The following letter was sent to Cornell President Martha Pollack on September 6, 2017:
Dear President Pollack:
Labor Day provides an important moment to reflect on the rights of employees, including on the Cornell campus. As you know, in March 2017, Cornell graduate employees voted on whether to be represented by the Cornell Graduate Students United in collective bargaining with Cornell. The election results were close, with 856 votes for union representation, 919 votes against union representation and 81 ballots not yet counted due to questions about voter eligibility. At this point, therefore, the final outcome of that election remains uncertain. According to the Cornell Graduate School, it is expected that a final tally would maintain the majority “no” vote.
Last week, Donald Trump announced that he doesn’t want transgender people serving in any capacity in the military. For myself, and many others who are trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming, serving in the military isn’t at the top of our list of priorities. Many of us would rather see the military budget spent on human services: inclusion should look like access to jobs, housing, healthcare and other basic human needs. Nevertheless, when the president targets us, every trans and gender nonconforming person, regardless of military status, is dehumanized and made even more vulnerable to the violence we navigate every day. But this isn’t a plot twist for the Trump Administration.
We, the faculty of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, want to thank Arts and Sciences Dean Gretchen Ritter ’83 for her emphasis on the value of the interdisciplinary programs in her opinion piece published on May 12 in The Cornell Daily Sun. We are, however, concerned that the material support for our program has been overstated or misrepresented in this opinion piece, and would like to clarify the actual situation the program faces. Our program, since its inception in the 1970s as Women’s Studies, has been a leader in feminist analysis across disciplines, fostering dialogue across departments and throughout the University. Feminist, Gender and Sexuality studies is an interdiscipline that focuses feminist and queer critical lenses on the regulation of gendered and sexed personhood, the distribution of rights and the formation of knowledge. Our mission in research and teaching is to enable students and colleagues to develop skills in critical literary, cultural and social analysis in order to generate new insights and methodologies, with the goal of advancing research on gender and sexuality in a wide range of disciplines, and of supporting diversity and social justice at Cornell and in the world.
Being my last year at Cornell, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to all whom made it possible. Between my mom, dad, my brother, the C.U. lift drivers, some of the great professors and Student Disability Services, Cornell was an experience I will never forget. The C.U. lift was a great asset that Cornell has; Mindy and Martha always went above and beyond what they were required to do. Not all C.U. lift drivers really care like Mindy and Martha, and without the C.U. lift, I doubt Cornell would’ve been feasible. The professors were a mixed bag, but there were some great ones I will never forget.
On April 25, Cornell released its findings on allegations of hazing by members of Cayuga’s Waiters, Cornell’s oldest all-male a cappella group. The 321-member Waiter alumni community are appalled by the incidents described in the findings. Until these allegations were leveled, hazing was never part of Cayuga’s Waiters culture. Waiter alumni stand with Cornell in condemning hazing unequivocally. Neither the on-campus group nor alumni dispute the finding that former members introduced hazing to Cayuga’s Waiters.
Last month, I attended the memorial service for a Cornell classmate of mine, Robert Cohen, of the Class of 1960. Bob and I met on my first day at Cornell, in September of 1956; and although not close friends, we remained good friends over the next 56 Years, until his death last December. Among other things, and perhaps one of the most notable aspects of Bob’s life was his lifelong membership in Cayuga’s Waiters. In that capacity, Bob attended every Cornell reunion, not only those of our class, over the past many years. He and his colleagues provided enormous pleasure and a welcome infusion of Cornell spirit at those events.
The response from Prof. William Jacobson, law, to a letter to the editor that criticizes David Collum, the Betty R. Miller Professor and Chair of the Chemistry Department, states at its outset that the letter to the editor “appears to be payback” for Prof. Collum’s anti-union views. Prof. Jacobson seems to have based this accusation solely on the fact that the writers are supporters of Cornell Graduate Students United. This union retaliation claim has since been picked up by right-wing media outlets with enthusiasm, and the graduate students are now subjects of online abuse. I write to point out two related issues. One, the claim of “payback” for Prof. Collum’s views on unions is unsubstantiated.
Last week created a strange moment of unity — a pizza party among several deeply divided groups on campus as we observed Mitch McBride’s ’17 hearing. This was the first opportunity recently for any number of conversations that have not been happening: we have observed Cornell’s campus fracturing along sharper lines this past year. We’d like to address how this has been particularly visible in, and amplified by, trolling and hate speech in the Cornell Daily Sun’s comments section. Although primarily driven by alt-right ideology, the ad hominem, vituperative and intellectually void rhetoric has not been limited to any one group within the Cornell Daily Sun commentariat. These comments are extreme enough to expose the contradiction within free speech: that speech of this sort can itself have a chilling effect on speech.
On April 20, 2017, The Cornell Daily Sun published a lengthy letter to the editor from seven graduate students: Kevin Hines, Robert Escriva, Ethan Susca, Mel White, Rose Agger, Kolbeinn Karlsson and Jane Glaubman. The letter impugned the integrity of Cornell world-renowned Prof. David B. Collum, chemistry in the most serious ways, accusing him of being a rape apologist, misogynistic and unfit for the position of department chair. Several of the letter writers were graduate student union supporters active in the union vote drive. Prof. Collum has been widely criticized by union supporters for opposing the union drive. The letter appears to be payback.
To the Editor:
On March 17, President Rawlings responded to “Promoting Fair and Humane Labor Practices in Qatar,” a Student Assembly resolution calling on Cornell University to increase transparency about its presence in Qatar. Regrettably, he dismissed our calls to publish the dates of university meetings with Qatar Foundation officials and commit Cornell to combatting Qatar’s kafala system. As Martha Pollack assumes her role as Cornell’s president, we urge her to heed these demands and take a stronger stance than her predecessors on this critical issue. Perhaps most regrettably, Rawlings dismissed calls for unionization at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar by noting that unions are illegal in Qatar. In light of President Rawlings’ declaration that WCM-Q cannot recognize unions because of their illegality, we reaffirm workers’ fundamental right to a union as outlined in ILO Convention 87.