Interim President Hunter Rawlings announced Cornell's position on graduate student unionization in a statement emailed to students in October.

Michael Li / Sun Staff Photographer

Interim President Hunter Rawlings announced Cornell's position on graduate student unionization in a statement emailed to students in October.

November 16, 2016

American Association of University Professors Slams Rawlings’ Union Position

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A little more than a week after a group of International Labor Relations professors criticized Interim President Hunter Rawlings for his position opposing graduate student unionization, the president and chair of the American Association of University Professors wrote a letter calling Rawlings’ statement “typical anti-union propaganda.”

The letter begins by criticizing the way Rawlings framed the issue of collectivization in his letter — as a question of how unionization will affect graduate education at Cornell.

The authors — President of AAUP Rudy Fichtenbaum and Chair of AAUP Howard Bunsis — argue instead that Cornellians should focus on whether a union would improve graduate student employment.

They add that one of the real questions accompanying a unionization movement is, “will the university administration lose the right to unilaterally dictate terms and conditions of employment for graduate student employees?”

The letter continues to say that, although Rawlings attempts to use the presence of unions on campus as an example of Cornell’s commitment to workers’ rights, he abandons that conviction when discussing graduate student employees.

The two authors point out that despite the concerns Rawlings explained in his statement, shared governance and organized labor can work together well.

“The fundamental reason for any group of employees to seek unionization is that there is a power imbalance between employers and employees that can only be addressed when employees act collectively,” the letter says.

Finally, the letter asserts that unionization will not negatively impact the education experience of graduate students. However, it argues a union would positively affect students’ employment experiences, saying the few private universities with unions and public universities with unions prove the aims of students and workers are compatible.

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