As faculty members in the Cornell University ILR School, we are deeply concerned about the conduct of the Cornell administration on March 26, the eve of the Cornell Graduate Students United election and on March 27, the first day of voting in the election. On both days, Cornell’s Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth sent emails to thousands of Cornell graduate students with messages that interfered with graduate employees’ ability to freely exercise their rights to choose whether to be represented by the CGSU. In raising our concerns about Dean Knuth’s conduct, we draw on our expertise and experience in the field of labor law, labor relations and labor rights. Under the National Labor Relations Act, it is unlawful for an employer to make statements that would have the tendency to “interfere with, restrain or coerce” employees in exercising their rights to choose whether to unionize. Unlawful coercive statements by employer representatives include explicit or implicit threats that the employer may cut back on jobs if employees vote for a union.
The recent union drive at Cornell, like those at other campuses across the country, has given a voice to the issues that graduate students face. One of the most pressing issues on which grads have organized is sexual harassment. This issue hits close to home at Cornell, which has more active Title IX investigations than any other university in the nation. For graduate students, facts like this are especially worrisome. Per a 2015 study by the Association of American Universities, grad students were four times more likely to be sexually harassed by a professor than undergrads.
I write in response to the recent article detailing charges brought against Mitch McBride ’17 under the Campus Code of Conduct for sharing allegedly confidential materials from the Admissions and Financial Aid Working Group. These charges are both ill-advised and unwarranted. The function of a student representative to a university committee or task force is often to bring student viewpoints to the attention of university decision-makers regarding important policy and programmatic initiatives and to relay information to and from constituents. While students serve at the pleasure of the administration in an effort to make university decision-making more participatory, transparent and democratic, student representatives are not employed by the university, nor do they tacitly agree, by virtue of their participation, to act at the behest of the university’s administration rather than in the best interest of the constituents they have been elected or appointed to represent. To put a “gag order” on student representatives to not share information or solicit feedback about proposals that are under administrative review — under threat of disciplinary action pursuant to the Campus Code of Conduct — would seriously undermine the role and effectiveness of students serving in these capacities.
Dean Knuth’s role as Chair of the Working Group, and filing of an incident report of a potential investigation of the campus code after being approached by concerned student members of the AFAWG, have made her the focus of attacks that are both unfortunate and undeserved. Over the past few weeks she has been subjected to accusations by advocates of a student who violated the confidential processes of the Working Group, in many cases misrepresenting the facts of the referral and consistently mischaracterizing the motives and goals of the students, faculty and administrators who spent many hours working to improve Cornell’s undergraduate financial aid policies.
I represent the Fourth District on the Tompkins County Legislature, which covers a good part of the Commons, East Hill, Collegetown and the Cornell West Campus. I am writing to make Cornell students who may live in the District aware of a public hearing (Tuesday, April 18, 5:30 p.m. at the Tompkins County Legislature Chambers) on a Local Law known as “T21” to raise the age to purchase tobacco and tobacco products from 18 to 21. I do not smoke and see no upside to smoking. The marketing of tobacco intentionally focuses on teens, as that is the age where lifetime addiction is most likely to take hold. An important goal of T21 is to make it a bit harder to get that first cigarette.
To the Editor:
To think that Spring Break has come and gone, final deadlines are quickly approaching, and we are finalizing yet another chapter of our college careers is quite startling. Summer is right around the corner, and for many students, this comes with feelings of uncertainty, instability, and anxiety. For many, including ourselves, this has been a year that challenged us academically, physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally. Whether you’re an international student concerned with the seemingly ever-changing (or never-changing) foreign policy of the United States towards your own country, a student concerned with the potential revocation of rights you’ve relied on for all of your life, a student who feels afraid to express your views due to possible backlash, or a student affected by the loss of a fellow Cornellian or loved one, the majority of us can agree that the 2016-2017 school year has been extraordinarily taxing. Similar to physical health awareness, regular reminders are necessary to keep our mental health and that of our loved ones at peak.
I was the principal Cayuga Heights Police Investigator of the tragic Cornell Residential Club fire that occurred in the Village of Cayuga Heights, on April 5, 1967, and I am one of the few living persons with direct knowledge of the original investigation. As we approach the 50th anniversary of this tragic event, I believe it is important for me to make a statement relative to that investigation. First, this was one of the most tragic events that I have experienced in my long law enforcement career. Although I have investigated many tragedies such as murders, fatal traffic accidents and other horrific events and crimes, the loss of nine people in this fire has often caused me to have a sleepless night. I spent more than one year of my law enforcement career totally dedicated to the investigation of this fire.
Five months ago, I wrote a letter to the editor arguing that President Rawlings’s email to the community against graduate student unionization “sets a dangerous precedent for using the Office to meddle in the internal affairs of students.” With the Sun’s article “Cornell, Union File Grievances on Opening Day of Voting” it seems my thesis has been vindicated: university administrators have been violating the spirit, if not the letter, of restrictions on them. This is not unique to graduate student unionization, but rather another example of the University prioritizing power and image over students’ voices. In my four years here, I have seen a University more than willing to throw its students, faculty, and staff under the bus. Literally. Two years ago in snowy conditions, a Cornell staff member was struck and killed by a TCAT bus.
About 30 seconds before I went to vote in the union election on Monday, my phone lit up notifying me of an email entitled “Election conduct,” sent by Mary Opperman, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, and Barbara Knuth, Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School. The email made vague claims about CGSU/AFT/NYSUT representatives telling students not to vote. The student who reported this said he felt threatened. There was no more information given about the context of this very serious allegation. I watched the ballots being counted on Tuesday night.
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.