as our additional responsibilities outside the academic institution. This uncertainty over limited employment opportunities for graduate students and contingent faculty is exacerbated by the implementation of hiring freezes across the country. Already, instructional, administrative, healthcare, maintenance and cleaning, and support staff are overburdened -- asked repeatedly to do more with less on the heels of thirteen consecutive years of budget cuts.

Despite these burdens on our time and health, we are committed to working together to create just working conditions across our Commonwealth by networking and sharing resources among our different institutions, departments, and ranks. We reject any and all attempts to utilize the current global crisis as an opportunity to impose even greater austerity measures on higher education in Kentucky. In particular, we reject any austerity measures that would defund or shut down any institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth.

Governor Beshear: you campaigned on a promise to restore public funding to higher education, and we will hold you accountable to that promise. We appeal to our institutions to put observable and tangible action behind their words of support, because when we are supported and well-equipped, so are they. We also encourage our institutions to support mutual aid efforts on our campuses and beyond, and to use their significant power to support our communities.

Ultimately, institutions are only as strong as their most vulnerable members. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted these areas of vulnerability in the higher education system, and it is crucial that the needs of those who occupy positions of precarity be addressed. In terms of the current crisis, we call on all Kentucky higher education institutions to immediately:

-Approve hazard pay for all workers in university hospitals
-Lift any and all hiring freezes
-Commit to an additional year of funding for all graduate workers whose research has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis
-Ensure that all contingent faculty remain employed during this crisis
-Adjust timelines for the tenure clock as well as graduate student program timelines
-Honor all research and funding commitments
-Extend staff healthcare plan options to all employees and students (including graduate workers and part-time employees)
-Refuse to market this moment as “extra time” for increased productivity or the perfection of online teaching skills
-A voice in how CARES Act funds set aside for student needs are used

These are basic requirements that will improve working and living conditions to see us through this difficult time. Committing to meeting these needs is a critical opportunity for higher education institutions in the state of Kentucky to be an example of inclusivity and progress among their peers across the region and the nation. However, we recognize that the fight for higher education in Kentucky is much larger. We can use this moment to restructure our educational institutions for the better.

At core, we envision an equitable student- and worker-centered college and university system. In this endeavor, we seek a strong voice in decision-making and transparency from the leaders of our academic institutions and our state government. We expect fair working conditions for all workers at all of the state college and university campuses. We insist that faculty should not have to choose between their students, their research, and their own health and wellbeing. We demand a living wage, adequate healthcare, and reasonable hours and expectations for all campus workers, including but not limited to: graduate workers instructors, EVS and all cleaning staff, grounds and maintenance, clerical and registration staff, cafeteria workers, hospital transporters, lab technicians, STEPS employees at the University of Kentucky, and contingent faculty.

This means that beyond the COVID-19 crisis, we will continue to fight for all campus workers. We demand, for all campus workers at Kentucky state institutions of higher education, the following:

-Comprehensive healthcare for all campus workers (including graduate workers)
-A living wage
-Parental leave and childcare
-A commitment from our institutions to address issues of racism and other forms of discrimination
-Transparency and participation for workers in important decision-making processes on our campuses


Ash Baker, Graduate Worker
Department of English, University of Kentucky

Tristan Boyd, Graduate Worker
Department of Geography, University of Kentucky

Jed DeBruin, Graduate Worker
Department of Geography, University of Kentucky

Mills Handy, Graduate Worker
Department of English, University of Kentucky

Megan Parker, Graduate Worker
Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky

Zeke Perkins, Graduate Worker
Department of English, University of Kentucky

Rachel Davis Young, Graduate Worker
Department of Sociology, University of Kentucky

View All Signers.