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Posted on Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

Allowing grad students to unionize threatens University of Michigan's research prowess

By Guest Column

(Editor's note: In this guest opinion, Thomas Zurbuchen, the University of Michigan College of Engineering's associate dean for entrepreneurial programs, criticizes the U-M Board of Regents for allowing grad student researchers to unionize. At $180 million, the College of Engineering's annual research spending is larger than most public universities' entire research budget.)

As a professor and researcher at the University of Michigan, I stand in utter disbelief concerning the regents’ decisions on May 19 to open up the path toward unionization of our graduate student research assistants (GSRAs).

This vote endangers a very important reason many faculty and students, including myself, are part of the University of Michigan — its excellence in research!


Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean of entrepreneurial programs for the University of Michigan's College of Engineering

File photo |

Just like many of my fellow professors, I came to Michigan to build a research group that is considered a leader in my field. My group is known for innovative space instruments.

We currently operate six space instruments in flight and are in the process of building the next instrument that will explore the sun up close. My group explores and discovers new worlds. For example, our Michigan-built space instrument recently went into orbit about the planet Mercury.

We have invented new technologies, and members of my research group, including myself, have started or supported companies and have collaborated with businesses in Michigan and beyond.

The reason I joined the University of Michigan is simple: The recruiting chair told me one thing that tipped the scale, “Michigan is about excellence. In most places, if you are top 10, you are celebrated. Here, if you are top 10, you are scrutinized and asked why you are not at the top.”

That is a place I wanted to work at. The standards here are high. That’s why the University of Michigan is competitive. I recently talked to a newly hired professor who told me, after being recruited both by the U-M and one of our top peers, “University of Michigan is like MIT with fewer egos and with more collaboration. That’s why I’m here!”

The reason I built my group here is in no small part because of the ability at the University of Michigan to work with some of the best graduate students anywhere. Graduate students are inventors, innovators and sometimes mentors to undergraduates.

Just like so many of our new hires, the best Michigan students have numerous opportunities elsewhere. We spend a lot of time each year recruiting the best graduate students to Ann Arbor, and then train them to become researchers who will have global impact.

This training operates in a proven process that connects GSRAs to their professors in a way that enables deep mentorship and empowerment that is based on excellence and academic rigor.

The objective of these students is indeed ambitious: To learn something that is not yet known, and to become the best person in the world in a given field. Thus, the best graduate programs are programs that have the best faculty worldwide and also manage to recruit the best graduate students.

I believe that a GSRA union will undercut Michigan’s excellence in research and thus its position as one of the leading public research universities, and it does so for two key reasons.

First, unionization negatively impacts or destroys the very process by which the best students are being educated: A third party (the union) is intervening in an educational program that critically depends on the trust and mentorship relation of faculty and their students. Many great faculty and Ph.D. candidates will immediately recognize this as an obstacle toward achieving educational success.

Our Ph.D.’s are not about doing the same as others, but about creating the best results, the greatest impact. How could a union possibly help that objective?

Second, our competitiveness to recruit top talent would substantially decrease. Many of my most successful colleagues and fellow professors would not seriously consider working in a place with unionized graduate students.

There are several universities that have unionized faculty and students. But none of them is doing research at the level of Michigan. In fact, not one of our peer institutions against which the university competes for faculty and graduate students is unionized.

Furthermore, I find this discussion doubly troubling because it occurs during a time when the university is examining how it could increase its entrepreneurial impact through its research.

Each year, the university spins out 10 or more high-quality startups based on inventions by faculty and their Ph.D. students. We also have an additional 40 or so companies each year founded by students during their classes or in their free time. Michigan’s entrepreneurial programs are expanding and entrepreneurial thinking is becoming prevalent around campus.

Unionizing our graduate students undercuts this growth. Entrepreneurial thinking has at its core the understanding of the relationship of risk and reward. It’s about being a leader, not about being equal.

It is for these reasons that all deans and professors I talked to feel like we are playing with fire as, due to the regents’ vote, we are inching closer to unionizing GSRAs. I sure hope our graduate students understand what’s at stake here. But I cannot possibly understand how the majority of our regents came to the conclusion they did.

Thomas Zurbuchen is a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. He is also the founding director of the Center for Entrepreneurship.


matt campbell

Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 8:20 p.m.

As with all organisations, the leadership and ethos of the organisation is the most important. If the aim of the unions is noble, then it can only aim to advance the sipirt of excellence held by the university.


Mon, Jul 4, 2011 : 7:15 p.m.

Interesting that a man who claims to be both a scientist and a researcher has used no science or research to reach his conclusion in this piece. Where are the studies showing the relationship between graduate student unions and entrepreneurship, the statistics addressing the decline of competitiveness, the graphs, the charts? The facts, monsieur, the facts? The very weak arguments you advanced are 19th century industrialist cant, nothing more. Kudos to the editor (in the print version of this article) for the "sky-is-falling" tie-in headline of "Union will destroy education process". Not a trace of bias to be detected here. By the way--did you even read the article? It doesn't say that the education process will be destroyed---but that the status quo will be threatened. Very different concepts. I think the entrepreneurial spirit is something you are born with, or not, and a willingness to alter the status quo is an important component of that psychological make-up. In this case, it looks like the people who are willing to challenge the status quo are the graduate students. More power to them!


Mon, Jul 4, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

The author is spot on. Unionization creates and accepts mediocrity. Michigan does not want to become the Leaders and Mediocre. Unionization bites at what the Univeristy stands for, creativity and innovation.

say it plain

Sat, Jul 2, 2011 : 4:05 a.m.

*This* is writing coming from a UM professor who considers himself 'excellent' lol?! I sure hope English isn't his native language, because this is so poorly written that it makes me question his abilities to *think*. There is nothing logical, rational, *useful* in this opinion piece. It is merely a rant, showing bias and adopting a rather threatening tone. Ew. I can see why graduate students in departments that might foster or allow such stylings might want to develop tools to maintain their integrity, their rights, in the face of such attitudes and lack of consideration.

Rob T

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 9 p.m.

Having read this article, I'm not at all clear about the downside to unions. I see that a) unions would be a third-party intervening in the educational process and b) top faculty don't want to work in a unionzied environment. I can sort of understand unions intervening in the advisor-student relationship, though I'd argue that the university itself already does this (e.g. through guidelines, policies, administration). It's unclear, though, why faculty don't want to work in a unionized environment--there's only the assertion that top faculty don't like to work in unionized schools. I'd be grateful for more clarity on this.


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 5:27 p.m.

About 70% of this article is some of the silliest boosterism I have ever read. But when you get past that, the dean makes the argument that unionized research assistants will somehow make U of M less competitive, presumably because they will demand (and get) better pay and workplace conditions. This is a tired justification that anti-union managers have used for decades, and has led to the "race to the bottom" that all of us have been experiencing in the US. If collective bargaining makes organizations less competitive, then I suppose the NFL and the NBA have some of the worst players in the world.


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 5:15 p.m.

In case you were wondering... From the campaign contribution list for Synder: ZURBUCHEN, THOMAS H Government Agencies/Education/Other Education Schools & colleges ANN ARBOR, MI 3400


Mon, Jul 4, 2011 : 3:22 p.m.

Mr. Z was with the 57% MAJORITY to reinvent Michigan! ROCK ON RICK!


Sat, Jul 2, 2011 : 7:57 p.m.

Thanks Will for the compliment ! Yes, the truth sometimes hurts.

Will Warner

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 6:46 p.m.

Townie, you're a courageous (though strangely anonymous) bringer of truth

Milton Shift

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 3:42 a.m.

Most graduate student research assistants I know work a minimum of 80 hours a week, get no weekends ever, work unpaid through vacations, don't take sick days, etc. 320 hours a month... an average income of 2000 a month before tax... that's 6.25/hour. Cry me a river, Mr. Zurbuchen. I'm so sorry you might have to pay minimum wage.


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

Few egos? HA! I can only imagine what a place with more ego is like.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:58 p.m.

There is no reason a student that is attending a school should unionize-- this is just a socialist agenda being deployed against am erica. These are just young people attempting to usurp power from those that supervise them in their studies . Why not have high school kids unionize? This would be just another public employee type union that would get out of control as the many other public employee unions have demonstrated that they are out of control. They are in school -- we subsidize their learning -- unionizing will only cost the regular taxpayer -(less than 50% of people pay taxes) more m only and cause overspending. NO TO THIS UNION. Have these people finish their studies and get a real job in the private marketplace.


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 1:41 a.m.

I don't like to assume, but I'm going to go ahead and ask you if you also believe that corporations paying lower taxes spurs the job market?


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 1:38 a.m.

Heardoc, your ignorance is shining brightly. The grad students are paid employees however with clouded mandates for management at the discretion of the departments. What they are paid compared to the hours and work they put in is an absolute joke. It's akin to the abuse of medical students/residents at hospitals. Without unions, dept heads and profs can use grad students at will without recourse. It's wrong.

Greg Gunner

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 9:55 p.m.

Unions quite simply put protect their member's rights: the right to fair compensation, the right to reasonable work hours, the right to safe working conditions, the right to work in an environment free from physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual harrassment, etc. I'm assuming our professor is against these rights as they pertain to graduate students? If rights were not being abused (at least by some of the UM professors) there would be no demand for a union. Get over it and realize that your graduate assistants are human beings and deserve to be treated as such. Slavery, at least in this country, ended nearly a century and a half ago. The only change you will see with a union is improved morale, because it will provide a mechanism for solving problems that create a poorly performing workforce. Ignore the problem at you own peril, professor.

Will Warner

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

Greg, what right did I violate when I did things a union guy was supposed to do because I just couldn't wait any longer? I was making their jobs easier, not harder, but It must have been somehow wrong because I got slapped with grievances. How does your "rights" calculus account for that? You have a rather rosy-eyed view of how unionized work places actually function.

Mike K

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:54 p.m.

And Greg Gunner speaks. Still waiting for your solution to solve poverty Greg. Maybe we all throw our paychecks into a pot and distribute the contributions equally?? Sound like a good idea, Greg?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

Ummm, University of Michigan's hospital system strives to be not merely a top 10 institution but a leader in its areas of expertise. And, ummm, that hospital system boasts the largest union of its kind in the state, if not the Midwest, with its nurses. And, ummm, that union has been in force for decades. And, ummm, UM Hospital's quality has not wained during that time.


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 1:34 a.m.

Heardoc, you are dead wrong. The stuff Snyder and Wiscy's governor and Ohio's are trying to slam through is what will drive down quality at the hospital, not unions fighting to be sure nurses get the pay they deserve.

Josh Skodack

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 12:25 a.m.

false heardoc. The Medical School is public. Anymore ignorance you want to spread?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:02 p.m.

The hospital is a private institution-- and separate from the university. The MNA (Nurses union) is a private union. No comparison to a public employee union and any attempt to try to equate the two is a false argument. I am for private unions -- NO PUBLIC EMPLOYEE UNIONS!


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 8:19 p.m.

Pretty disconcerting that Dr. Zurbuchen can be so uneducated and employ such weak (almost non-existent) 'logic'. He's basically speculating and apparently on his own political views more than anything else. I was a grad student TA (Teaching Assistant) at a large state university in Massachusetts and would have appreciated a union. Many professors used and treated us like surfs just telling us to cover early classes (8 AM...) for them, grade their own class exams, steal lesson plans, etc. I even had one professor take one of my papers and put his own name on it and submit it for publication in a scholarly magazine (a copy of the magazine was sent to me anonymously). None of us TAs could ever even dare protest -- you knew you'd get retaliation and the 'nobles' always won any disputes with the surfs. The deck was stacked against you. Go somewhere else and start over again is basically the situation - lose years of work and chance being labelled a 'troublemaker'. Anyone who says 'oh, they can just go somewhere else' doesn't understand the whole situation. If a union is voted in then everyone will know that abuses have reached an intolerable level.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 12:42 a.m.

You expect heardoc to actually have facts or logic in his posts? Don't hold your breath. Good Night and Good Luck


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 12:15 a.m.

Heardoc - Ever been a TA or graduate student working for a prof? Doubt it.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:59 p.m.

you speculate quite a bit -- much hypocrisy on your part.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

In speaking with some close relatives that recently received PhD's: These professors are worried their slave labor will disappear. They don't want someone to force them to be more fair with their students. They know graduate students are far more productive than research technicians, because graduate students have a vested interest in the research since their graduation hangs in the balance and they are laying a foundation for a life-long career, so they are willing to work harder and longer. However, mentors often take advantage of this situation since they have all the power and the students have no protection. Research technicians are formal employees protected by the university. They usually just want a pay check and are not required to work more than 40 hrs/week, and are entitled to overtime pay if they do, plus they get guaranteed benefits and vacation time. Recently, postdocs have been forming unions/leveraging for better benefits throughout the country. So, lab dynamics are unfair when you have the graduate students literally slaving away without an advocate alongside research technicians and postdocs who have protection and more benefits. I wouldn't necessarily consider students employees, but I think they need more protection because they are not employees (no HR to turn to) and their mentors often try to string them along for years waving the promise of a degree in front of them, and sometimes moving the finish line repeatedly. Most graduate students only have their thesis committee to turn to, but these people are not really student advocates – they usually aren't going to make a stand for a student and ruin their relationship with a colleague who will remain long after the student is gone. Graduate students are hard working on their own initiative – they want to be successful, and they know that means hard work and long hours. Most would continue to work like slaves, but they deserve to have some formal rights and benefits. "


Mon, Jul 4, 2011 : 3:25 p.m.

I don't think you really understand what slave labor is. The researchers are paid, gain experience, and many get additional scholarship or grant money. Last time I checked in on a lab I did not observe any grad researchers chained to bunson burner!

Josh Skodack

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 12:22 a.m.

Bacon, why are you paying $15k in tuition for your students. I know for a fact that during my last semester as a PhD candidate my tuition has not gone above $6.5k per semester. Secondly, adding up the employer paid costs of grad care came to $2.1k per semester. As per the slave labor comment, that is precisely the reason I quit my doctoral program. I was in a lab that expect much more than 60+ hours per week, with no breaks, 2 weeks for Christmas. I was under a GSI appointment as my adviser did not have the funding to support my research project. I received little if any real support from my department, adviser, and my thesis committee. I worked like a slave. Leaving my doctoral program was one of the best decisions I made in my life.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:48 p.m.

BB: The medical residents unionized ages ago. As you surmise, it basically changed nothing - they still worked long hours. What it did was codify salary / benefits across the residency programs. This actually simplified things in many respects. There was no real threat of "striking" as doing so would only hurt the residents themselves. Ultimately, work hours were reduced not through the union but through ACGME mandates.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:43 p.m.

Heardoc: Whose integrity? Did you post in the correct thread?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

I question your integrity on this matter. No professor would speak in the manner you describe and I doubt any of what you stated ever occurred.

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:58 p.m.

It happens more at the top-5 schools, but I do have colleagues that expect 60+ hours a week from their graduate students. However, this is widely known to be going on -- students are not tricked or coerced into joining these labs. From what I know, the students in those groups are perfectly happy. They knew the faculty to be a "slave driver" and find that situation suitable. Most faculty in my department are more in line with my expectations of 40-50 h/week. All student's have thesis committees with at least 3 other faculty. In my time here, I have seen one case where the student appealed to their committee about their advisor treating them poorly and the end result was the student switched groups. Also, each department has staff that handle these types of issues when they come up. And, of course, the university has ombuds that can be used to settle disputes between faculty and students. Sorry, I don't know anything about the issues at the medical school that led to the residents unionizing. In the end, it's possible that the unionization won't change anything in my department. I know we already pay very well (we do that to attract students who would otherwise go to Berkeley or MIT -- cheaper cost of living and higher stipend do make a difference in some of these decisions) and I only know of a few problems that have occurred between faculty and student (and those were resolved)... Personally, I dislike this unionization idea because I don't see any benefit for the students (at least in my department and from my perspective). I've not seen any compelling reason to do it. I do understand the union's desire (money), but I just cannot see many changes occurring to the pay scale without it causing labs to switch to armies of postdocs...


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:23 p.m.

BB: Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I have known some graduate mentors who are not as charitable as you are. Is there a mechanism to protect graduate students from being used as "slave labor" as asserted by my relative? Also, are you aware of the precedent for this within the medical school (i.e. the medical residents have a union)? The latter does not seem to have stifled research and innovation. Again, much gratitude for posting your experience in the area.

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 8:27 p.m.

In speaking as someone with a Ph.D. and who directs a group of 10 Ph.D. students: I ask my graduate students to work between 40-50 hours a week (including lunch and coffee/gym breaks). That isn't a lot to ask. However, I also stress that to be competitive in this very dismal job market that they need to be highly productive. As you indicated, this often results in some of the top students working 60 hours a week. In terms of productivity, it's not appropriate to compare technicians and graduate students. At least in my field, technicians are used for performing a focused task. They wouldn't get the same type of project as a graduate student. It's a far better comparison between postdocs and graduate students. A good postdoc is typically 2x as efficient as an average graduate student (that probably is not a surprise given they have more training and experience). A postdoc costs me (total costs including benefits around $55,000). As I stated earlier, I pay roughly $51,000 for a graduate student (every faculty member at UM pays for the tuition of their graduate students). So postdocs cost the same as a grad student and are more efficient. Why not hire a lab full of postdocs? Some labs do. I personally believe that being at a University means training students (graduate and undergraduate). HOWEVER, if it it becomes difficult or more complicated or more expensive to interact with graduate students, I will certainly focus on postdocs and stop training grad students. Or I'll leave U-M and take $2.5MM/year of funding with me.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 8:05 p.m.

This should start "In speaking with some close relatives that recently received their PhDs, this was their response:"


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 7:22 p.m.

according to the author "This vote endangers a very important reason many faculty and students, including myself, are part of the University of Michigan — its excellence in research!". Jeez I thought it was to teach. Isn't this why the state established a public University in the first place?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:08 p.m.

With all due respect Jake, that's crap. What public Universities need is more competent and affordable lecturers not research professors that can't and don't teach and if they do, only want to sell their latest textbook. This is the reason University tuition is skyrocketing. We "think" we need to hire big gun researchers, who make huge salaries, take in millions of public funding, teach one or two courses a year and devote their time time trying to get more money. Then, they try to patent their technology (using public legal resources) and hope to license the public funded research (they get 50% at U of M) to companies who sell it back to the public at inflated prices or start their own business. Good deal for everyone except the public. Oh, and of course they need a Taj Mahal to work in too. Research should be self funding and not a drop in tuition should ever go to fund research.

Jake C

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 8:36 p.m.

Sure, teaching is important for the first year or three of an Undergraduate Program. But simply teaching a bunch of 18-year-olds about Shakespeare and Freud doesn't bring in millions of dollars of research grants, nor does it adequately prepare students for high-level modern careers. If you want to teach anything cutting-edge, it requires research professors, which requires lots of money, which requires grants. How would you prefer to learn about solar technology, or naval architecture? Would you be content to read some textbooks someone wrote 5 years ago? Or would you choose to actually build a solar car or help design the next generation of US Navy ships, from the leading expert in the field?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 7:20 p.m.

Normally I am not a huge fan of unions but in this case I think it is needed. The profs abuse grad students and flaunt UM policy. I know one UM prof who has people working in his lab for free (no pay). This could setup the UM for a huge litigation problem if one of these people were to get injured.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:08 p.m.

As far as a student being injured in a lab --this would be covered under work comp rules under the Volunteerism clause. Please be more accurate when posting.

drummer boy

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 6:55 p.m.

the author of this piece seems to be all about competition. unions give workers more power and make more competitive at the bargaining table. that's why for instance the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL have players' unions. Because as individuals they have no power at all in negotiating with management and owners. the author claims that graduate students will stay away from schools that are unionized. Rather, the situation is just the opposite; an intelligent graduate student will stay away from institution that has no organization that will give them leverage in negotiations, where they would have to bargain as individuals in a power relationship that is unequal to begin with.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:11 p.m.

Unions are not more competitive-- I have never seen or heard of a legitimate study that would state the unions are more competitive than non union work places. Even Boeing is moving out of Washington state due to the unions in order to be more competitive. I believe and am correct in stating that your argument is false.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

This is quite a hypocritical article considering the author has tenure.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:12 p.m.

What does tenure have to do with grad students unionizing -- a bit of class warfare here --


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 5:35 p.m.

He makes the point he is so smart and that is why he is where he is today. Dude, your work would be really meaningful if we all lived on Mars. Literally. No unions there either. Otherwise, get over it and use your superior brain to deal with it, or go to one of those better places to work. Not like Mars is going anywhere soon. Cause we all know that those union people cannot think and work as hard as a space parts man.

Elizabeth Sikkenga

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

Ironically, your argument is based on opinions, rather than demonstrable facts. How do you know that many of your colleagues would not consider working at a university with unionized graduate students? Has any research been done on this? If so you don't mention it. I find your argument unpersuasive.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:17 p.m.

A union is simply a democracy, one member one vote. I belong to a union, aka The United States of America! Why have the words democracy or union become a taboo in America? To me it still means "Those who stand together with pride and commitment." America


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

I can say Germany, Sweden and Norway. All heavily unionized and doing just fine, thank you.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:15 p.m.

Unions are not democracy-- they are socialistic and therefore are not democratic. They seek to hold down competition while driving up wages artificially. Can you say Greece, Portugal, Spain Or Ireland?

Lemmy Caution

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:02 p.m.

As a UM prof who has worked with unionized PhD students (via GEO) and lecturer (via LEO) for years, I would note that in my case their unionization has had no known negative effects in the teacher/student or supervisor/lecturer relationship. It has had no noticeable effect on my capacity to mentor my own students. Moreover, I have no colleagues who've told me of such problems. I would guess that Professor Zerbuchen is an outlier if he's had such experiences. I worry that his fears may be ideologically motivated rather than evidence-based. I wish he presented more solid evidence to back up his opinion, rather than denigrate our students and workers and their concerns. Unfortunately there are rogue professors who exploit their graduate students and lab workers in terms of hours, last-minute demands, inconsiderate treatment, and demeaning duties (personal chores). The unions are good in these cases for reminding the professor/employers that there are rules of the road, even when an employee is also one's intellectual mentee (ie., being mentored by you). Professors, especially as they advance in rank and forget the perspective of lower-power folks, too often forget to see things from the point of view of those working under them. Power is like that; it's blinding. It is well known that students and others workers talk about how to avoid the more exploitative professors and/or bad mentors. Sometimes they can, sometimes they cannot (because of the small specialized research topic they both work in).

Max Peters

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 3:37 p.m.

Some facts... * Grad school is an apprenticeship. * Getting a PhD is not a right just because you get admitted. * A student has to demonstrate that they are capable of independently solving a problem that has not been solved before. * The standards are subjective because every project, curriculum, and outcome is different (by definition) because of this a union would only getting in the way. * Grad students in the sciences are getting paid close to $30k per year. I got $20k 10 yrs ago at Cornell University. * They get the same health care benefits as faculty * They pay $0 in tuition * If everything goes right, they also get a degree - for free You'd have to be an idiot (i.e. in the humanities where this isn't necessarily true) to think that you need a union to get a better deal. The students hate fees and they will only be paying one more fee to the union to get what they've already got.

Josh Skodack

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 12:03 a.m.

no kidding brb11. I would love to work in that department as well. Sign me up for the faculty insurance as well. I would love to get dental insurance that covers more than getting a filling replaced.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:45 p.m.

As a current graduate student at the University, I would love to work in whatever science department pays students close to $30k per year. I'd actually be rather interested in finding out which science department this is.

John B.

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:14 p.m.

Then I guess they are free to vote 'no' in any unionization vote, huh? Sounds like freedom to me.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Unions don't seem to hurt institutions like UCLA, Caltech, MIT, etc. I guess that argument goes out the door.

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

CalTech and MIT do not have graduate student assistant unions. The UC system does -- they are represented by UAW. I was a graduate student at a UC school. The UAW is only interested in the student's money.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 3:02 p.m.

Keeping in mind that this is an opinion piece, the author seems to base all on personal bias and nothing on fact -- lots of could, perhaps, and maybe's: i.e., "Top tier candidates and professors would NEVER work for an institution with unionized GRSA's etc." Do you know this for a fact, or is this the grumblings of a few ideologically-driven folks "speaking" for the masses?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

sh1, I am sorry. I meant to say the highest drop out rate at 7.4% (tied with Louisiana). I did misspeak on the workfoce as we are 41st not 50th, and Michigan has 19.9% union employmnet and 15% unemployment which is highest in the country. My point stands. Unions do NOT create jobs. Unions DO hurt employment. As a union supporter, how about YOU support YOUR position with some facts for once!


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

The University of Michigan has a graduate student union-the second oldest in the country. It currently represents Graduate Student Instructors and Graduate Student Student Assistants. Professor Zurbuchen offers biased and faulty logic on several points. The union is not a third party intervening between graduate students and faculty. The union is composed of graduate students themselves who seek merely to make sure that their working conditions are safe and that they had adequate resources to do their jobs well. This strengthens their commitment to do their job well. Professor Zurbuchen overlooks the fact that there are many, many departments across campus in which the majority of their graduate employees (GSIs) are unionized, and that these departments are some of the highest ranked in the nation. The History Department, for example, is consistently ranked within the top 10 in the country. The union, in fact, helps to bring stronger candidates to the University, as graduate students want to know that they will be at a University that will respect them as students and employees that contribute to the mission of U of M. The union (graduate students) does not interfere in the relationships between adviser or PI and grad student. The highlights of the last contract include disability accommodations to better prepare grads to do their work, clean lactation spaces, dental coverage for low fraction employees, keys for music students to access their building after hours, increased child care subsidies, and expanded timeline for SEVIS reimbursement. What about this, Dr. Zurbuchen, do you object to? As I see it, access to such resources can only serve to draw higher caliber students to our University and provide them with the resources necessary to do their job well. You certainly do not speak for all faculty at our University, you don't understand what the union is or how it functions, and you underestimate the commitment to excellence of U of M grads.

Josh Skodack

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : midnight

False baconbits. Numerous graduate students perform their PhD research work as GSI's. GSI's are typically either first/second year graduate students not on their adviser's grant or not holding a fellowship. Graduate students can also be forced onto a GSI appointment if their advisers lack grant funding to support their students under a GSRA appointment. Therefore, graduate students must perform GSI work in addition to their graduate research. Basically, GSI's typically work two positions a paid GSI appointment and an unpaid GSRA appointment.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 3:18 p.m.

And we certainly know change is always bad, isn't it, bacon bits?

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

GSIs are unionized, but no one runs their lab using GSIs. At least no one with significant funding does.

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

Two quick points: 1) GSRA unionization will cause the top faculty at UM to leave, taking with them their federal funding (of which U-M gets 54% indirect costs). The job of a professor is tough enough, if you add another layer of complexity and red tape, the best faculty will go elsewhere. 2) Graduate students will be paying $300 a year and get nothing from it. If you look at the salaries for GSRAs, they are already higher than our peer institutions. What benefit will the students gain for their money? In terms of comparing what a graduate student receives for compensation: - $26,500 stipend (in my department) - $16,000 tuition - $8,000 fringe benefits (health care, etc) = $50,500. That isn't anything to complain about considering they are earning a Ph.D. at the same time. I don't see what a union will get them on top of this because U-M already pays more than our peers.

Bacon Bits

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 1:28 a.m.

Here are grad care costs (and stipend info): <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Bacon Bits

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 1:25 a.m.

I'm averaging. LSA/Rackham tuition is $9000 ($18,000 out of state) per semester for a pre-candidate. And candidates are $5,000 per semester. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Josh Skodack

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:56 p.m.

I should have applied for your department. Your GSRA stipend is 20% higher than mine. However, PhD candidate tuition is only $6500 per semester, not $15000. Fringe benefits is not $8000 but $2400. I don't where you are getting your numbers.

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 3 p.m.

friend12: Top faculty switch jobs often and their grants go with them. They are not tied to the school, they are transferable. As for avoiding work, haha... I'm an Assistant Professor and I work 80 hours a week (in my office and more at home). This involves writing grants, I submit about 6 grants a year, writing manuscripts, directing my graduate students (easily 20 hours a week spent doing this) and of course teaching. During the academic year, I have 3 contact hours per week and spend roughly 10-15 hours working on my lectures per week. And 50% of my salary comes directly from grants I was successful on. Is that letting others do work for me? Really? 2) Not sure what you mean they pay for the Ph.D.? Graduate students pay nothing for a Ph.D. (in my and all science departments).


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:50 p.m.

1) No one will leave unless they lose their grant/research money. That is a reality of university professors. The school won't lose grant funding over this. &quot;The job of a professor is tough enough, if you add another layer of complexity and red tape, the best faculty will go elsewhere.&quot; Typical avoiding work arrogant statement that comes from professors on a regular basis. You might actually have to spend time working instead of others doing all the work for you. 2) Pay isn't the issue so your numbers are interesting, but, really aren't meaningful. Also, they have to pay for that PHD which I guess you forgot about.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

Plubius, by all means, please move to a non-union state. I imagine you would prefer a place like Oxford, Mississippi. That UM won't have a graduate student union anytime soon, and just think about what a research powerhouse they will now become compared to our UM, with all this unionization going on. What a joke.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

Thomas is 100% correct. If the grad student create a union, then UM will become an insignificant school. Anyone who thinks differently is simply deluding themselves. There is not a single organization or industry which has ever become stronger or more competitive due to unionization. Time to start thinking about moving. UM was one of the few bright spots left in the state, but its light will rapidly fade.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 8:25 p.m.

Hey, move to Texas, TN, MS, etc. wonderful states with none of those unions. Of course, the people are uneducated, wages very low and zero culture but that's just a minor tradeoff.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

&quot;Time to start thinking about moving. UM was one of the few bright spots left in the state, but its light will rapidly fade.&quot; You should have left long ago if you really believe this statement. Pretty bad if you think a shool is a &quot;bright spot&quot;.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

You certainly don't know the university well, or you would be aware that there is already a grad student union that represents Grad Student Instructors and Student Assistants. Some of the highest ranked departments in the country are composed almost entirely of unionized grads. The union has only served to strengthen the university and draw even higher caliber students to U of M.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:42 p.m.

Well, for heaven's sake, don't head to the West Coast. Their public universities are union. And look what it's done to their economy...oh, wait.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

@nekm: Can you provide proof for any of your statements that Michigan has the lowest graduation rate in the country, the worst educated workforce, or that there is a correlation between union protection and any of the fears you project?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

I am sorry. I meant to say the highest drop out rate at 7.4% (tied with Louisiana). I did misspeak on the workfoce as we are 41st not 50th, and Michigan has 19.9% union employmnet and 15% unemployment which is highest in the country. My point stands. Unions do NOT create jobs. Unions DO hurt employment. As a union supporter, how about YOU support YOUR position with some facts for once!

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:20 p.m.

I stopped teaching mostly because folks like Thomas Zurbuchen (Deans and Department Chairs) who have these very shallow and confrontational viewpoints regarding to their non-tenured colleagues and unions. Also, to be fair, unions like LEO, have no teeth and yet require mandatory membership if you teach at the university. No attempt was made by my Dean (at the time) to inform me about these options. It wasn't until half way through the semester that I received a nasty phone call demanding my dues from a LEO representative that I understood what had transpired and the massive disconnect between department administrators and the on-campus unions.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

This is over do. This will give these students some protection from unrealistic demands including unrealistic workloads, excessive hours and expectations that could never be achieved. The arrogance of the professor writing this letter is a prime example of why these types of protections are needed. This hopefully will give students a means to make it easier to balance work load and time required for class work. I am sure if one of his "group" told him he they were working too many hours and needed to cut back to concentrate on graduate classes for a few days they would no longer be part of the "group".


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

Please please please install another union at the U of M. Than it can be yet another beacon of hope for a State that leads the nation in lowest graduation rates of our high schoolers, highest unemployment in our country, poorest educated work force, a &quot;what's in it for me&quot; mentality, and increase tuition costs! Heck, look at how the unions have created a win win with the TSA, the City of Detroit workforce, the success of GM and Chrysler, our MEA and taxpayers, tenured teachers who have to commit homicide to &quot;maybe&quot; be put on suspension.. Unions = parity, which results in exactly what the writer is talking about. Excellence will take a back seat to &quot;jobs for life.&quot; When has a Union ever created a job?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 8:44 p.m.

And what turned the auto plants and mines into humane, relatively safe places to work? What built a large vibrant middle class in this country? Certainly not the likes of Andrew Carnegie who exploited workers and their kids with mandatory long hours and low pay until the workers organized and asked to share in the huge profits of his steel companies.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

If the PhDs didn't unfairly use their grad students, there wouldn't be so much incentive to unionize.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:18 p.m.

Or the grad students are acting like prima donnas and ungrateful..................


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

There are no peer universities to Michigan that have grad student unions? Really? The University of Washington has received more grant money than any other public university for years. They're union. Surprisingly, the sky has not fallen in Seattle.

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

Matthew: I based my statement off <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Specifically, I see &quot;Predoc. Res. Assoc. II&quot; (the highest RA position listed) making $1761 / month. That's about 75% of what my department pays...

Matthew Snyder

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

@Bacon Bits: UW GSRAs don't make &quot;significantly less&quot; than UMich GSRAs... they are on par. In some of the biomedical departments, the UW GSRAs actually make more. If you'd like to see the details of the union contract at UW, see: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Max Peters

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 3:42 p.m.

Every GSRA contract is for 20 hrs. A GSRA that gets a PhD in 5 yrs working 20 hrs on their dissertation is like a unicorn.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

Nurses are represented by SEIU and UFCW. These unions know a lot about union negotiations and labor law. Is that why they scare you? Or is it th idea that the members of the UAW might know things that you don't? The UW got control over hours worked (i.e., a 0.5 is actually 20 hours a week, not 50), guarantees of access to family and medical leave and other working conditions concessions. It's not all about money. You do know that, right?

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:19 p.m.

What did UW graduate students get from their unionization, besides paying dues to the UAW? The currently make significantly less in a RA position at UW than do our GSRAs. So what benefit did they receive? And why would graduate students be represented by the UAW? It's a money grab, that's why. What would the UAW possibly know about graduate students that could help them in negotiations?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:50 p.m.

Don't the staff and faculty have unions at UM? Is this Prof a member of one of those?

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:17 p.m.

No, the faculty at UM are not unionized.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

Most staff on campus are not union nor is there a current option for that. The trades and the medical campus have more union options. Faculty have tenure and SACUA.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:39 p.m.

Ugh! This anti-union business is bad enough without the usual inferiority complex that comes from so many UM folks. "Michigan is about excellence. In most places, if you are top 10, you are celebrated. Here, if you are top 10, you are scrutinized and asked why you are not at the top." Wrong! There are universities all across this country doing cutting-edge research in a lot of different fields. "University of Michigan is like MIT with fewer egos and with more collaboration. That's why I'm here!" Engineering at UM=MIT? Are you kidding? Do you know how pathetic that makes you look? UM has well-regarded engineering programs, and MIT, is well, MIT

Rabid Wolverine

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:38 p.m.

Trepang674 you are mistaken if you believe that the GSRA's are not working jobs. My wife is a GSRA in chemistry right now. while they are getting paid for their work, they are putting in the hours as well. If I have to claim her income on our taxes then it's a job. Some things are still rediculous at the university such as having to return a student's test to them the day after it is taken. This means that after working a full day my wife and other GSRA's get to proctor the student's exam during dinner (while not being given dinner/time for dinner). After the exam is completed the GSRA's then get to sit in a room and grade tests (usually a thousand or more) which lasts until 1 am usually. All of this is done while the professor's like the author sit at home comfortably. There are many other times when the actions taken between professor and GSRA leave me frusterated and angry for my wife. The interactions are not that of an employee/supervisor but much that of a subornant/dictator. While I dispise how bloated the UAW has become there was most certainly a need for it in the beginning and now. The UAW of now, needs some reform though. I can fully understand the reasoning why GSRA's might want to unionize and thank the Regents for not taking away that ability.

Josh Skodack

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:41 p.m.

I most likely know your wife. I was a GSRA/GSI student in chemistry as well. The provision prohibiting GSI's working past midnight was not covered until the current contract was ratified in April. I agree with your point about the mentor/student relationship. The majority of students I knew from the chemistry department did not have healthy relationships with their advisers.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

There is no policy at UM requiring instructors to return exams the day after they are taken. If your wife is a GSRA and she's grading papers, something is wrong. This work is done by GSI's and already covered under a contract.

Bacon Bits

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

If your wife is really a GSRA, she wouldn't be grading tests.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:37 p.m.

The irony, it burns. Zurbuchen has tenure, and has SACUA to back him up if he feels his employer has threatened his rights. If UM hadn't offered both of these things, he would likely have refused to come here. Faculty expect those protections, and will passionately defend the need for them if we want to provide an environment that will attract great faculty and promote academic excellence. But giving those same protections to HIS subordinates? Oh no! That will destroy the University!

Mary Livesay

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 10:23 a.m.

Valid point. A University that he did NOT help create.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:43 p.m.

(And actually, just having a union is a much weaker protection than having tenure.)


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:37 p.m.

One essential point that seems to be missing from the comment thread (though it is mentioned in the article) is that GSRAs are essentially trainees. They are working towards their doctoral degree(s) under the guidance and supervision of a mentor, who (often) pays for the trainee's salary and tuition out of grant and departmental funds. So GSRAs are not merely employees or staff, they are actively learning how to become independent investigators under the tutelage of a mentor. There is some concern that the mentor/trainee relationship may be compromised if GSRAs unionize and begin entering into collective bargaining agreements. I have no idea if this will be a problem or not. However, if University professors perceive it to be a problem, they will likely opt to cease training graduate students and hire postdoctoral fellows instead. This would make economic sense since the tuition+salary of a GSRA pretty much adds up to the salary+fringe benefits of a postdoctoral fellow. I am not opposed to unionization. Unions essentially ensure fair and safe work places. That said, unions are typically joined to ensure proper working hours, adequate salary, etc. Because GSRAs are often paid from grants, 'demands' for higher salaries and shorter working hours probably can't be met due to budgetary constraints and the fact that grants are 'soft' money with limited live spans and need to be renewed for the research programs to remain viable (and this requires working more than typical 40 hr work week for both Professors and students). Therefore, there is a real possibility that unionization may work against GSRAs in the long run, and graduate students across the University might find themself 'mentorless' and unable to commence or finish doctoral work. Stay tuned.

Josh Skodack

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:36 p.m.

This point you made, &quot;They are working towards their doctoral degree(s) under the guidance and supervision of a mentor, who (often) pays for the trainee's salary and tuition out of grant and departmental funds. So GSRAs are not merely employees or staff, they are actively learning how to become independent investigators under the tutelage of a mentor.&quot; I believe is an example of an employee/employer relationship. I was a former PhD students working under my mentor's grant. From my own point of view the moment my support switched from my predoctoral fellowship to my mentor's grant, was the moment the relationship switched from one of mentor/student to one of an employer relationship. The entire dynamic of our relationship changed. Advising meetings turned into primary performance reviews where it was no longer research I planned to one where every aspect of the project was planned and proposed by my adviser. Work hours increased from an average of 10 hours per day to an average of 16-18 per day. I am just glad I was not fired without like another graduate student in my department, whose results were not up to the standards of their adviser.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

Thank you for making the point that I wanted to make more eloquently than I could have!

Mike K

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

She doesn't need a union for sexual harassment. That's already covered by law.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

Unions protect more than salary. They protect rights such as patents, whistle blowers, sexual harassment, etc. Imagine the graduate student who works for 5 years towards a PhD then gets blackmailed for sexual favors when she is up for graduation.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

According to the U-M salary record, Dr. Zurbuchen received a salary of $148,000 from the University last year about 6 times what graduate students are making. But salary is only part of the issue. A labor contract will free workers from the caprice of their employers and assure equity in the work place. As the university becomes more and more coporatized full time faculty members may come to realize that they too can benefit from union organization.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:30 p.m.

Yea! I could not have said it better! &quot;It's about being a leader, not about being equal.&quot;

Mary Livesay

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 10:18 a.m.

He may be a &quot;leader&quot; but IMO he doesn't sound like the &quot;best&quot;. For one his op-Ed could have used a better editor . . .

birch creek john

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

Dr. Zurbuchen's argument rests on the premise that those in position of authority will always have the best interests of their minions at the forefront of their thinking when making decisions. He dresses his opinions in a lot of fancy words, but in truth it is terribly naive if not willfully misleading. The fact is, if we didn't need unions we wouldn't have them. Sadly, while we may wish to assume that those in charge will always act in a beneficent manner, history has shown us that selfishness and greed seem always to be the order of the day--just ask the banking industry.

Greg Bergin

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:59 a.m.

Mr. Zurbuchen ironically opposes unionization yet is a public employee himself. He seeks to deny the benefits and protections of the status he enjoys to those who would work for him. That's leadership? After reading his entire opinion piece, my conclusion is that his letter, and he by implication, is self-serving.

Mary Livesay

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 10:17 a.m.

Well said


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

Not only self serving but probably written at the request of an anonymous administration official or the PR department.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:57 a.m.

Graduate students still have plenty of reasons to want to please their professors. Their recommendations are key to getting good post-doctoral positions or first jobs and often the relationship between student and professor continues throughout the students career. Thus, the idea that having a union negotiate a fair contract will destroy that relationship is nonsense.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:55 a.m.

I thought a GSR job was temporary and allowed for opportunities to gain experience - bolster the resume...sounds like they want to make a career out of it.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:46 a.m.

No more tenured profs....I wonder how he feels about that proposal.

Mary Livesay

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 10:16 a.m.

That might be some serious progress. now we're talking. I wonder if his students even like him. He seems like a bully to me. is he from Ohio? I hope he's not a Buckeye! Mary k. Livesay


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 6:56 p.m.

braggslaw, Result of what??? The guy who is whining is TENURED and protected. He knows he's got a government job for life....and a well paid one at that. He's laughing all the way to the bank....on your dime.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:59 p.m.

That would be a good result


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:44 a.m.

The same arguments were made when UM and other universities formed house staff unions for residents and interns. In the bad old days of 120 hour weeks, overly tired residents made unnecessary mistakes. House staff unions led to better laws that protect both the doctors and the patients. Unionized Interns and residents still learn to be good doctors and the destruction of the mentor/student relationship has never come to pass. The same will be true of these dire predictions. One fear of Professors who are involved in submissions of patents and founding start up companies is that graduate student unions might fight to protect graduate students' rights to their intellectual property. There have been many disputes based on allegations that professors have stolen intellectual property from students and made big bucks with start up companies. These disputes usually end up with the student on the short end of the stick, sometimes expelled, sometimes trespassed or even arrested. Students are often too poor to defend themselves in court. A graduate student union might fight for better protection in their contracts or help a student who finds themselves in court.


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

I will say that I don't know how the employment mechanism works for grad students. There is consideration (tuition) from the University. Of course a company cannot be an inventor. What you have failed to understand (or have ignored) is that most if not all employees that are in the sciences have express assignments of their inventions to their employers. Most do not have royalty sharing clauses but some do have &quot;awards&quot; based on productivity and use of the patented invention. I guess I don't know what your point is... other than to somehow prove you are right and I am wrong... which is clearly not going to happen.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 9:18 p.m.

@braggslaw- The reason that UM and other universities do not use employment contracts is that the contract would give the student an employee/employer relationship. That would give them a property interest in their employment. As a student, the University is in a much better legal position. A company cannot be an &quot;inventor&quot; in American patent law, therefore, even if the company owns the patent rights, the inventor is still the employee. In most universities and in some companies, the inventor gets a percentage of any royalties.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:03 p.m.

I am not familiar with the employee/contract mechanism at UM. It would surprise me if they do not have the graduate assistants sign an employment contract. (maybe there is a clause to grant royalties to inventors) Typically businesses have employees sign an employment agreement where all intellectual property developed by the employee related to their job is owned by the employer. Standard stuff. To be an inventor you have to be a part of the conception process, sweat of the brow does not count. This is the grey area. Determining inventorship is a difficult procedure, but simply following directions does not constitute being an inventor. If the inventorship is not accurate the patent is invalid and everyone loses.. Case law give the rights to an invention where an employer is &quot;hired to invent&quot; to the employer, absent an employment contract.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:40 p.m.

@braggslaw- you are wrong with regard to an employment contract. Graduate students do not have contracts and the courts have ruled that, unlike employees, the students have no property right with regard to their employment. Thus, it is much harder for a student to win in court than an employee. The patent rights do belong do vest with the inventor, but there are frequent arguments about whether or not the graduate student is even one of the inventors. If they fight to be an inventor, they are often retaliated against. The University does own patents developed at UM but the inventors are entitled to a percentage of the royalties.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

Absent an employment contract, the rights to a patentable invention vest with the inventor. I assume the university has an employment contract with their grad students and that any inventions that the grad student develops are the property of UM. This is typical of all companies. Inventorship has to be correct (there can be no fraud) or the patent is invalid.

Dr. Rockso

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:12 a.m.

Great point of view from a tenured university employee pulling in $148,635.00. <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;LName=Zurbuchen&amp;Year=0&amp;Campus=0</a> I had a more descriptive post of this guys opinion which failed the aadotcom censors.

Mary Livesay

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 10:15 a.m.

Dr. Rockso, Thank you for your (in)valuable opinion. I bet that the Engineering Proffesor didn't have his graduate training amongst the leaders and best. Perhaps because he wasn't credentialed enough to get in. I advise him to get down from his position of authority in the Ivory Tower of Acadademia and get a life! I hope those smart Wolverines strike and march straight down the dig and all the way to the capital in Lansing with their many grievances. I wonder whos's side Govenor Rick Snyder is on?!?! Sincerely, Mary K. McGuinness Livesay University of Michigan, BA '01, History

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 1:51 a.m.

heart surgeon

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 1:50 a.m.

And I live next door to a hear surgeon. Funny that he never tells me about what happened in that day's heart transplant. Good Night and Good Luck

Mike K

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 12:07 a.m.

The achievements speak for themselves. That is unless you consider the author a liar, which you very well may given your politcal position. In your eyes, liars are anyone who think taxes should be low, individuals should be free to choose the education they choose................................... No, I have not and have never been a GRSA, but did befriend two Ph.D candidates, and this issue never came up.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:54 p.m.

&quot;Secondly, it sounds as if the system is working just fine. The need for change is not apparent.&quot; So says someone who has never be a GSRA. Must be a subject matter expert. Good Night and Good Luck

Mike K

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

It sounds like he's well worth it. Any of you create something that has been used in space? He's clearly contributing to the greater good of our state and country by educating engineers at the highest level. Secondly, it sounds as if the system is working just fine. The need for change is not apparent.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

Their pay is appropriate. But when you make $148,635 a year, whining that your employees who make much less now have a union is just that -- whining.

Dr. Rockso

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

I have no problem with the salary or benefits that anyone makes. My issue is with the people who are well off crying about someone else making a decent living.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:46 a.m.

The amount they get paid is a whole topic all in itself. Easy jobs, great benefits and pay; you and your kids pay unbelievable tuition to support all of this extravagence. Don't complain if you are willing to pay the tuition. Until people start sending their kids to community college and enrollment drops be ready to pay more and more every year. $60,000 or more for a U of M college degree isn't such a good return on investment anymore.

Will Warner

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:12 a.m.

"Entrepreneurial thinking has at its core the understanding of the relationship of risk and reward. It's about being a leader, not about being equal." I wholly agree, Professor. One becomes a professional to rise to a level of attainment, skill, knowledge and irreplaceability that has no need of collective bargaining. You are also correct that a union shop will scare away the best students; personally I would have to be completely out of options before I would take a job that required me to try to get anything done in a union environment.

Mary Livesay

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 10:10 a.m.

Well said. Mary (mcguinness) Livesay

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 9:36 p.m.

&quot;You are also correct that a union shop will scare away the best students&quot; Has not happened in the LSA side of the house. Good NIght and Good Luck


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:38 a.m.

Great satire.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:58 a.m.

&quot;It's about being a leader not about being equal&quot;. Who could disagree with that? this is at the heart of the matter. Let people benefit from their hardwork and talent. Most engineering grad students will have the ability to work in six figure jobs and/or start companies. Hopefully this does not impact the great research at UM. Liberal arts grad students will not have these opportunities. BUT they chose to enter into unmarketable majors and they should have to pay for the consequences of their decision making. I think this is just another sign that the state of Michigan is losing its edge. The left cares more about distributing wealth and making people the same (everybody will be poor) than rewarding hard work and initiative.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:41 a.m.

Didn't the confederate states use the same argument in order to keep their slaves? i.e. If you take away our slaves our plantation economy will suffer.

Milton Shift

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 4:25 a.m.

braggslaw, what are you talking about? You said grad students can quit and go to a different lab if they're being abused. Then when someone points out why no one can quit, you ask why they would ever want to quit?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:20 p.m.

&quot;start over&quot; Don't students graduate and get real jobs? Is the intent to have grad students.... grad students forever?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:47 a.m.

After a student has put in 3 to 6 years of work, they would have to start over if they left. See how free you feel in that circumstance.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:42 a.m.

Grad students are not slaves, they can quit and go work at a book store or restaurant. I don't get the comparison or the argument. It is interesting how the race card was played though..............

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:36 a.m.

&quot;Such a comparison is ridiculous.&quot; The comparison is not, but your reply is. Whether or not Research Assistants can go somewhere else is beside the point, yohan is correct: it is one of the arguments made in favor of slavery. I do realize that there are anti-intellectual conservatives who, led by Bachman nad Palin,, are historically ignorant. Guess there are some in A2, too. Good Night and Good Luck


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:59 a.m.

Inevitable...Nazi or slavery reference to an issue that has nothing to do with either. Grad students can quit and go somewhere else, slave could not. Such a comparison is ridiculous.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:31 a.m.

You know, I read through the whole thing and still don't understand the problem. Lots of &quot;what if&quot;s but short on facts.


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 10:07 a.m.

Yes, it's frightening to know that UM employs people who prejudge others. Doesn't bode well for students, for sure.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:27 a.m.

The argument against unionization in this article is very weak and appears based on the author's personal bias. If the grad students vote in a union, then I have full confidence that collective bargaining is a necessary protection from abuse. Professors as bosses are no better than those in for profit businesses. Unions most often form out of necessity.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : midnight

&quot;FDR was a poor president and this unionization idea is a poor idea. I guess they go hand in hand.&quot; Yeah, he only ended the Great Depression and won a world war. But, he had some help. Republicans in that era did not oppose him out of a knee-jerk reflex believing that there was political hay to be made. No, they understood that the nation could not come out of the depression and could not win the war if they allowed petty politics to intervene. Today's RepubliKans ought taKe a lesson from the those Republicans. But Bush II compares well with FDR: overseeing the greatest financial collapse since Hoover and fighting two wars so incompetently that, ten years later, we are still trying to extract ourselves from them. Good Night and Good Luck


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:19 p.m.

FDR was a poor president and this unionization idea is a poor idea. I guess they go hand in hand.

Josh Skodack

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 4:48 p.m.

Professors as bosses is precisely the status quo in the hard sciences and engineering. Personally, as a former PhD student in the sciences, we considered our thesis advisers not as peers, but as defacto bosses. Meetings with my adviser were basically performance reviews, not advising meeting on how to improve my own practice as a scientist. I knew of several graduate students who were &quot;fired&quot; for poor performance or not achieving the results sought by their individual thesis advisers.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 10:10 a.m.

Sir you may be experienced in your field, but you may not have worked in an environment with a professional union. You will work together to agree on a contract. At that time be sure that all of your concerns are addressed. Require sections addressing your concerns. This is all part of the contract process. This is an ambitious process. Take an active role. No resting on your laurels. You will be required to SUPERVISE and MANAGE. You cannot lay back and let things run amuk and then fire someone. You must be dedicated to completing performance reviews, getting input from your peers and having open dialogue with your assistants. No room for laziness or poor management. I've worked as an administrator in this environment. I never dealt with a &quot;third party&quot; that you fear so much. I dealt with my employees. If it is handled by the adminstrators in a fair and impartial manner it actually will make your job easier and create an open work environment. With a well developed contract, this can be a win-win situation. You have nothing to fear, but fear (and union prejudice) itself.


Fri, Jul 1, 2011 : 10:05 a.m.

You aren't quitre grasping the concept..... IF an employee can't or won't perform according to the contract, it is the employee's fault. If an employee can't or won't perform according to your contract, and the employer KEEPS them and whines about their bad employee it is the EMPLOYERS fault! And just a little info....groups of people at all income levels can and will join together for their mutual benefit. Think Chamber of Commerce.......

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:30 p.m.

This was worth a good laugh... if an employee sucks, it's not because he's a bad employee, it's because his employer sucks. So let's take away his ability to fire bad employees. A job is not an entitlement. There are already laws on the books to prevent the abuses Cash talks about. And the concept of a &quot;professional&quot; union? Oh my, that's the best laugh of them all.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 6:51 p.m.

Of course you can fire a union employee....with reason. I did. You start by negotiating a solid contract with steps to be taken for unsatisfactory work performance. You follow those steps. Professional unions are prone to accept merit increases as long as there is sufficient documentation to award them. In other words you can't just give raises to the people who kiss your fanny. Specific work performance measurement is required. Here's the problem. Many bosses are too darned lazy to do their jobs. And some profs clearly think that they are above doing any supervision or job performance evaluations.....they should be treated as royalty...because they are (all bow down now) profs who are TENURED. They feel they should just be able to fire anyone, anytime. Easy for sure, but often unjust or unwarranted. It was my observations that the administrators I worked with that HATED unions were the laziest people at the institution....and m any still are! They didn't show up on time, and they left early. And they resented having to actually lower themselves to monitor an &quot;underling&quot;. Thus, the resentment.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

I've dealt with unions. I was actually an active member of the UAW at one point in my career. This is what I know after moving into management... You can't fire incompetent employees despite the hours of time you spend mentoring, coaching, supervising, and managing them. Meanwhile your competent employees are doing their jobs without the constant hand holding. And your hands are tied when it comes to salary increases. Everyone is paid the same percentage - so why not take naps instead of doing your work. Your union steward will protect you. Graduate Student Research Assistants are STUDENTS - not employees. UM faculty respect their intelligence, energy, and passion for their field of interest. Their pay reflects that respect: Annual rate for FY11 set at $53,106; most hired between 25%-50% since they are in school attending classes; full benefits and full tuition coverage included). It's a struggle now to fund these appointments on research grants. This is not a win-win situation.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

Unions destroy companies and ruin services wherever they are present.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:44 a.m.

Well your bad experience SMACKS of poor management. There is a clear step by step process to get rid of an employee who does not perform according to the work rules. If that is not done, lazy management is at fault. The responsibility for MANAGING is serious. Those profs who want to sit back with their feet on the desk guaranteed a job for life by their own TENURE desk and then blame &quot;unions&quot;, are doomed to fail in any environment....unless their goal is to make the grad assistant babysit for their kids and take their clothes to the cleaners for them etc.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:39 a.m.

And don't forget you get paid the same as the guy who doesn't work as hard as you. The poor workers bring the better ones down. I have been in a union environment and have been discouraged to work too hard or produce too much because it will cost us jobs because they won't need as many of us. Then lay-offs come and companies go out of business and everyone wonders who killed the golden goose and what happened to the nice job we had? Most union workers are very well paid and eventually fall into line with the work rules and learn how to get the most from the contract. The University doesn't have to turn a profit nor does any government entity hence the problems we now face with all of the unionized, lucrative contracts that were so carefully negotiated by all of the caring, involved people who worked together to negotiate the contract. Managing people is not a simple task in a union environment and getting rid of poor performers is almost impossible. They have to steal or do drugs to get rid of them and drag the rest of the work force down with their bad attitudes and lack of motivation. Most times it is easier to tolerate the behavior than to go through the painful process of firing someone. Economic and Social justice for all!