Cornell typically offers students funding for two to five years, depending on the graduate program. While Cornell’s communications during the admissions process may give the impression that this funding is guaranteed, this is in fact not the case. If the sponsor of your RA or TA position leaves the university or simply no longer wants to work with you, you may lose your funding along with your academic status. In 2016, for example, African Studies PhD student Marsha Jean-Charles was forced to leave campus after the professor who was funding her RA decided to terminate her funding; Marsha received no prior notice that he was dissatisfied with her work. Her dissertation chair defended her, saying that the process she was subjected to was problematic and that the behavior cited in her dismissal was anomalous. Nevertheless, Marsha’s funding was revoked and her academic standing was stripped before she could contest the decision. You can read more about this person’s story here.
A legally recognized graduate students union would be able to fight for a contract that guarantees better job security over the course of the funding period that is offered in your admissions process. Measures we might negotiate for include a review process before a professor unilaterally decides to strip your funding, a contingency clause for the case in which your professor leaves Cornell, and a better and more transparent grievance process if you feel you have been treated unfairly. Cornell has an internal grievance process that you can seek recourse through if you believe you have been treated unfairly, but it is very difficult to navigate. In fact, in the past 19 years, only one person (Marsha Jean-Charles) has reached the stage of a claim being considered by the a grievance board.