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.
This spring we will contemplate the 50th anniversary of the second greatest loss of life tragedy in the history of Cornell University: the Cornell Heights Residential Club fire of April 5, 1967 that took the lives of eight students and one professor. This was the first of three incendiary attacks on students in the College of Arts and Sciences six-year PhD Program by person or persons unknown. Yes, these deaths were murders, but why do none of the several memorials for the victims ― the official statements, the services in Sage Chapel, the lone plaque at the steps of Hurlburt House, ever mention that horrific fact? Paging back through the Ithaca and New York newspapers of 1967 we find that the authorities were certain that the fires were arson and that a Canadian laboratory reported traces of a fluid accelerant in all three. And one Cornell student was mysteriously missing from the scene when classes resumed that fall.
The Ithaca College Contingent Faculty, including full-time and part-time faculty, have authorized labor actions up to and including a strike. The authorization vote came last week, after 18 months of bargaining failed to persuade the Ithaca College administration to commit to the fundamental labor principles of “pay parity” and “equal pay for equal work.” The faculty members facing contingent work conditions, amounting to almost half of the current number of faculty at Ithaca College, held a rally on Monday, Feb 20th at the main entrance of IC campus. The rally preceded two days of scheduled mediation with the College administration and demonstrated the group’s collective power as well as public support for their insistent struggle to secure fair working and living conditions. We, the members of Cornell Graduate Students United and Cornell Organization for Labor Action, stand in solidarity with the Ithaca College Contingent Faculty and unconditionally support all future labor actions undertaken by them. We insist that no worker deserves the precarious, insecure and flexible working and living conditions to which full-time and part-time contingent faculty at Ithaca College are subjected.
Re: “LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Division and Solidarity in the Unionization Discussion,” Opinion, Dec. 12, 2016
To the Editor:
The New York Times came under fire recently when, in an article about the post-election climate on campuses, they described: “Bias incidents on both sides have been reported. A student walking near campus was threatened with being lit on fire because she wore a hijab. Other students were accused of being racist for supporting Mr. Trump, according to a campus wide message from Mark Schlissel, the university’s president.” By virtue of its organization, the statement seems to imply that being called racist is ‘as bad’ as a direct death threat.
The socio-political climate recently has been emotionally taxing, taking a toll on our graduate student body. Locally, this has been exacerbated by the vitriolic nature of discussions on the union, with accusations flying on both sides. Some have charged CGSU with harassing tactics. Others are painting neutrality or alternate views about the union as self-interest and apathy towards the welfare of their peers across fields. We are writing as the two graduate student representatives on the General Committee, the administrative, legislative and judicial board of the Graduate School.
Re: “Santorum Calls Protests Disrupting Lecture Sign of ‘Liberal Intolerance’ at Cornell,” News, Nov. 23
To the Editor:
I hope Cornell can become an institution where different points of view are celebrated, not silenced. Any university, particularly an Ivy League school, should encourage respectful debate with opposing viewpoints. Unfortunately at Wednesday’s Rick Santorum event a small, but vocal group of students inappropriately interrupted his speech claiming that his views are “offensive” to some. The Cornell Republicans did not invite Senator Santorum to campus because we expected a majority of the student body to agree with him; rather we hoped that his perspectives would be educational to students at a university which typically only provides one point of view.