March 31, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Is my vote not ‘free?’

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To the Editor:

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.

What is less clear is the basis for the contestations. The Sun breaks down the 81 unresolved ballots as follows: six unopened absentee ballots, sixty-five “challenge ballots to be discussed further”  and ten “unresolved challenge ballots” in which voters “did not mark their intentions clearly.” I would appreciate info on what qualifies as an “unresolved” ballot. Of the latter seventy-five, who challenged these ballots, and what criteria are invoked? I find it difficult to understand how a ballot with such obvious and simple checkboxes could become ambiguous in a way that does not also disqualify the ballot. Cornell and CGSU, please explain why my vote may not have been counted!

Even less clear are the grounds on which the American Federation of Teachers  “questions the validity of the Cornell graduate union recognition election.” A cynic might think that the tactic of waiting until after there was no clear-cut result in favor of the union is as transparent as it is unsurprising. But the AFT claims to have a substantive objection, saying that code of conduct violations “compromised the ability of graduate students to make a free choice.” Responding directly to this showy claim would quickly get us lost in the weeds of philosophical thought on the nature of free choice. Suffice it to say that as to substance it is uninterpretable, and as to connotation it is slyly reactionary. It implies that any choice made with an awareness of the Graduate School’s policies and positions (e.g. via the controversial “Ask a Dean” forum) (a) will inevitably lead to anti-union votes, (b) that those votes will have been biased and (c) that therefore they will not have been “free.”

Implication (a) is demonstrably false: even if one concedes the allegation that the “Ask a Dean” forum was one-sided and implicitly anti-union (which, duh…), as many as 856 graduate students were not swayed in their positions. Indeed, the narrowness of the margin probably shows, if it shows anything, that graduate students are deeply divided on this issue, notwithstanding the intense and often vitriolic campaigning on both sides. As to (b), the question of undue bias, one can no more require the Graduate School to present the strongest pro-union arguments in their communications than one can expect the CGSU campaigners knocking at my door to proffer the strongest anti-union arguments. It’s up to the the individual voter to take in the best arguments (or not) on both sides (or not) and weigh them fairly and with respect to their own values (or not). As to (c), the question of “free choice,” unless the AFT comes forward with evidence of coercion or harassment on the part of the administration (and the specific allegations reported in the Sun fall very short of that mark), it is an empty accusation. Your opponents’ electoral choices — even if you believe them to be biased, uninformed, even regressive — are not ipso facto unfree. To suggest otherwise is fundamentally illiberal. AFT and CGSU, please explain why my vote, even if counted, may not have been “free!”


Matthew J. Hall, grad.