Will the GPSA still be able to represent me if Cornell unionizes?

Date: March 2017



During my time at Cornell, the GPSA has acted as a representative for me as a graduate student. If Cornell unionizes, will the GPSA still be able to act as an advocate for graduate students? 




Dear Undecided,

Thanks for your Ask a Dean question. 

The Union Representation FAQ includes details regarding potential implications for the GPSA (Graduate and Professional Student Assembly) and other governance and advisory bodies with active student members should unionization occur at Cornell. 

Regarding the GPSA, it is unclear at this point what changes unionization might mean for the GPSA. Many of the questions about the range of issues the GPSA would continue to be able to address with the University administration cannot be answered until, through experience, we learn what actions, if any, may be interpreted or contested as addressing “terms and conditions of employment” in which case they would no longer be allowed to engage in those actions.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits employers from establishing or maintaining “employer dominated” committees or groups. Such a group exists if, in situations where collective bargaining units have been recognized, management permits “employees” to participate in discussions that can be perceived as negotiating “terms and conditions of employment” outside of the normal union bargaining channels. GPSA discussions of stipend rates, health insurance for students on assistantships, workers’ compensation, childcare benefits for students on assistantships, and other related matters could all be deemed no longer allowable if these issues would be characterized as “terms and conditions of employment.”

In addition, concerns could occur associated with students serving on department, graduate field, or university-wide committees within a unionized context, prohibiting them from discussing any topics that could be interpreted as related to “terms and conditions of employment.” 

It is possible that if the labor union did not want students to be involved in these types of university governance bodies because such student involvement diminishes some of the direct influence of the union, that the union could file an “unfair labor practice” against Cornell, leading to temporary or permanent suspension of student involvement in these shared governance opportunities. 

But all of this is unknown, and would become more clear only with experience.

It is our hope that GPSA and the department, field, Graduate School, and university-wide committees with graduate student members would continue to be part of the vibrant shared governance model at Cornell. 

Warm regards,


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