September 19, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Statement in Support of Our Fellow Grad Worker

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To the Editor:

As members of Cornell Graduate Students United, we stand in solidarity with fellow student and colleague Marsha Jean-Charles grad as she navigates the graduate school grievance process in an effort to reverse the unfair revocation of her funding and “good standing” in her program.

Marsha’s funding and good academic standing have been jeopardized by the poor review of a single faculty member within her department. Marsha’s funding and good academic standing were revoked due to a single bad review without the input of her special committee. Marsha’s funding and good academic standing were revoked despite a detailed letter from her dissertation chair indicating that the behavior catalogued in the review was anomalous and the processes that led to the funding revocation were problematic.

It is illogical and unfair that Marsha’s good academic standing was judged based on a poor review from a single faculty member, who is not part of Marsha’s special committee and therefore has no direct connection to Marsha’s academic progress. These inconsistencies highlight the unjust nature of the decision, as well as a lack of respect for Marsha’s labor and scholarship.

Marsha filed a grievance against this decision, which has escalated up to the Graduate Grievance Review Board. No other case has made it to Graduate Grievance Review Board (GGRB) in nearly twenty years at Cornell. This is not because Marsha’s case is an exception. It is because Cornell’s grievance process is long, arduous, and ineffective; it lacks transparency and tends to favor faculty and administrators over students. Graduate students are actively discouraged from escalating grievances by administrators who assure the students who come to them for help that little can be gained from the process. This process is particularly daunting to those marginalized by oppressive cultural and institutional biases, especially when experienced at the intersection of multiple identities. Instead of giving graduate students an avenue for action, it merely supplies language for the administration in their advertising of Cornell as a “Caring Community.”

Facing this grievance process alone, Marsha could be powerless as her future is decided by biased authorities who care more about preserving Cornell’s image and pacifying faculty than they do about their students’ fates.  She is expected to silently accept whatever judgment is handed to her.

But Marsha is not silent. She is not powerless. She is not alone. Her voice and struggle are our collective voice and struggle as graduate students. We, her fellow workers and scholars, stand with her.

Marsha should not pay the price of others’ lack of responsibility and abuse of power. She deserves respect as a worker and as a scholar.

We have the right to fair, just and functioning channels for grievance resolution that are not single-handedly created and decided by the administration. There is no real “Caring Community” unless the voices of graduate students are included, listened to, and impact how we shape our learning environment.

Each of us know that Marsha could have been me, could have been my best friend, my office mate or my fellow grad colleague in a seminar room. I stand in alliance and solidarity with her in her fight for her rights at her hearing before the GGRB. We, together, demand the reinstatement of her funding and her good academic standing.

This Wednesday (Sept. 21) we will be gathering on the 3rd floor of Caldwell Hall at noon to show support for our fellow colleague and worker, and we sincerely hope you stand with us, as we stand with Marsha.

Sena Aydin grad
Benjamin Cohen grad
Jane Glaubman grad
Ibrahim Issa grad