Faculty FAQs

Why are there limits on faculty speech about grad unionization?

As Cornell grads organize, they are afforded the same rights as any other worker under the National Labor Relations Act, and under the CGSU-Cornell Agreement to choose a union freely, without interrogation, coercion, intimidation, or threats by management.

I don’t feel like I’m a “manager” of graduate students. Why am I being treated like one?

Many of us don’t feel like we are the direct employees of our advisors, either! And recent data shows that there are positive effects on the relationship between grads and their advisors when grads decide to form a union. But there are a few reasons why this stance applies. There is legal precedent, which we can’t help. In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that faculty are “management” in the case National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University. Further, many faculty-student relationships at Cornell look like employer-employee relationships, at least in part, as they would in other fields or industries. And even employment in which your boss doesn’t feel like your boss, but more like your friend and mentor, is tricky in regard to coercion.

Can I put information or paraphernalia about grad unionization outside my office door?

We advise against posting any union-related material, whether it’s in favor or against, on your office door or anywhere in your workspace or on yourself, since an advisee seeing it would potentially experience such material as coercive.  If you’re a supporter, you can help by letting us choose for ourselves without undue influence, and encouraging your fellow faculty to do the same. Thanks!

Now I’m worried that if I say the word “union” everyone will jump down my throat!

Faculty can talk about CGSU and grad unionization amongst themselves and with staff without limitation. We would never ask that you censor yourself in this way. If you have questions about our efforts, or proper protocol for discussing unionization with graduate students, please email cornellgsu@gmail.com and we’d be happy to answer.

If you do find yourself discussing unionization with a graduate student, we simply ask that you consider what it might feel like for the grad and with that in mind, choose your language carefully. Coercion can take on subtle forms, and we ask that you are sensitive to the ways in which your comments and personal opinions may be interpreted, keeping in mind that the choice to join a union belongs to grad students, and them alone. Prefacing a statement you make with the fact that it’s a personal opinion is not, in CGSU’s view, sufficient to obviate the Agreement and the rights it is intended to protect.

What would a union mean for us?

As mentioned above, data shows that it likely will have good effects, as far as advisor-advisee relationships go and how grads perceive you in your dual role as mentors and supervisors. The same study also suggests that academic freedom, research, and campus atmosphere is left undisturbed by grad unions. Indeed, the recent NLRB decision on grad unions pointed out that “genuine academic freedom”–that which theoretically has nothing to do with the world of work for pay–would be less likely to be corrupted if the line between academe and employment policy were made clear.

We hope that faculty would not unduly jump to conclusions about what it might mean for their own positions for grads to have more of a say in the policies that affect their working lives at Cornell.