Michael Sugitan / Sun Staff Photographer

Tyler McCann, grad, gives a presentation at Monday's GPSA meeting before other members presented a resolution calling for the administration to take stronger steps toward eliminating systemic oppression and inequality on campus.

October 17, 2017

Graduate Students Raise Doubts About Cornell’s Commitment to Shared Governance

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A meeting on Monday led graduate students to question the administration’s commitment to shared governance at Cornell after frustration surrounding further details to President Martha Pollack’s presidential task force last week.

The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly passed a resolution at the meeting calling for the administration to take stronger steps toward eliminating systemic oppression and inequality on campus. These are issues which GPSA claims the charge of the presidential task force “fails to explicitly acknowledge.”

In fact, Jesse Goldberg, grad, linked the administration’s handling of GPSA’s resolution to the broader issue of how the University treats shared governance — something that he said Pollack “may or may not understand.”

“There is a history, at this University, of [the] administration and the Board of Trustees … getting recommendations from bodies of shared governance and then simply kind of saying, ‘We’re going to do something else,’ or not taking it seriously,” he told The Sun.

Seeing this happen time and time again, Goldberg said, reflects that “shared governance bodies have no binding power to make the University do anything.”

GPSA’s resolution also calls for Pollack to “immediately and publically” respond to the demands of the Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement Student Leadership Council.

These demands were released on Oct. 2 and call for measures to address the challenges faced by underrepresented graduate and professional students beyond any task force recommendations.

“Anything short of a goal of complete elimination [of systems of oppression and inequity] is a failure to live up to Cornell’s founding commitment to diversity and inclusion and its land grant legacy of public enlargement,” read the resolution.

Eugene Law, grad, chair of GPSA Diversity and International Students Committee, said he was disappointed in the the University’s lack of a substantive response after GPSA passed a resolution in late September that outlined the Assembly’s demands for the composition of the task force.

For Law, who presented the resolution, the administration’s response has been “inadequate.”

“It’s sort of like when you’re talking to a lawyer and they don’t want to say anything solid because they’re worried you’re going to use their words against them,” Law told The Sun.

Goldberg’s recommendation, also suggested by several other members of the Assembly, was that graduate and professional students need to organize and increase pressure on the administration by direct means.

“For me personally, this is another reason why we need a graduate student labor union, because then we have a legally-binding mechanism through which to speak with the University about issues,” he said.

Anna Waymack, grad, recalled the demonstrations and occupations that preceded the GPSA’s formation as an earlier form of graduate student organizing. This historical context, Waymack said, reflects that GPSA may have more options if ignored by the University.

“I think it’s worth remembering,” she said, “that this organization came about in part from occupations. So, we can send more resolutions, and we also do have next steps available.”