How will the election determine the desire of graduate students to have a union if eligible students can’t vote?

Date: March 2017


Buenos días Deans,

My question pertains to in absentia students’ ability to participate in the upcoming union representation election.

On the afternoon of Friday, March 17th, I received an email from Associate Dean for Administration Jason Kahabka instructing me, as an in absentia student and eligible voter, to contact the American Arbitration Association (AAA) to request an absentee ballot to be mailed to my current address. The email stated that these ballots must be received by the AAA’s office in New York, NY by Thursday, March 23rd at 5 PM to be counted in the election.

I am currently living in the northern Mexican state of Sonora while conducting my dissertation research at an international organization. Even with the fasted international shipping methods, I will be lucky to receive an absentee ballot by March 23rd, and I most certainly will not be able to return it to the AAA by that date.

Cornell University is fortunate to have numerous graduate students conducting research around the globe to solve many of the world’s challenges. My question is as follows: how will this election determine the desire of graduate students to be represented for collective bargaining if Cornell and CGSU/AFT/NYSUT have failed to make accommodations for eligible voters to cast their votes?


A Concerned Señorita South of the Border


Dear Concerned Señorita South of the Border,

Thank you for your Ask a Dean question. 

About 60 eligible voter graduate students are registered in absentia with the Graduate School this semester. We have tried mightily to provide all of these students with the opportunity to vote in the upcoming union representation election, but the process is not under our control.

I’ve already written in other responses regarding our attempts to seek agreement for secure, encrypted online voting, precisely to enable all eligible voters, no matter their physical location, to vote. I won’t repeat those details here.

We have also been working hard to get agreement from CGSU/AFT/NYSUT on procedures to enable the use of absentee ballots for in absentia students and others who may be away from campus on election days. Those negotiations have taken a long time.

I’m sorry it appears that you will not be able to cast a ballot in this election. I hope you are able to communicate your views with your colleagues back at Cornell and encourage all eligible voters who are present on campus on March 27 and 28 to exercise their right and ability to vote.

Best wishes with your research South of the Border,


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