Comment #2 about Ask a Dean 3/6/17

Date: March 2017


Dear Deans,

I really, really like you. Grad school at Cornell has been generous, supportive, encouraging at all times to me. From conferences to research travels, assistance in difficult times, and on a daily basis by providing an indecent yet necessary caffeine amount at the BRB to boost my writing.

Yet, over the past few months, every single Grad School Announcements newsletter has deeply disappointed me. It’s not only that the ‘ask a dean’ series started – somehow – just when CGSU itself took shape, it is not only that most of those questions actually are about the union. That would be enough and plenty for disappointment. But the subtext – always against the union and in a rather dubious biased manner – comes with a feel that I thought reserved to quirky archival materials from the Soviet era… It has the ring of propaganda that is too smart to say its name, it takes a debilitating tone that is too unworthy of the grad school I am attached to, for me to let it go.

Under this disguise, what you are really doing is taking your very own grad students for lesser than they are: yes we do get the subtext, yes it is so unsubtle that it insults our intelligence, yes it is unworthy of the institution we joined.

I am an adult. I am smart. But that you know already, since you have selected me a few years ago among many others to become part of this wonderful adventure that academia can be. I am not a member of the Union. Yet every time I read your Q & As I am tempted, those are so bad, that obviously the other side must be better. Anyway, while I do not join unions, I do believe they are necessary to social progress, and that they can be partners to work with rather than obstacles.

Let me repeat something you may have missed here: I am an adult. I am smart. When representatives have knocked on my home door I have had a nice conversation on the porch, debating our very different views of unionization. I know how to expose my argument, stake my point of view, listen, speak out, stop, move on. Somehow they do too. This is something we all learned in grad school among many other things.

Please, do stop the condescending. It is really disturbing that you may think of us grad students with such disdain, but it is even more embarrassing for yourself to keep going at it, and pretend nothing is going on. 

Disappointed Graduate Student


Dear Disappointed Graduate Student,

Thank you for your comments. I’m glad to know that you have found Cornell to be generous and supportive. I’m sorry you have been disappointed with Graduate Announcements. If you’ve been following Graduate Announcements over your time here, you’ll recognize that we try out new features regularly, continuing some and stopping others after a trial period. Ask a Dean is one of those experiments. You’ll find a complete archive of this year’s Ask a Dean questions and answers, illustrating there have been many topics that students have submitted. 

When we receive an Ask a Dean question, we first check to see if it is from a registered Graduate School student (we have had inquiries from prospective applicants, and handle those privately). The topic of the question determines which dean will provide the response. We endeavor to respond privately to each question within three days of receiving, and then post an anonymized version in Graduate Announcements. Lately, there have been numerous union-related Ask a Dean questions submitted by students.

I understand you are finding the Ask a Dean feature disappointing, particularly the responses. I do understand that you are smart and you are an adult. We have heard from other students that they are appreciating these questions and answers, both the individual responses they receive directly when they pose a question and from those who are only readers of the Ask a Dean column. We have also heard from CGSU members and supporters that they find many of these questions and responses offensive. I appreciate that a diversity of thought is important to higher education, and I would not expect that every reader of the Ask a Dean columns will appreciate the responses.

Your conversations with union organizers in which you expose your argument and engage with them seems very productive. Federal labor law sets limits on the communications of Management, but not on the communications of union organizers. Union organizers are able to promise or predict anything they wish. Management, however, is explicitly prevented from making promises. 

If you would like to be unsubscribed from Graduate Announcements, please use the link at the bottom of the next Announcements and you will be unsubscribed. 

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School