A Response to Dean Knuth's Statement on Voting

Below is a letter written by our administrative liaison in response to a recent communication from the deans about the recognition election.

Dear Graduate Workers,

My name is Michaela Brangan, PhD candidate in English. I was elected last year by Cornell Graduate Students United (CGSU) to serve as administrative liaison, and sit on the Union Management Committee (UMC), the body which discusses and interprets the rules of the road outlined in Cornell-CGSU’s campaign and election agreement.  I write today to clarify our UMC discussion of an online voting option, suggested by Cornell.

During our agreement negotiations last year, CGSU discussed the logistics of our election with Cornell, and we decided on in-person, on-campus voting instead of a mix of in-person or other methods, such as online voting. I was part of those negotiations.

Why did we decide on in-person voting?

Simply this: To ensure that democratic procedures are followed, and that voters don’t experience undue influence while they are making their decisions and casting their ballots.

There are departments in which senior faculty have made it clear to grads that they are opposed to unionization. One high-ranking professor has even attempted to convince other faculty to engage in union-busting behavior with him, declaring in a chairs’ meeting that it was “time to play whack-a-mole”—by which he was understood to mean “it’s time to stop grads from collectively organizing.” Thankfully, most Cornell faculty do recognize that it would be an abuse of power—not to mention a violation of our campaign agreement—to try to stop grads from exercising their right to organize. (The department chair who reported these statements told me she replied: “Some of us are on the side of the moles.”)

Elections have observers—it’s part of the democratic process. The job for all volunteer observers of our election will be to make sure that election rules are respected, that voters aren’t being provided false information or experience intimidation, and that any such behavior is reported immediately. With online balloting, there is no way to ensure election rules are being followed and that voters’ rights are protected. If intimidation or coercion is taking place out of sight, it seems unlikely that voters would feel un-intimidated after the fact, and report it.

Common sense suggests it would be preferable to avoid creating situations in which such behavior can go unchecked—literally, behind closed doors—in the first place. And this is beside the fact that online voting is still insecure compared to in-person voting. For an election like this one, we remain unconvinced that changing to an inferior method to save a little bit of money is the right choice.

In a recent  “Ask a Dean” post, Dean Barbara Knuth has suggested that the sole reason CGSU did not want to change balloting is because our union-wide voting process to amend the agreement is “arduous.” I am disappointed that Dean Knuth did not use the opportunity her position affords to give a fuller account of our UMC exchange, our agreement, and CGSU’s commitment to democratic processes. However, CGSU remains confident that Cornell will continue to honor its agreement with our union, both in spirit and in letter.

Thank you for reading. Please, continue to stay informed. If you have any questions about CGSU, our agreement with the university, or how the election will work, please feel free to contact me personally at michaela.jb@gmail.com, or you can get in touch with CGSU

In solidarity,


Michaela Brangan
CGSU English

PS: in anticipation of winning recognition, we are circulating a bargaining survey to find out what grads care about most, and would like to see in our contract. We invite you to take a bit of time to fill this out, and please: do not forget to add your name to our public list of supporters at the very end of the survey! Thank you.