October 27, 2016

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

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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. The decision to unionize is theirs and theirs alone regardless of my personal opinion or the opinion of President Rawlings. The election, as Rawlings points out, is only for graduate students. I may not, he may not, and a vast majority of people who received his email cannot and should not make this decision for graduate students.

Yet President Rawlings thought that it was appropriate to send a biased communication regarding only the negatives of unionization to the whole community. At best, this propaganda should have been sent only to those making the decision: graduate students. Yet in order to pressure and isolate graduate students he abused his position to attempt to sway the opinions of the whole community. This is dangerous. This says to the rest of the community that if you attempt to do anything the President does not like, they will isolate you, disparage you, and attempt to turn the rest of the community against you. These are the same tactics used by then-President Perkins to prevent the formation of Black Students United and the Africana Center in the 1960s. Interim President Rawlings’ actions are similarly reprehensible and antithetical to the caring community Cornell claims to foster.

And this is most importantly a threat to the academic freedom that is a cornerstone of this institution. President Rawlings used his position to privilege one side of an argument. Graduate students in favor of unionization cannot send an email to the whole community regarding the benefits of unionization, and President Rawlings knows this. By sending this email, he is guaranteed to “poison the well” and unfairly shape the debate around this issue. Though disguised as information, this is little more than propaganda. If President Rawlings was truly interested in informing the community about the debate, he would have talked about them in the email or allow the Cornell Graduate Student Union to send a similar email to the whole community. Instead, in order to deflect this criticism, he gives two links to places where people can “learn more”. Both links offer nothing but more links, which lead to more links — a labyrinth of information that makes finding this information difficult, perhaps intentionally so.

This usage of the mass email system as President Rawlings did today is a stain on the Office of the President. Regardless of our personal opinions on unionization as undergraduates, faculty, or staff, this is a matter for graduate students to decide. President Rawlings’ actions are an insult to our intelligence and transparent propaganda. As students, we should ask for better of our president, and hopefully the Presidential Search Committee will give us better. In the meantime, I hope President Rawlings takes steps to rectify the damage he has done to the community and the reputation of Office of the President.

Christian Brickhouse ’17