138 thoughts on “C-TRO Options and Accommodations for Graduate Students

  1. I share all of the concerns with fellow graduate students here.
    It is completely unacceptable to require graduate students to go through SDS and then ask their advisor who is in NO WAY EQUIPPED to assess need if they need accommodations for teaching. Especially given that faculty can decide themselves if they would rather teach online. What message does this send students? Your bodies are dispensable? This is outrageous and appalling. We do not know the long term effects of COVID on the body. Even people without pre-existing conditions deserve to keep their pay and health insurance if they decide not to risk their long term health to assist in teaching a class. Graduate student workers provide so much to the university and deserve respect as human beings.

    With the current trends in other states, our highest daily COVID rates, and the increase in cases amongst young people, I really urge the administration to do the right thing, teach entirely online, and not risk our lives this fall.

  2. I completely agree with the comments here and am deeply concerned about the implications of these “accommodations.” Graduate students should be trusted to make their own decisions about their health and safety – no one is more qualified to make these decisions than the person in question. It is particularly inappropriate for faculty advisors to have a say in these decisions, as we know that faculty have a vested interest in keeping their students working (and many faculty have been known to take advantage of this power over their students). I urge you to reconsider this policy so that graduate students can make decisions that prioritize their own safety and well-being.

  3. Unfortunately I believe this is an example of a model created, and adjusted, with a desired outcome in mind. This is most clearly exemplified in the report where it states: “Paradoxically, the model predicts that not opening the campus for residential instruction could result in a greater number of infected individuals affiliated with Cornell.”

    I have concerns that Cornell can carry out any of the recommendations outlined in the report given that it has re-opened laboratory research and it cannot guarantee basic hygienic practices on campus. Examples of this are hand sanitizer stations on all floors of buildings, locks on bathroom doors to maintain 1 person occupancy (for bathrooms that are not large enough for social distancing), and frequent testing.

    When students return in the fall will Cornell really do anything beyond superficial attempts to limit institution liability (i.e. the daily check in). Isn’t the goal of this simply to ensure that undergraduate students return and tuition is supplied without regard to community safety?

  4. As a BIPOC graduate student with health conditions that make me high-risk for COVID-19, I read the reactivation reports with a pit of dread in my stomach. I am NOT assured by the empty promises in the reports that “every effort” will be made to allow graduate students to make their own decisions about their health and safety when the university reopens to in-person instruction. I will not be satisfied without real policies that actually implement these assurances–policies that don’t leave gaping holes wherein graduate students are left open to coercion and impossible choices. There is too much hedging in the reports about how departments, faculty, and graduate students will of course be accommodated…but not so far that undergraduates might have to take a 3rd or 4th choice course that does not “excite them” (C-TRO pg 28). And if not even departments and faculty will have the final say in how people get to teach, what possible agency is left to vulnerable graduate students?

    At least the C-POT report, in its categorization of “instructors of record” with faculty, makes the basic acknowledgment that graduate students comprise a significant portion of the teaching that happens at this university, and that we should be afforded the SAME respect and agency that faculty will be afforded in regard to their decisions about teaching modality and personal health. The C-TRO report dismisses graduate student teaching labor by making the ridiculous technical point that we are appointed as “TAs, not instructional faculty” (C-TRO pg. 29). If I am not instructional faculty, isn’t it strange then that I am tasked with independently developing and teaching writing seminars for Cornell undergraduates that they pay full tuition for and receive credit towards graduation for? Somebody had better let my students and their parents know that I do not count as “instructional faculty.” I will not allow Cornell to burden me with the full responsibilities and obligations of developing a class, teaching, grading, and advising students when my cheap teaching labor works out so well for the university’s bottom line, but then refuse me the rights and respect it owes to the people who perform that labor for them.

    Watching Cornell make decisions about its response to the global pandemic over the last few months has seriously damaged my faith in and my relationship to the university as a graduate student, a course instructor, and a future alumnus.

  5. This policy is short-sighted, egregious, and leaves graduate TAs (already vulnerable and precarious) with little to no autonomy this fall with regard to teaching. What this policy effectively does is establish that while faculty can choose to teach or not teach without going through a long, bureaucratic process that requires them to disclose personal medical information, graduate students do not get this option even though we carry out the same functions vis a vis teaching. This policy also seems to be completely unaware of the many types of ways in which graduate students teach– we TA large lecture courses, we work in labs, we lead discussion sections, we run seminars, and we are even instructors of record at this university. It’s baffling to me that, for instance, faculty teaching a small seminar and a graduate student teaching the same seminar will have vastly different and inequitable reporting requirements should they want to teach remotely.

    The comments below have outlined the many, many problems with reporting to SDS, so I’ll refer to them and add a few more. Here are the issues.

    1) This is going to make life incredibly difficult for LGBTQIA+ individuals who may be forced to disclose information they don’t want to/ that is sensitive in order to teach remotely. There’s already explication on this in the comments below, please refer to that.
    2) SDS is going to be unduly burdened, and this is likely going to lead to incredibly long wait times– graduate students will simply be timed out of having any options and will have to teach f2f because things are still being processed. Read comments below for more details.
    3) Now that Cornell is publicly trying to contend with the racism that many students face in this institution, it’s probably a good idea to acknowledge that racism determines and structures the way marginalized, underrepresented, minority, undocumented, and international students access healthcare at large and more specifically through the university. This means that many students in these groups may face significant barriers getting diagnosed accurately, hostile medical environments, and more. When this system comes is tied with SDS and more documentation, these discriminatory encounters and situations are multiplied. I trust that everyone who works at Cornell in both these offices are well-intentioned. However, we should by now know considering the United States’s legacy with racial capitalism that a) intentions don’t do much in b) systems like education and medicine have racism and ableism built into them and knowing this and working with this knowledge is essential to ensure that students are not harmed.
    4) While SDS has been effective and helpful for students in terms of taking classes, multiple student accounts of going through this process suggest that this is not the case when they try to advocate on behalf of students as TAs who are teaching classes. And now, they will be asked to do this at scale.
    5) This policy is ableist. Read comments below.
    6) The Graduate School Grievance procedure is considered by many graduate students to be ineffective. Whether it is or it isn’t, this perception alone is enough to make this a completely option for graduate students. Read comments below.
    7) Exactly what list of comorbidities is Cornell going to use/consider significant? The CDC’s list? That list is getting updated frequently– what happens when a condition/situation that did not make an individual high-risk gets added a week after classes start?
    8) The idea that we need to go through our departments to access accommodations while not revealing medical or personal information is preposterous– (see comment below on who is believed and not believed about living with chronic conditions) because this gives departments entirely too much discretion and puts students in a position where they may be pressured to disclose indirectly and may choose not to do anything at all/ abandon the process because we know that these disclosures can and have adversely affected students in the past (to the point that many drop out of academia). We know that mental health stigma, fatphobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. all factor in here.
    9) We know that young people with none of the reported comorbidities are dying or facing protracted recovery times from Covid 19. This process does nothing to prevent these outcomes.
    10) This policy ignores the very real possibility that when, and not if, we have Covid 19 mortalities on campus this Fall, some will be graduate students who have fallen through the cracks of this long, discriminatory and ineffective procedure.
    11) If this process doesn’t work out for many of the reasons articulated above and in other comments, the result appears to be that students lose funding. Here’s what the document says: “Assistantship fund source continues to pay
    stipend while process occurs. Assistantship stipend may terminate at conclusion of process if assistantship duties cannot be conducted and/or funding source (e.g., sponsored funds) does not allow stipend payment when duties are not conducted.” In short, Cornell is effectively giving graduate teaching assistants the option to work (and if this process fails for students who need it, then work under duress) or lose funding and health insurance in the middle of a global pandemic.

    Here’s what could happen instead– every single graduate student could choose, without disclosure, whether they are going to do in-person instruction or not, and the university would unequivocally support that graduate student choice and ensure that they remain funded and have access to health insurance while they carry out their teaching responsibilities remotely (especially if this choice is met with resistance from the department). I think one of the comments below mentions an opt-in option– that’s an excellent idea.

    Please do the right thing here.

  6. The proposed process for determining whether graduate workers must teach in class or not is ridiculous and clearly made without the input of the graduate community. Requiring that the process go through SDS (which seems unlikely to be able to deal with the large number of requests on top of the vital work they already are tasked with doing) does not seem feasible. Requiring the kind of documentation, especially about spouses or partners, that this policy demands is also scary to me as an LGBTQ+ graduate worker – I shouldn’t be forced into a situation where I must come out to my advisor just to ensure my partner is safe. And, as has been said, the requirement for extensive documentation is especially harmful for BIPOC students who will have more trouble getting medical professionals to believe them and provide documentation, especially during the middle of a pandemic.

    Moreover, the fact that graduate workers are being treated entirely differently from faculty is hurtful and shows that the university does not value our health and safety because we don’t have the power to resist that faculty members do. And yet the University is relying on us to teach in person to make sure that it can protect its bottom line.

    Board of Trustees, please value the community of this organization, the people that actually make Cornell what it is, and let graduate students opt out of teaching in person no questions asked, just like you are allowing faculty to do.

  7. I see several major problems with the suggested process:

    1) As a graduate student with a chronic health condition I have had questionable experiences with SDS in the past. Too often the approach at SDS is to offer as little accommodations as possible, even if that means these accommodations would not suffice to meet the student’s needs. I fear this approach may be a problem with COVID-19 related accommodations too. If SDS will take the same approach, people with pre-existing health conditions may be put in risk.

    2) This policy would put a strain on SDS. If they have to discuss both “normal” disability issues and COVID-19 related accommodations, their jobs would become much more difficult. As a result, they may make mistakes that would put graduate students in health risk.

    3) There is no rationale behind the separate policy for graduate students caring for a loved one with health issues. It is a breach of privacy to be made to discuss my medical situation with faculty members; and it is also a breach of privacy to discuss my partner’s health condition with faculty members. I fail to see what is the point of letting faculty members make decisions regarding accommodations for people with a vulnerable person in their household.

    4) The report states that it is possible that graduate students with a vulnerable person in their household would lose their fellowship. That is simply cruel and unusual. Making someone choose between their livelihood and caring for a loved one is inhumane. Most graduate students are young and live away from their families. The university can and should accommodate the minority of graduate students who live with an elderly or immunocompromised person. It should be a matter of policy that these people be allowed work from home; and that they should not lose their fellowship under any circumstances.

    5) It is unclear why faculty members should have the right to appeal SDS decisions. They have no personal knowledge about our health conditions and no better general medical knowledge than SDS.

    6) It should be mandated that all TA’s regardless of their health situation will hold virtual office hours. That would protect us, prevent unnecessary arguments between TA’s and professors, and prevent the spread of the virus in the Cornell community in general.

  8. I share in the concerns of fellow graduate students commenting here over a policy which would require at-risk or immunocompromised TAs to go through a time consuming SDS application and disclose potentially sensitive medical information in order to have recognized the risk to their lives by in-person teaching in the fall.

    A better, more ethical policy would treat online and remote teaching as a default, with (as a commenter mentions above) the ability for TAs to “opt in” to in-person teaching.

    TAs should at the very least have the same freedoms and protections as professors as they are equally human and their well being matters equally.

  9. If Cornell does not adjust this policy to ensure that any graduate TA can choose to teach remotely, then Cornell will knowingly endanger grad TAs’ lives. Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about how this policy will overburden Student Disability Services during a time when students may desperately need accommodations. The policies suggested in the C-TRO and C-POT reports directly contradict what scholars of disability and equity are calling for. The practices outlined by the Accessible Campus Action Alliance suggest possible modifications to this policy as well: https://sites.google.com/view/accesscampusalliance

    I sincerely hope that Cornell will stand by its commitment to this community by adopting a policy in which grad TAs are not forced to disclose health conditions or other private matters to secure fair working conditions.

  10. I agree that its absurd that faculty have any say at all in contesting a decision on an accommodation – they are not doctors and have no expertise here. Furthermore, the entire context of campus safety can change extremely rapidly, as we are already familiar – remember this spring, where within one or two weeks we went from ‘normal’ to ‘do not come to campus whatsoever’? If conditions change quickly again and causes grads re-assess the safety of their working conditions, it’s unlikely that the (likely already overburdened) SDS office will be able to handle the influx of new SDS requests in a timely fashion, literally putting the lives of grads waiting on their accommodation at risk.

  11. I echo other grad students’ sentiments above, and I’m deeply concerned about how this policy fails to take into account the clear recommendations put forth by experts in disability, race, and gender equity, better described in the Accessible Campus Action Alliance’s report here: https://sites.google.com/view/accesscampusalliance

    If Cornell fails to adjust the reopening policy to ensure that all workers–including graduate teaching assistants–can teach remotely, our administration will have knowingly chosen to burden those already targeted by COVID-19, including the Black members of our community which Cornell has pledged to support.

  12. I echo my peers’ comments and ask that the Board of Trustees seriously reconsider this policy. As others have mentioned, this policy does not account for the myriad of power dynamics at play within academia that disproportionately impact BIPOC and other marginalized students. Many students have health conditions that they cannot receive documentation for due to a combination of socioeconomic issues and systemic marginalization and discrimination. This policy further promotes the disclosure of sensitive and private information that can have serious impacts for graduate students–whether later in their careers or now, as many, *many* medical conditions come with a host of discrimination, often implicit.

    Anti-discrimination policies simply do not reflect the lived reality of academia and our broader society. Medical documentation, no matter how extensive, will not solve a faculty member inclined to disbelieve a student, which is especially the case for BIPOC, mentally ill, and neurodivergent students.

    As a personal example of this: I have been told to my face by a faculty member in a position of authority when disclosing a particular disability, that “I didn’t seem like someone who had it” and my concerns and requests were dismissed. Another faculty member I disclosed it to indicated similar, and then proceeded to blame the symptoms of my disability for their perception of my slow progress. I did not involve SDS because even with the appropriate documentation, their involvement would have not only disclosed sensitive personal information about a disability that, as a learning disorder, comes with heavy professional penalties, but it’s likely that it would have backfired and positioned me as a “problem” within the department. Anyone even partially aware of how power dynamics work in academia knows that this will be exacerbated as faculty face their own stress with returning, and place this on the TAs and RAs.

    Ultimately, this policy presumes that graduate students will act in bad faith and cannot decide for themselves if they are able to work on campus or not. It places the burden of disclosure on graduate students, and penalizes them for not doing so by forcing them into risky, life threatening situations–or ones that are risky to those they live with and care for. Since we do not live in a society free from bias (implicit or otherwise) or one free from power dynamics, this policy as it exists only serves to increase the precarity of graduate students and coerce those already at risk and marginalized.

    As a previous comment suggested, the policy should, by default, opt students into teaching remotely/online. And if it does not, it should simply ask students for a yes or no with no justification required–a survey from the Graduate School (and not a medical authority or supervisors). We need to begin from the assumption that graduate students know for themselves their risk, without demanding the disclosure of personal and sensitive information. We want to teach and research and learn–we would not be here otherwise.

  13. I write in support of many other comments criticizing the report’s failure to secure the autonomy of graduate students decide whether in-person or online teaching is best for their own health.

    The report recommends that “every effort should be made to provide [graduate] students who do not qualify for disability protections, but who feel at risk, the choice as to whether or not to teach in person.” By proclaiming that “every effort should be made” to provide accommodations to TAs who might feel uncomfortable teaching in person, the report actually implies that there exist countervailing considerations that those efforts to protect them could not surmount.

    Consider one such countervailing consideration. If a faculty member chooses to hold a lecture course in person or online, could they require their TA(s) to hold discussion sections in person if they feel that the risks of in-person teaching that the TA(s) would be compelled to bear are outweighed by the importance of educating Cornell undergraduates in the physical space of a classroom? I would hope the answer to this question is an adamant “no.” However, the C-TRO report fails to make plain that a faculty member would have to answer that question in the negative. In this respect, the report’s example of what a hybrid course might look like is telling. While it notes that a hybrid course “may take several forms,” the example it provides is a format with “the delivery of lecture online with discussion, recitation, or lab sections in-person.” By choosing that particular format as the exemplary model of a hybrid course, the report authorizes departments to structure their courses in such a way that would force their TAs to bear, even unwillingly, the increased, and potentially volatile, risks of in-person teaching.

  14. I write to support many other comments made on this thread and to strongly criticize the severe lack of autonomy of graduate students to protect their own health that the report enforces. The report recommends that “every effort should be made to provide [graduate] students who do not qualify for disability protections, but who feel at risk, the choice as to whether or not to teach in person.” By proclaiming that “every effort should be made” to provide accommodations to TAs who might feel uncomfortable teaching in person, the report actually implies that there exist countervailing considerations that those efforts to protect them could not surmount. Thus, the report’s recommendation does not go far enough to explicitly provide the choice to TAs to decide the teaching format in which they feel safest.

    If a faculty member chooses to hold a lecture course in person or online, could they require their TA(s) to hold discussion sections in person if they feel that the risks of in-person teaching that the TA(s) would be compelled to bear are outweighed by the importance of educating Cornell undergraduates in the physical space of a classroom? I would hope the answer to this question is an adamant “no.” However, the C-TRO report fails to make plain that a faculty member would have to answer that question in the negative. In this respect, the report’s example of what a hybrid course might look like is telling. While it notes that a hybrid course “may take several forms,” the example it provides is a format with “the delivery of lecture online with discussion, recitation, or lab sections in-person.” By choosing that particular format as the exemplary model of a hybrid course, the report authorizes departments to structure their courses in such a way that would force their TAs to bear, even unwillingly, the increased, and potentially volatile, risks of in-person teaching.

  15. I agree with what my peers have stated here. Please take these comments into consideration! TAs should not have to disclose medical information to their supervisors or instructors, and there should be an accessible way for them to request to teach remotely, without a need for specific documents. If TAs need to be in quarantine, it is important they can continue to receive their stipend during this time. Thank you for providing us with the opportunity to comment!

  16. This is ridiculous. TAs should not be forced to disclose sensitive health information and then have that information used against them when applying for roles and opportunities. As pointed out by others here, marginalized students may not have the documentation needed to get proper approval for online TA.

    I agree with all the comments my peers have made and ask that this be reconsidered.

  17. As an LGBTQIA+ graduate student, I am appalled by this policy. Students should not be forced to disclose confidential health information in the middle of an outbreak in order for them to work safely. Additionally, students who are not directly at risk but have partners and loved ones who are immunocompromised should not be forced to out themselves and their partner(s) to be able to obtain permission to work without posing a risk to their loved ones. While I am lucky to be able to be out to my advisor I know many students that are part of the graduate student LGBTQIA+ community are not.

    Furthermore, not all students will have the documentation needed to receive approval from the SDS to work safely from home due to their socioeconomic status and/or systemic oppression. Students without such documentation might be forced to visit a physician to fill out paperwork and thus traffick into areas that present a high risk for Covid-19 infections. Additionally, this forces physicians to take time away from patients with immediate needs to fill out paperwork for the university. Students who cannot afford to see a physician will be forced to put themselves in a life-threatening situation or sacrifice their careers.

    I fail to see what purpose this policy serves except to further the university’s bottom line at increased risk to graduate students’ lives. The obvious solution to this problem would be to simply make it the default for students to TA remotely with the option to opt-in to teach in person. This way students who want to teach in person can; but in making the default teaching remotely it normalizes the behavior of students who cannot put themselves at risk of infection due to health conditions and makes it so that they do not need to justify themselves or divulge private information. These things will disproportionately affect marginalized students who do not have the same access to healthcare, nor the time and energy to navigate Cornell bureaucracy that privileged students do.

    I call on the Board of Trustees and Cornell leaders to make good on President Martha Polluck’s statement, “that we will do all we can as a university to address this scourge of racism. We will address it directly in our educational programs, in our research and in our engagement and related activities, working through the ways we know best to push for a world that is equitable and kind; where people do not have to fear for their lives because of the color of their skin; and where everyone has the same opportunities to grow, thrive and enjoy their lives.” This policy honors neither the spirit nor the letter of the president’s statement and I believe Cornell should be doing everything in its power to end the institutional oppression of marginalized students. If university leadership allows this policy to come to fruition they will be hypocrites and responsible for causing needless suffering and harm to graduate students.

  18. TA’s return to work in the Fall and (all CU community members) is highly contingent on 3 crucial actions:

    1. COVID testing: When anyone returns to campus from outside of our local area (including travelers to and from), they need to be tested for COVID and simultaneously they need a minimum 2-week quarantine before they resume normal Cornell life. This should be mandatory since Tompkins county has worked hard to have low prevalence, and many other parts of our country and world may not, which means COVID could easily be brought back and ignite a new outbreak. In addition, it is imperative that surveillance COVID testing is regularly enforced to stop an outbreak in our currently safer community. Following and innovating like other university leaders to make this feasible, for example, what those at Univ. of CA, San Diego are doing with plans to set up kiosk’s and regularly test minimum of 75% of their community to control/ stop a new outbreak are the types of action we need to implement for keeping the general risk of contracting COVID lower.

    2. COVID precautions: All recommended changes/ alterations/ modifications/ safety precautions need to be executed and supported. This refers to classrooms only housing maximum number of people with minimum 6 feet spacing, everyone wearing masks, hand sanitizers more frequently placed, etc. Mask wearing and not remaining in close proximity for longer lengths of time is already supported by research as a very successful strategy to keep everyone safe. Also, any building with inadequate HVAC should be updated or modified to support better air circulation. These precautions are extremely important because the current evidence suggests that younger adults are asymptomatic carriers, which means even if a person would completely support staying home when they are feeling sick, they can spread it when they feel perfectly healthy.

    3. Option to Work-From-Home: There should be a supportive environment for anyone requesting work-from-home needs without invasive ‘proving’ you need it. This not only applies to anyone with heightened concerns for their health or someone they live with, but also this needs to be supported in general for anyone who is concerned they are sick. This was already a pre-COVID, fundamental social problem in America; that is, a general pressure to work when you are not well. How many people work when they are sick, often because they are worried about taking off the time, but if people felt supported to stay home, even when they mildly feel ill, they’re more likely to recover faster, and if it is before they are horribly sick (I’m picturing previously, like when someone gets the flu or something) they actually can accomplish work while home. If this means CU needs to add a rider to future plans that states a given member needs to have a plan for how/ what they work on when home, or this needs to be accommodated and planned by the immediate supervisor, so as to avoid an issue of someone taking advantage of this and not working, so be it. Current studies are showing that those who can adapt a work-from-home life or even part-time WFH, are showing equal or higher productivity than before COVID, so this should not be a feared social construct with moving forward. We are fortunate in that our world is so much more computer literate and capable than if COVID had occurred one generation ago. And we are so fortunate that teaching is a much more flexible job and environment to accommodate such needs. Our positions require research and writing, perfect for WFH. With creativity and understanding, implementing hybrid teaching plans is totally feasible!

    Thank you for allowing all voices to be heard and taking the time to consider these reasonable plans to keep all CU members safe.

  19. I agree with the points raised by the other commenters – please take them into serious consideration. Thank you!

  20. With the current proposal a graduate student on assistantship has to apply through a process with Student Disability Services, to opt out of TAing in person. This puts the students health issue/ disability open for faculty and others to look at. Not everyone is confrotable disclosing their personal health status (autoimmune conditions/others). To make this process simple it would be easier to establish an OPT IN method for all TAs in which all TAs would be automatically TAing over zoom unless they OPT IN for some in-person classes or all in-person classes.

  21. Cornell has an opportunity here to value the lives of graduate student TAs and to honor their previous recent statements of commitment to supporting BIPOC students by changing this policy to a more efficient and less discriminatory process, such as the no questions asked opt out option for faculty, that allows grad TAs to opt to teach at home.

    As a graduate student with a pre-existing condition that puts me at a higher risk, I have already disclosed to my course instructor my concerns with the hope that he will understand and accommodate me. I talked with my doctor about this several months ago in anticipation of something like this, and he has agreed to put together documents in the event that I need to submit them, but responses on his end have been slow because it’s a very busy and unusual time in history. Many students may not have documentation due to racism in medical care and/or lack of access to medical care due to its high cost in this country. The proposed slow and discriminatory bureaucratic process may cause many others to feel pressured into disclosure to their course instructor too. It is a great source of anxiety to have your income and health insurance on the line due to your health status. The current policy seems to have been drafted to protect the college legally (e.g., the different process for TAs living with a high risk individual due to the lack of ADA protections for this situation). In practice, however, the proposed policy is far from optimal for both the college and the students. The SDS office may be overburdened with requests, deans and faculty with no medical expertise will be burdened with making potentially life-threatening decisions for students and their partners/housemates/family members, and graduate TAs may be forced to choose between returning to the classroom and risking severe illness/death or dropping out. Prospective students will be deterred by this too. Please reconsider this.

  22. SDS is a process that we don’t see statistics of. How do we know that our fellow graduate students are being treated fairly when so much is up to the grad school’s decision. It needs to be easier than applying then appealing in order for grad students with undocumented anxieties/health concerns to teach remotely. This is especially true for BIPOC grad students!! Repeating the previous comments, there should be no coercion involved, especially since grad students are one of the least protected group on campus.

  23. The proposed policy is one made seemingly without the input or best interest of graduate students in mind.

    For one, it is absurd to make students who are immunocompromised or with chronic illness go through a potentially lengthy, multi-step process with SDS in order to do their work remotely if they don’t feel safe doing in-person work. It is possible that certain students don’t have the level of documentation needed, or do not feel comfortable having to disclose so much personal information in order to get the same accommodations that faculty will without the burden of proof. I also have concerns that SDS will likely be overburdened and overworked this coming semester, and that graduate students who truly need accommodations will not receive them in time.

    It is also absurd that if a faculty member disagrees with the assessment made by SDS, then the SDS process is made null. Why give individual faculty, who are not in any way trained in the topic of student disability services, power over this decision?

    It is also strange to me that the process for accommodations looks very different if you are the individual who is, say, immunocompromised, and if you are say, living with an individual who is immunocompromised. I do not fundamentally understand why the latter must go through a completely different process, disclosing personal and private information to their advisor, department, or Dean Allen. If for personal health conditions, there is concern for graduate students not discussing medical issues with their supervisors, why is this concern thrown out the window when it is other potentially sensitive information, say the medical issues of a graduate student’s partner or roommate?

    I want to advocate for a broad, flexible, and easily accessible process to appeal in-person graduate work. I think that given this option, most graduate students will be more than happy to continue doing in-person research or teaching. However, for those who have serious health and safety concerns, I worry that the complexity, roadblocks, and power imbalances of the proposed process will effectively force graduate students into vulnerable positions that take a toll on their mental and physical health.

  24. It is unacceptable to put graduate students lives at risk by forcing them to work in an unsafe environment especially if refusal means the end of their health care. Forcing students to provide documentation to prove on why they need accommodation WILL be deadly for students who are unable to provide such evidence, and this is especially relevant for students of low socioeconomic standing and Black students. If students are granted accommodation it is extremely inappropriate to have faculty members contest that. Faculty members, the Dean of Faculty, and the VP of Student and Campus Life are not qualified to make life-saving decisions. How is that even legal? They have no health expertise and cannot make an informed decision as they are not allowed to see confidential health records. Cornell will have blood on its hands if it moves forward with this plan, but it seems that Cornell views student lives as disposable.

  25. As a PhD student who served as the graduate representative on the C-POT reopening committee and is planning to teach in the fall, I am appalled by the lack of foresight in this policy. Here are my concerns:

    1. SDS is already likely to be overburdened this summer and fall. In addition to the usual number of students needing accommodations, many students’ underlying health conditions have worsened while being unable to get treatment for long-term care needs during the pandemic. The pandemic has also had an adverse effect on mental health. Forcing students and SDS staff to go through a complicated, time-consuming process for remote-teaching requests will divert SDS resources from where they are most needed.

    2. SDS requires extensive medical documentation of health conditions in order for students to receive accommodations. If Cornell is truly committed to supporting antiracist policies and promoting equality, consider these well-documented facts: Black patients are much less likely to have their illnesses believed and documented; lower income patients are less likely to be able to afford visits to specialists who can diagnose complicated medical conditions. On top of that, some students have rare medical conditions that may not be on the official list of conditions that qualify for an accommodation, but nonetheless put students at real risk. The SDS process does not have the flexibility to account for these issues.

    3. Having students who cannot go through SDS ask their supervisor for an accommodation is a huge breach of privacy. Imagine an LGBTQ student having to “out” themselves when a supervisor asks for detail about their spouse’s situation. Imagine a student having to bring up confidential and humiliating details about a medical condition that was denied by SDS due to insufficient documentation. A process that allows supervisors to pry into students’ private lives and make life-and-death calls affecting students and their loved ones with little oversight is an unconscionable breach of students’ privacy. The fact that the Graduate School’s Grievance Procedure can be invoked does not remedy the initial breach of privacy, nor guarantee a fair outcome (the majority of the Graduate Grievance Review Board are not graduate students; none of the board are medical or mental health experts).

    This accommodations policy was drafted by legal council–people who do not teach and do not understand the power dynamics that graduate students face–with no input from the student representatives on the reopening committees.

    Many graduate students, including myself, are perfectly happy to teach in the classroom this fall if the necessary precautions are taken. The university’s teaching mission will not crumble if administrators allow graduate TAs who have concerns about teaching in-person this fall to teach remotely.

    However, if graduate students feel they are being coerced against their will into dangerous situations, many negative consequences will result: an overburdened SDS office, low TA morale, mental health problems, absent TAs, the likelihood of TA strikes, negative PR.

    I call on the Board of Trustees and the senior leadership of Cornell University to consider the potentially catastrophic consequences of this policy before approving it.

    Instead, please consider a process where graduate TAs can confidentially apply to teach remotely without needing to provide documentation.

    1. Although I agree with many of the other commenters that graduate students should not be treated differently from faculty, I am deeply disturbed by those who are demanding an online-only semester in the fall.

      Online work and education is inherently unequal. It is a privilege which primarily the upper middle class and wealthy can afford. It discriminates against those with low incomes, poor internet access, large families or crowded homes, lack of home workspace and resources, and other issues which university campuses help to ameliorate. Many less privileged Cornell graduate students and TAs have suffered enough from the past several months of forced online learning and teaching and should not be forced to put up with more if they do not want to. Cornell cannot stand by its message of being against inequality and discrimination if it does not open its campus to those who wish to come in the fall.

      Additionally, many of the proposed safety measures for campus are equally discriminatory and ableist. Graduate (and undergraduate) students with anxiety and panic disorders, PTSD, severe claustrophobia, autism, and sensory sensitivity may have serious trouble wearing a face mask all day. Students belonging to racial minorities have expressed concern that they will be discriminated against when wearing face masks. Social distancing protocols will be difficult or impossible for students and TAs with physical disabilities who may need help getting around campus. There must be a process to come up with alternative solutions or exemptions for disabled students who cannot comply with the proposed restrictions. They cannot be forced to stay home and learn and teach online against their will (see above concerns about the inequality of online education), unless the university wants to open itself up to further accusations of discrimination.

      So to get back on topic, I agree that graduate students should have the option to learn and teach from home if they wish, just as faculty will have that option. But, very importantly, it should be an OPTION. Not forced upon us again without individual needs taken into account and without our consent. And those who teach from home must be held accountable for providing a quality education and being just as engaged and available as in-person TAs. The students should not suffer because of their teacher’s choice. And TAs should not be paid if they choose to stay home and treat it like an extended vacation. I know that many have taken their jobs very seriously and have done well online, and I am grateful to them, but unfortunately not all have done so.

      Finally, I just want to express my disappointment in the other commenters who would let fear and the illusion of total “safety” turn them against their own professed values. The university must offer the option for graduate students, TAs, and faculty to return to campus in the fall if they wish, and it must offer in-person options for disabled students who cannot comply with “safety” protocol. Otherwise we will be continuing to lift up the wealthy, privileged, and able members of the Cornell community while others slip through the cracks. Those who are so terrified of a virus with an over 99% survival rate that they would impose their will on others may choose to stay home. The rest of us would like to accept a small amount of risk (as we do with so many other aspects of our lives) so that we may have a high-quality, in-person, just, equal, non-discriminatory education again. I trust that an Ivy League university with a history of offering an excellent education to all will not give in to panic and hysteria and leave their values in the dust.

      1. I agree with your points, but to assume that in-person education was ever just, equal, and non-discriminatory education was a thing prior to COVID19, is missing a huge mark.

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