trustee viewpoint 3-21
March 21, 2017

GPSA & TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | On the Importance of Graduate Voter Participation in the Upcoming CGSU Election

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On March 27 and 28, eligible graduate students will vote on whether or not to recognize Cornell Graduate Students United  as the exclusive representative of Cornell’s Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, and Graduate Research Assistants. Graduate students currently serving in any of these positions this semester are eligible to vote.

As the members of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Executive Committee and the Graduate and Professional Student-Elected Trustee, we have heard from several eligible voters who are no longer comfortable voting in the upcoming election for myriad reasons. We are writing this column in the hopes of convincing those individuals to consider participating.

We would like to stress that we are speaking on our own behalf, not that of Cornell University’s administration, the GPSA or the Board of Trustees. These are our views. Our intention is not to tell our fellow graduate students how to vote or how to feel about graduate student unionization. We do believe, however, that actively choosing not to participate in this election is a mistake with real consequences.

The purpose of this election is to produce a result that is representative of the bargaining unit as a whole, and only a high voter turnout can guarantee this. The stakes are high. There is no required minimum turnout for this election — the outcome of graduate student unionization at Cornell will be decided by only those eligible students who vote. If the election results favor unionization, every current and future eligible member in the bargaining unit will be bound by the result. Irrespective of the outcome, a low voter turnout will cast doubt on whether this election is truly representative.

Consequently, eligible voters must decide what they feel contributes to an academically satisfying, financially secure and personally fulfilling graduate student experience. This holistic assessment is central to graduate student advocacy, and it is by no means easy to make. After examining our experiences at Cornell, we must imagine how those experiences will evolve after the introduction of a union. Whether this change is necessary, acceptable or reasonable is once again up to each individual voter.

This election provides eligible graduate voters with a unique opportunity to decide the future of graduate student advocacy on campus. Shared governance at Cornell has provided graduate and professional students a unique opportunity to advocate their needs and position to the administration. Many of our current benefits are the direct result of numerous conversations between the Cornell administration and our predecessors. However, shared governance is not without its limitations, and eligible voters need to critically assess whether this system is still effective. Our decision next week will potentially restructure student advocacy for future generations of Cornell graduate students, and that is worth considering carefully.

We do not know with certainty what will happen should graduate students choose to unionize. We cannot tell our fellow classmates what choice they should make, only remind them that deciding not to make their voice heard is a choice as well, and should be made thoughtfully, not as a default. We hope that next week, students can go to the polls educated and confident, remembering that their participation in this election is a right, and not one they should forfeit lightly.


Dara Brown is the graduate and professional student-elected trustee. Nate Rogers is the president of the GPSA. Nathaniel Stetson is the executive vice-president of the GPSA. Sarah Hesse is the vice-president for operations of the GPSA. Manisha Munasinghe is the vice-president for communications of the GPSA. This is a special edition of Trustee Viewpoint, which runs every month. Comments may be sent to

  • A graduate student excited to unionize

    Thank you GPSA for all your hard work, and for CGSU to committing themselves to working with the GPSA. The many students who are members of both GPSA and CGSU make me confident that this partnership will work out for the best of all. We are a stronger student body when we have a diversity of representatives to meet our many needs as PhD students. Vote, but more importantly, vote for CGSU!

  • Michaela

    Yes! I am looking forward to the unstoppable grad voice we will have once we have both legal force at the negotiating table as well as our committed shared-governance reps working hard on a broad array of issues. Don’t want to be too much of a throwback to another big election, but in this case we really will be stronger together 🙂

    Thanks GPSA! Vote YES for CGSU!

  • Confused

    Can anyone tell me why the absentee votes are faced with so many restrictions? For example, why are eligible voters not available on these dates required to have made those plans prior to March 6 AND need to be in an education-related activity? Why are eligible voters who had to make sudden plans for personal reasons not given the same rights as others?

    • Michaela

      Hi there, I was involved in the negotiations over this, so I can answer you.

      The agreement that Cornell and CGSU agreed to last May, available publicly, stipulates in-person elections.

      The NLRB (national labor relations board), which would normally be conducting this, doesn’t allow absentee ballots in union elections. But since we are using the AAA, we were able to create a last-minute exception to accommodate those who already had plans to go out of town for work-related reasons by the time we started figuring out with Cornell how we could work an absentee exception.

      The norm for an union election that does allow absentee balloting requires that the reason be work-related and that evidence is shown. We were all (Cornell and CGSU) going off of that norm when we decided on the absentee rules.

      I’m glad we were able to make the accommodations we were so last-minute. If you have any more questions, I’d be happy to answer them. I’m the administrative liaison for CGSU (PhD candidate, English) and my net ID is mjb492.

      • Confused

        Hi Michaela,

        Thank you for your response. I’d rather use a public forum though, just in case others are interested in tbe same question.

        Did the AAA choose March 6th as the deadline? Or was that when the CGSU began the absentee vote proceeding.

  • Better not say

    This is just the start of what you will feel if the yes vote will pass. No freedom, and have other people control your life and that your money away. I feel so frustrated that others can come and FORCE me to pay dues to something I am so oppose to. I will vote, no, and I hope most of us will not let our really fun Cornell graduate program to be controls by others.

    • Michaela

      I am a grad, was elected by the membership of CGSU, and carry out my duties to negotiate with the University on matters concerning union business in accordance with that office. What feelings are you referring to?