ByNicole Wiles, Mark Obstalecki, Kyle Mack and Siddarth Chandrasekaran |
To the Editor:
Unions in workplaces are a much-needed apparatus to ensure equitable work conditions. The power of collective bargaining is indisputably beneficial to workers in establishing fair contracts. Our vote in the impending referendum on the matter of unionizing graduate workers is of grave importance, and we bear the burden of vastly influencing the course of graduate education in Cornell and beyond. Follow not in the footsteps of Brexit, widely recognized as the glorious failure of democracy through uninformed, misinformed voters who leveraged their responsibility to vote through passion and nonchalance, bereft of rationality. This letter aims to understand the effect of unionization particularly through CGSU, as an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and New York State United Teachers.
On September 21, at 4 p.m., Marsha Jean-Charles walked out of Caldwell Hall into the afternoon sun, surrounded by friends and greeted by supporters. She’d just finished presenting her case clearly and calmly to her appointed Graduate Grievance Review Board, after nearly four months of navigating Cornell’s grievance process. A hearing with a GGRB, composed of a board chair plus two anonymous faculty members and two anonymous grads, is the fourth and final step of this process. One way or another, Marsha felt ready for a decision — for closure. Six weeks later, Marsha was still in limbo. Incomprehensibly (and as the policy listed on the Graduate School website fails to make clear), a grievant is not entitled to access the recommendation of the GGRB.
I am writing as a graduate student who has been involved with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly since spring 2013 and with Cornell Graduate Students United since spring 2014 in order to respond to some of the discourse around shared governance that has emerged in debates over graduate student unionization this semester. I am a proud member of both organizations and believe deeply in the necessity of each, and based both on my own experience and the extensive evidence from other universities at which both graduate student unions and assemblies productively coexist, I believe unequivocally in the potential for both organizations to continue to work effectively after a unionization vote. The GPSA is not at all threatened by the formal recognition of CGSU as an exclusive collective bargaining unit. More importantly, I want to respond to the idea encapsulated in Interim President Rawlings’s statement that graduate students already have a significant voice in administration, and that “We have not been able to solve every issue raised by students, but I believe we are better able to work through differences of opinion in a collegial atmosphere than in a potentially adversarial collective bargaining setting.” There are two issues to look at in evaluating this claim: first, the Board of Trustees’ decision to not raise the minimum stipend of Research Assistants to be equal to Teaching Assistants in spring 2014, and second, workers’ compensation. When the Trustees made their decision on graduate student stipends, they did so with the consultation of a handful of graduate student leaders who were forbidden from discussing the issue with other graduate students.
In his “statement on graduate assistant labor union representation” (October 27), Interim President Hunter Rawlings cites the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR School) as being “the leader in the field of labor education.” We write here as faculty of the ILR School, drawing on our expertise and experience in the field of labor law, labor relations and labor rights. We agree with President Rawlings that it is essential that the University respect the graduate assistants’ choice of whether they wish to be represented by a union. We also agree that it is important that graduate assistants have access to information relevant to making their choice. Unfortunately, however, President Rawlings’ statement presents a negative view of unionization based on speculation and unsubstantiated assertions. In responding to these speculative claims, our letter seeks to provide useful information about the reality of unionization in universities.
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.
“I am confident CGSU and Cornell can work together to achieve mutual gains and that the agreement can serve as a guiding light for higher education institutions across the Ivy league and around the country,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten ’80.
Four graduate and professional student elected trustee candidates comment on important campus issues and discuss their platforms. Voting will begin at 8 a.m. on Monday, April 18th and end at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 20th.
The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly voiced their frustration with the administration’s lack of transparency in the decision making process. Kotlikoff defended the Board of Trustees’ decision citing multiple past studies regarding the need for such a conglomeration of schools. These studies, Kotlikoff explains, have identified “fragmentation of our business programs as a liability for our University.”
“In many cases,” he said, “What’s happening is these programs are spending resources on those faculty that they would like to spend on their more specialized faculty and programs that distinguish the school, and that arises from the fact that we’re not leveraging our resources and allowing students to access resources across these schools.”
The provost described the need for the “most efficient organization” which would facilitate hiring of new faculty for business programs.
He maintained that preserving the identity and excellence of each individual school — one of the main concerns in response to the recent decision — will be a “major goal” in the upcoming process. Kotlikoff also discussed how faculty from each of the involved schools are “working together to determine the faculty governance process.” Various committees, including undergraduate and graduate student synergy committees, will also be involved in the governance process. In response, Nathaniel Rogers grad, GPSA vice president for operations, said it was “hard to say that the faculty felt like they were involved in the process.”
Rogers also said that some graduate students in the GPSA — an organization which gives them “the unique opportunity to impact how Cornell operates”— are frustrated because they do not feel that they are part of the process in making recent decisions such as the $350 student health insurance fee and the creation of the College of Business.