Why I am going to vote NO to CGSU? – Disappointed Graduate Student

  1. The “#UncaringCornell” Twitter campaign. This misguided attempt to promote pessimism, whining, and victimization was the final straw that caused me to withdraw my Union membership. I do not have patience for trigger warnings and the idea that the entire university ought to be a passive, coddling safe space, rather than an institution that promotes intellectual challenge and debate between differing opinions.
  1. Non-representative Leadership.Paul Berry, one of the most outspoken advocates for unionization, publicly declared that he has spent more time promoting CGSU than he has put into his master’s thesis. Over the past year, my Facebook and Twitter feeds seem to affirm that this general time breakdown is the priority of many union activists. I came to Cornell in order to devote my time to my research and teaching. CGSU’s leadership does not represent me. Furthermore, I have trouble forgetting that early CGSU meetings focused on whether to sign e-mails “In Solidarity” to demonstrate support with (necessary and socially important) blue collar unionization efforts of history. This kind of elitist pretension does not sit well with me.
  1. The realities of privilege.We attend school at Cornell University, a world-class, Ivy League institution with generous student funding, healthcare, and support. To suggest that we, as Cornell graduate students, are oppressed is outrageous and overlooks the plight of real employees who are actually exploited, such as adjunct professors. Again, this victim complex is a product of our current social environment, but that does not make it a worthy pursuit.
  1. AFT is a bad ally. As a former public school teacher, I have experience with AFT’s misguided and top-centric approach to union activity. AFT is an administration-heavy organization; for all its talk of allowing local decision-making, AFT’s lawyers and managers get the last word. CGSU is in danger of replacing one administrative apparatus with another. Furthermore, AFT has recently engaged in retaliatory measures against their own organizers at Cornell. Is this really the body we want managing our union? I think not.
  1. Conversations with professors. Yes, I initiated these conversations. Those who came to Cornell after working as professors at institutions with long-standing graduate student unions are skeptical of graduate unionization, and with good reason. One noted that he/she tried not to teach classes requiring teaching assistantships in the spring semester, when contract negotiations were going on, for fear of losing his/her assistants to strikes. Furthermore, at these institutions, rules requiring equal numbers of TAships for all students impinged on the individual trajectories that would have benefited students better in the long run. It is worth noting that all of the professors I have spoken with said that unionization did alter their relationships with their graduate students from collegial to manager-employee–a change none of these professors wanted. Professors want to teach and mentor, not manage. I came to Cornell to be taught and mentored, not managed.
  1. I am a graduate student. I came to Cornell to dedicate myself to my research and teaching. My job is to be a graduate student. I am not a worker. I am paid fairly for this work, have autonomy in my hours and research directions, and have worked hard to establish good relations with my committee, despite serious setbacks during my first year. You know what? Overcoming my initial challenges at Cornell have made me a better student, teacher, and researcher. I am here to learn, study, and teach. I am not here to be a contract employee.