Updated: University of Michigan Board of Regents votes to allow research assistants to unionize in rare split vote
This story has been updated with the resolution approved by regents Thursday.
The University of Michigan Board of Regents voted to allow research assistants to unionize over the objections of President Mary Sue Coleman at its meeting Thursday.
It was a rare move for regents to reject Coleman’s advice as the resolution passed by a 6-2 vote, with regents Andrea Fischer Newman and Andrew Richner voting against.
Regent Laurence Deitch said he believes research assistants are employees and deserved the right to collectively bargain.
Regent Julia Darlow proposed the resolution, which read "Consistent with the University of Michigan's proud history of strong positive and mutually productive labor relations, the Board of Regents supports the rights of Graduate Student Research Assistants, whom we recognize as employees, to determine for themselves whether they choose to organize."
Some of the regents said they were caught off-guard by the resolution, which they first saw about 20 minutes before the meeting began Thursday afternoon at the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Fairlane Center.
Coleman said in her statement that the resolution would fundamentally change the relationship between faculty members and graduate students.
“Decisions about who a student studies with must remain with the two people who care most about the outcome — the student and his or her mentor,” she said.
She said graduate students are expected to make — and learn from — mistakes and that there would be far more efficient ways of running a laboratory without involving graduate students “who certainly take up quite a bit of time and energy as they are ‘learning the ropes.’”
Newman said she believed the relationship between research assistants and faculty members was a research experience and not an employee-employer relationship. She said it was troubling that regents would put themselves into the debate.
“This is not Michigan,” she said.