The Sun’s Aug. 31 article, “Common Council Debates Closing Ezra’s Tunnel” called attention to an important issue, although a few points need fleshing out:
* There is not “extensive” warning signage near Willard Way nor on the uneven, rock-strewn walk to Ezra’s Tunnel. In fact, when I was there last Friday afternoon there are no signs whatsoever. Cornell is grateful that the City plans to place new signage in the vicinity with key messages, which we hope will make clear that people have drowned in Fall Creek gorge due to strong undercurrents, that swimming is prohibited and that violators may be subject to arrest. * In the article and on other platforms, the preservation and access of “natural areas” and the “look of the area” are referenced as concerns about potentially limiting access to Ezra’s Tunnel.
Last week, Donald Trump announced that he doesn’t want transgender people serving in any capacity in the military. For myself, and many others who are trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming, serving in the military isn’t at the top of our list of priorities. Many of us would rather see the military budget spent on human services: inclusion should look like access to jobs, housing, healthcare and other basic human needs. Nevertheless, when the president targets us, every trans and gender nonconforming person, regardless of military status, is dehumanized and made even more vulnerable to the violence we navigate every day. But this isn’t a plot twist for the Trump Administration.
Last month, I attended the memorial service for a Cornell classmate of mine, Robert Cohen, of the Class of 1960. Bob and I met on my first day at Cornell, in September of 1956; and although not close friends, we remained good friends over the next 56 Years, until his death last December. Among other things, and perhaps one of the most notable aspects of Bob’s life was his lifelong membership in Cayuga’s Waiters. In that capacity, Bob attended every Cornell reunion, not only those of our class, over the past many years. He and his colleagues provided enormous pleasure and a welcome infusion of Cornell spirit at those events.
The response from Prof. William Jacobson, law, to a letter to the editor that criticizes David Collum, the Betty R. Miller Professor and Chair of the Chemistry Department, states at its outset that the letter to the editor “appears to be payback” for Prof. Collum’s anti-union views. Prof. Jacobson seems to have based this accusation solely on the fact that the writers are supporters of Cornell Graduate Students United. This union retaliation claim has since been picked up by right-wing media outlets with enthusiasm, and the graduate students are now subjects of online abuse. I write to point out two related issues. One, the claim of “payback” for Prof. Collum’s views on unions is unsubstantiated.
Last week created a strange moment of unity — a pizza party among several deeply divided groups on campus as we observed Mitch McBride’s ’17 hearing. This was the first opportunity recently for any number of conversations that have not been happening: we have observed Cornell’s campus fracturing along sharper lines this past year. We’d like to address how this has been particularly visible in, and amplified by, trolling and hate speech in the Cornell Daily Sun’s comments section. Although primarily driven by alt-right ideology, the ad hominem, vituperative and intellectually void rhetoric has not been limited to any one group within the Cornell Daily Sun commentariat. These comments are extreme enough to expose the contradiction within free speech: that speech of this sort can itself have a chilling effect on speech.
On April 20, 2017, The Cornell Daily Sun published a lengthy letter to the editor from seven graduate students: Kevin Hines, Robert Escriva, Ethan Susca, Mel White, Rose Agger, Kolbeinn Karlsson and Jane Glaubman. The letter impugned the integrity of Cornell world-renowned Prof. David B. Collum, chemistry in the most serious ways, accusing him of being a rape apologist, misogynistic and unfit for the position of department chair. Several of the letter writers were graduate student union supporters active in the union vote drive. Prof. Collum has been widely criticized by union supporters for opposing the union drive. The letter appears to be payback.
To the Editor:
On March 17, President Rawlings responded to “Promoting Fair and Humane Labor Practices in Qatar,” a Student Assembly resolution calling on Cornell University to increase transparency about its presence in Qatar. Regrettably, he dismissed our calls to publish the dates of university meetings with Qatar Foundation officials and commit Cornell to combatting Qatar’s kafala system. As Martha Pollack assumes her role as Cornell’s president, we urge her to heed these demands and take a stronger stance than her predecessors on this critical issue. Perhaps most regrettably, Rawlings dismissed calls for unionization at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar by noting that unions are illegal in Qatar. In light of President Rawlings’ declaration that WCM-Q cannot recognize unions because of their illegality, we reaffirm workers’ fundamental right to a union as outlined in ILO Convention 87.
As faculty members in the Cornell University ILR School, we are deeply concerned about the conduct of the Cornell administration on March 26, the eve of the Cornell Graduate Students United election and on March 27, the first day of voting in the election. On both days, Cornell’s Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth sent emails to thousands of Cornell graduate students with messages that interfered with graduate employees’ ability to freely exercise their rights to choose whether to be represented by the CGSU. In raising our concerns about Dean Knuth’s conduct, we draw on our expertise and experience in the field of labor law, labor relations and labor rights. Under the National Labor Relations Act, it is unlawful for an employer to make statements that would have the tendency to “interfere with, restrain or coerce” employees in exercising their rights to choose whether to unionize. Unlawful coercive statements by employer representatives include explicit or implicit threats that the employer may cut back on jobs if employees vote for a union.
The recent union drive at Cornell, like those at other campuses across the country, has given a voice to the issues that graduate students face. One of the most pressing issues on which grads have organized is sexual harassment. This issue hits close to home at Cornell, which has more active Title IX investigations than any other university in the nation. For graduate students, facts like this are especially worrisome. Per a 2015 study by the Association of American Universities, grad students were four times more likely to be sexually harassed by a professor than undergrads.
I write in response to the recent article detailing charges brought against Mitch McBride ’17 under the Campus Code of Conduct for sharing allegedly confidential materials from the Admissions and Financial Aid Working Group. These charges are both ill-advised and unwarranted. The function of a student representative to a university committee or task force is often to bring student viewpoints to the attention of university decision-makers regarding important policy and programmatic initiatives and to relay information to and from constituents. While students serve at the pleasure of the administration in an effort to make university decision-making more participatory, transparent and democratic, student representatives are not employed by the university, nor do they tacitly agree, by virtue of their participation, to act at the behest of the university’s administration rather than in the best interest of the constituents they have been elected or appointed to represent. To put a “gag order” on student representatives to not share information or solicit feedback about proposals that are under administrative review — under threat of disciplinary action pursuant to the Campus Code of Conduct — would seriously undermine the role and effectiveness of students serving in these capacities.
Dean Knuth’s role as Chair of the Working Group, and filing of an incident report of a potential investigation of the campus code after being approached by concerned student members of the AFAWG, have made her the focus of attacks that are both unfortunate and undeserved. Over the past few weeks she has been subjected to accusations by advocates of a student who violated the confidential processes of the Working Group, in many cases misrepresenting the facts of the referral and consistently mischaracterizing the motives and goals of the students, faculty and administrators who spent many hours working to improve Cornell’s undergraduate financial aid policies.