LETTER TO THE EDITOR | ILR Faculty Respond to Interim President Hunter Rawlings’ Statement on Graduate Assistant Labor Union Representation

To the editor: 

In his “statement on graduate assistant labor union representation” (October 27), Interim President Hunter Rawlings cites the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR School) as being “the leader in the field of labor education.” We write here as faculty of the ILR School, drawing on our expertise and experience in the field of labor law, labor relations and labor rights. We agree with President Rawlings that it is essential that the University respect the graduate assistants’ choice of whether they wish to be represented by a union. We also agree that it is important that graduate assistants have access to information relevant to making their choice. Unfortunately, however, President Rawlings’ statement presents a negative view of unionization based on speculation and unsubstantiated assertions. In responding to these speculative claims, our letter seeks to provide useful information about the reality of unionization in universities.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | A Message About Interim President Hunter Rawlings

To the Editor:

This morning, Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings abused his position as president to send an email about graduate students to the whole community in order to sway public opinion in a debate wholly concerning graduate students. His conduct is unbecoming of the Office of the President, is detrimental to the community as a whole and sets a dangerous precedent for using the Office to meddle in the internal affairs of students. I hope that the student body and especially the Presidential Search Committee understands the gravity of these issues, and selects a president who shows greater circumspection, restraint and care for the community than Rawlings did this morning. The unionization of graduate students has both positive and negative aspects. Though an undergraduate, I have talked with many graduate students who are both for and against unionization.

Talking it out | Provost Michael Kotlikoff addressed the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly who voiced their concerns, on the College of Business in McGraw Hall, Monday (Samantha Briggs / Sun Assistant Design Editor)

Graduate Students Criticize College of Business

The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly voiced their frustration with the administration’s lack of transparency in the decision making process. Kotlikoff defended the Board of Trustees’ decision citing multiple past studies regarding the need for such a conglomeration of schools. These studies, Kotlikoff explains, have identified “fragmentation of our business programs as a liability for our University.”
“In many cases,” he said, “What’s happening is these programs are spending resources on those faculty that they would like to spend on their more specialized faculty and programs that distinguish the school, and that arises from the fact that we’re not leveraging our resources and allowing students to access resources across these schools.”
The provost described the need for the “most efficient organization” which would facilitate hiring of new faculty for business programs.
He maintained that preserving the identity and excellence of each individual school — one of the main concerns in response to the recent decision — will be a “major goal” in the upcoming process. Kotlikoff also discussed how faculty from each of the involved schools are “working together to determine the faculty governance process.” Various committees, including undergraduate and graduate student synergy committees, will also be involved in the governance process. In response, Nathaniel Rogers grad, GPSA vice president for operations, said it was “hard to say that the faculty felt like they were involved in the process.”
Rogers also said that some graduate students in the GPSA — an organization which gives them “the unique opportunity to impact how Cornell operates”— are frustrated because they do not feel that they are part of the process in making recent decisions such as the $350 student health insurance fee and the creation of the College of Business.

GUEST ROOM | Graduate Students’ Workers Compensation

By BARBARA A. KNUTH

Workers compensation for graduate and professional student injuries is an important topic of much discussion around campus of late. I would like to contribute by sharing information about workers compensation benefits as they relate to injuries among our graduate and professional students. Let’s start with eligibility.  Eligibility for workers compensation for a specific injury is not up to Cornell; such decisions are under the jurisdiction of the New York State Workers Compensation Board. If a graduate student is injured while performing services for Cornell, the student has the ability to file for and receive workers compensation according to New York state eligibility criteria.

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Cornell Graduate Students United Promote Movement in ‘We Are Workers Day of Action’

Cornell Graduate Students United came out with 20 other labor unions of graduate workers at private universities from all over the country — including Harvard, University of Michigan and Wayne State University — in order to call for the reform of higher education. The organization hosted activities on Thursday — also known as the “We Are Workers Day of Action” — to raise public awareness that many graduate students are not recognized as workers. “This is a national day of action that will be taking place around the country to remind university administrations that graduate students are workers and deserve to have their voice heard and rights respected in the workplace,” said Andrew Crook, a member of CGSU. In 2004, Brown University argued in front of the National Labor Relations Board that teaching and research are essential parts of academic development and graduate training. The outcome of this ruling denied the rights of the employee-employer relationship to graduates working for private universities.