The grievance process is similar to most policies directly affecting graduate workers in that its procedures do not provide any clear protections for us in the event that our interests conflict with those of the Cornell administration. The most egregious feature of this system is that—in spite of recent reforms—the provost still retains authority to unilaterally overrule the decision of the grievance board.
If you feel like your rights as a worker have not been respected by the university, you deserve to have your voice heard and your concerns addressed through a fair and just grievance process. A legally recognized Cornell graduate students union would be able to bargain for a contract that includes grievance procedure that involves review from a third party. A third party grievance board would help ensure a more just review process that isn’t susceptible to the unilateral power and whims of the University’s provost. It would also allow for a union representative to accompany the grievant through the review process, much as an attorney would help you navigate the legal system and accompany you through a trial. Finally, it would include measures to ensure that the process is completed in a transparent and timely manner. This latter point is especially important in the case that your funding has been stripped and you need to seek recourse quickly if you are to be able to afford to stay in Ithaca. Graduate student labor unions at other universities have been successful in bargaining for third party grievance boards. See, for example, the contracts from the Graduate Assistants United at University of Florida, Article 22, the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation at the University of Oregon, Articles 13 and 15, and The Coalition of Graduate Employees at Oregon State University, Article 18.
Unfortunately, the current grievance process is difficult to navigate and there is virtually no evidence of any kind that it serves to bring justice in situations where students have been treated unfairly. The process involves four stages that ultimately results in a review by a Graduate Grievance Review Board. However, only one person in the last 19 has made it this stage. You can read more about this person’s story here. Once your grievance has made it to the Review Board, the university policy states that “the Board shall arrive at a decision by a majority vote and shall, within 5 working days after the hearing, issue a final written recommendation.” This recommendation is then sent to the provost who has unilateral power to completely disregard the opinion of the board if they choose to do so.