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Posted on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 6:29 a.m.

University of Michigan grad student says she was fired for backing unionization effort

By Cindy Heflin

A University of Michigan graduate student says she lost her research funding and was dismissed from her academic program for supporting efforts to unionize graduate student research assistants, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The university denies that is what happened.

Jennifer Dibbern, who told the Free Press she received an e-mail from a professor asking her to stop supporting unionization or else, is expected to discuss her dispute with the university at a news conference today at noon outside the College of Engineering, the newspaper reported.

GSRAs have been trying to unionize for months. Their attempt initially received criticism from U-M administrators, but the school's Board of Regents voted in May to approve GSRAs right to unionize.

After the regents' vote, GSRAs sought permission from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to unionize, but were initially denied. A group of GSRAs and advocates appealed that denial. MERC has assigned the matter to an administrative law judge.



Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

She wasn't "fired" because she's not an employee. She was probably dismissed for failure to make adequate academic progress. She didn't "lose her funding" because she didn't have any funding of her own. If the quote from the e-mail is accurate then it is quite typical. A lot of grad students don't put in sufficient time and thus get dismissed.

Rabid Wolverine

Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 5:49 p.m.

Agreed. She is a student, not an employee. She would have to not make grades (if still taking any classes) or not be making enough progress towards her dissertation. On the second point there are numerous people I know of who are in their 6th year of the PhD program. Unless she was avoiding work all together and that lead to her being kicked out of the program. If she has proof (threatening email from advisor) then it may be another matter all together. Otherwise, it is just one pissed off grad student looking for revenge. Also, the "funding" is grants her advisor brings in for his group/department. That advisor can then choose to use those grants to further fund the students research to offset the cost of not having the student teach. The fact that she was a GSRA means she does teach and therefore is paying for her own "funding" This whole story reaks of BS.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

But your version doesn't get free publicity for "the cause" in the newspaper.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 2:56 p.m.

Actions have consequences and if one doesnt learn from those consequences well she could support herself my sueing, it's becoming the American way.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

Good, all we need is more tax payer funded education system to bankrupt this state, and raise the already out of control cost of college and universities. Unions are a funding wing for the democrat party. Not more or less. Unions HAD a place. The reality is...they are more a clog in the pipe than a useful tool, accept for the democrat party. Public schools should be right to work. period. If they unionize. they should loose their grant.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 3:15 p.m.

Want to look at UM salaries for their NON union faculty/staff? Then you'd have something to post about.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

Trouble in "Liberal Land" greedy Grad students want want more money while "Grant Hording" profs try to keep it all of our "tax payer" dollars for themselves!


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.

For information purposes only. Not taking anyones side: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a>


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

What are you talking about xmo? You obviously have no understanding of how this works.

Dante Marcos

Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Does anybody out there know where Professor Goldman's funding comes from?


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

The first link is quite informative if anyone wants to quibble over the source of a couple hundred million. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a>


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

The rough math says about $818 million of the $1.24 billion U of M research enterprise comes from federal government (read taxpayers). That leaves about $422 million from other sources. I guess it comes down to who should pay paying for her unionizing activities: private industry or taxpayers. Maybe the union should put her on retainer.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

Don't hold your breath if you think UM would tell.

The Black Stallion3

Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

I think the best way to resolve this dispute would be to also fire the mentor/adviser.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

A classic he said she said. Both sides have something to gain by lying.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

GSRAs are paid off grants and are expected, actually required, to devote full-time to their research projects. If Ms. Dibbern's mentor/advisor was displeased with the amount of time Ms. Dibbern was devoting to her research project he had every right to fire her - and did. Graduate students are certainly 'allowed' to pursue activities outside of their research projects - everyone has such rights. But graduate students are pursuing dissertation studies to earn doctoral degrees, and to advance the research programs of their mentor/advisor. If that doesn't happen because outside activities take predominance or eat up more time than they should, then there are consequences. If you decided to leave your job and go do something else for large chunks of time during working hours, your boss would reprimand you and, if those activities didn't stop, would probably fire you. Same goes for graduate students. Of course it would be unfair to fire anyone over union activities. If that is the case here we will find out. But right now it sounds like Ms. Dibbern wasn't doing her job, and suffered the consequences.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

As a UM GSRA, I'll point out that I interacted with Ms. Dibbern on two occasions during 9-5 hours where she visited my offices to discuss unionization with other GSRAs. I refuse to point fingers because I know nothing of the back story, but it's not implausible that she was devoting large chunks of her weekdays recruiting and working on the unionization effort. It is easy to see where this scenario could prove problematic for an employer regardless of their stance on unionization.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 1:25 p.m. sounds that way to you, which is your opinion. It sounds to me like she was fired for trying to organize. Period. &quot;Dibbern showed a Free Press reporter e-mails praising her work, and she said she won teaching and research awards. But in August, when the union reached an agreement with university administrators about how a union election would run if allowed, Dibbern said Goldman started targeting her in e-mails and meetings.&quot; Now, I don't see how that sounds like Ms Dibbern wasn't doing her job.


Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

Mr Jesse continues to rock! We can say &quot;we knew him back when.....&quot; Young student taking on the behemoth that has stonewalled FOIA requests and refused to give the public information they they think they are a private school.....I know which side I'm on! The email the prof wrote speaks volumes. Thank you Mr Jesse.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 11:49 a.m.

The Freep reporter. I know his name from someplace. Lol.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 11:48 a.m.

Thanks again to the Detroit Free Press for their investigative reporting on this Ann Arbor story.