Five months ago, I wrote a letter to the editor arguing that President Rawlings’s email to the community against graduate student unionization “sets a dangerous precedent for using the Office to meddle in the internal affairs of students.” With the Sun’s article “Cornell, Union File Grievances on Opening Day of Voting” it seems my thesis has been vindicated: university administrators have been violating the spirit, if not the letter, of restrictions on them. This is not unique to graduate student unionization, but rather another example of the University prioritizing power and image over students’ voices. In my four years here, I have seen a University more than willing to throw its students, faculty, and staff under the bus. Literally. Two years ago in snowy conditions, a Cornell staff member was struck and killed by a TCAT bus.
About 30 seconds before I went to vote in the union election on Monday, my phone lit up notifying me of an email entitled “Election conduct,” sent by Mary Opperman, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, and Barbara Knuth, Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School. The email made vague claims about CGSU/AFT/NYSUT representatives telling students not to vote. The student who reported this said he felt threatened. There was no more information given about the context of this very serious allegation. I watched the ballots being counted on Tuesday night.
The fact that the union election is too close to call was to be expected. By alleging electioneering and violations of the May 16, 2016 conduct agreement, both the Cornell Administration and CGSU laid the groundwork for contesting the results earlier this week, as the Sun reported.
Votes matter. A small number of eligible voter graduate students could determine the margin between “yes” and “no” votes and thus determine whether all graduate students in the defined bargaining unit will be represented by a union.
As we move toward our union recognition election next week we would like to tell you why we — 5 active members of CGSU — are proudly voting “yes.” The reason is simply this: CGSU creates a structure to uphold the values most central to our University’s mission for ourselves and future graduate workers. Fairness, respect and democracy. Fairness: Our Grad Union creates structures which will enable us to leverage our collective power to bargain for fair work and labor conditions protected by a legally binding contract. We’re not making unreasonable requests, we’re aiming to negotiate for basic labor protections and commonsense reforms which will enable us to do our jobs better. For instance, basic Cornell health insurance for a spouse and two children costs approximately $8000 annually — well out of reach given the majority of our salaries are less than $30,000 per year.
The basic premise of Soren Malpass’s The Value of a Snap was that we will be looking at another dot-com crash if today’s venture capitalists keep up their current investing habits. The author questioned the valuation of a number of well-respected unicorns and specifically targeted newly-public Snap, arguing that the service that Snap offers doesn’t justify its (at the time) $28 billion valuation. Frankly, I think the analysis of the industry, and Snap’s business specifically, was lazy. Here are my qualms with the skepticism over Snap’s valuation:
1. The idea that a business cannot be legitimate if it only relies on advertising revenue is ludicrous.
Yesterday, four of my colleagues coauthored a letter raving against Dodd-Frank’s Conflict Minerals Rule, §1502, which is in President Trump’s crosshairs after a leaked Executive Order allegedly advocated its suspension. Specifically, my colleagues believe §1502 decreased militia-led violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It did not. They correctly judged the intent of §1502 — and I agree with the statute’s intent — but not its result. My response will explain the regulation, expose its failure, and argue against their mandate that Cornell University waste its endowment and our tuition on useless audits. My colleagues asserted that §1502 “prevents American companies from purchasing conflict minerals.” Well, that’s a very simplified picture of what the statute does.
I came to Cornell in the fall of 2014 with a clear goal of exploring my identity as a Latino. Like many first generation Latinxs, my relationship with latinidad had been one fraught with awkwardness and confusion. My communication at home was dominated by a form of Spanish marked by an American accent, stuttering, incorrect word choices and insecure apologies. My parents lightly teased my inability to dance a simple merengue. The predominantly white Cornell was a far stretch from the predominantly brown Queens, and for the first time in my life I felt both visibly and emotionally out of place.
In the March 3, 2017 Graduate School Announcements email’s “Ask a Dean” feature, there was a featured question asking what would happen if graduate employees decided to strike. In her response to this question, Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth, wrote, “Very few undergraduate courses have a graduate assistant as an instructor of record, so it is unlikely that many, if any, classes would stop due to the absence (on strike) of graduate assistants, but such a situation has not occurred before at Cornell so it is hard to predict what the full set of consequences would be.” I write today as a graduate employee teaching a first-year writing seminar, an active participant in shared governance at Cornell and proud supporter and member of Cornell Graduate Students United to affirm the essential labor of graduate employees belittled and erased by Knuth’s response. Even if we follow the scope of Knuth’s response and only focus on teaching assistants, it must be recognized that the labor provided to Cornell University by graduate employees is absolutely essential to its daily functioning and ability to fulfill its educational mission. Full stop. No qualifiers.
For years, “conflict minerals” — defined as mined gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten that provide income to armed groups operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — have fueled one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II. That’s why numerous universities, countries and civil society organizations have boycotted companies whose production lines source minerals from these deadly and illegal extractive operations. But the international campaign to eradicate conflict minerals and their attendant violence in the eastern Congo is under siege. President Trump’s administration is planning to cancel Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which prevents American companies from purchasing conflict minerals. According to over 100 Congo-based human rights organization, this federal reversal could reignite militia networks that engage in human trafficking, forced child labor and other human rights abuses.