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Posted on Thu, Jan 19, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

University of Michigan provost: Student researcher dismissal not union busting

By Kellie Woodhouse

University of Michigan Provost Philip Hanlon told the Board of Regents Thursday that the recent dismissal of a graduate student research assistant was fueled by her poor academic performance and not discrimination because of her union activities, as she alleges.


Jennifer Dibbern, flanked by University of Michigan graduate students Jeremy Moore, Samantha Montgomery, speaks to reporters during a news conference Wednesday outside of Lurie Engineering Center.

Melanie Maxwell I

Former engineering GSRA Jennifer Dibbern claims that shortly after informing her faculty adviser she was an advocate of forming a student researcher union she began receiving poor reviews and was ultimately dismissed. Dibbern said she was essentially told by her adviser to cease her involvement in unionization efforts.

Hanlon, however, says that's not the case and that Dibbern's account of her dismissal, which she shared during a news conference Wednesday, is incomplete.

"I have personally reviewed the academic record for this case and I'm convinced that the academic decisions made by our faculty were justified and appropriate," Hanlon said, adding that faculty "followed a thorough and fair process and I want to offer my strong support for them."

Hanlon also said that since the news conference, his academic affairs office received "quite a number of inquires about the situation."

Dibbern says that she received positive academic reviews prior to her adviser Rachel Goldman discovering her involvement in the Graduate Employees Organization, a group lobbying for GSRA unionization. Dibbern says when Goldman learned of her involvement, Goldman began treating her differently. She has repeatedly cited an email as proof.

"She threatened to fire me if I didn't stop all outside activities," Dibbern said Wednesday.


Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Janet Cannon

Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 11:12 p.m.

Indeed it is still Hesaidshesaid. None of the info given lets the public judge the facts of the case- and it's difficult to imagine we could be given and process the information needed. Yes, Miss D. could release her records, and she could perhaps give details of her current work in progress- though there may be a confidentiality clause preventing her from that. Dr. g. could also release specifics if the public's goodwill is important to her and the U. Her email, while certainly open to interpretation either way, is not specific enough for us to judge. We do not know from it if Ms. D is guilty of specific lapses or not. However, a review of the case by an impartial, informed body could judge. Will her lawsuit result in that review?


Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 6:23 p.m.

Every time the administration has been asked to comment on student cases in the past they have declared that they were prohibited from commenting because of FERPA. What is different about this case that the provost can comment on her academic performance? It is also a strange coincidence that in many past cases the UM administration has gone to classmates and solicited letters saying that the student was a bad student. If they were so bad, why did the University have to ask the students to write letters. The biggest absurdity is that the courts have ruled that students do not have a property right to their education, even though they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time they are graduate students. The property right is what give employees the right to sue for wrongful termination or discrimination but students don't have the same right.


Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 2:58 a.m.

"This will probably require you to decrease your involvement in non-research related activities." The last sentence in the email says it all. Hanlon will of course support the faculty over the student, regardless of the circumstances. I found the email to be very condescending, and a great example of a micro-manager. At the graduate level, goals are outlined and timelines are established. There is no need for questions such as: what were you doing on Sunday, or Monday, etc? Those are questions that are asked of students in elementary school. I wish Ms Dibbern well, but am not optimistic she will prevail.


Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

The last sentence certainly does say it all: Miss Dibbern was not performing to her employer's expectation, and if she expected to keep her job, she needed to work harder.


Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 2:21 a.m.

The e-mail released by Ms. Dibbern fully supports UM's claim that she was dismissed because of poor academic performance. It is clear that her adviser, Dr. Goldman, had previously asked her to do specific things, and Ms. Dibbern chose not to perform her duties in a timely and effective manner. For those of you who think Dr. Goldman's tone is inappropriate, let me ask you: what tone would you take if you had repeatedly asked someone to do things, and they did not do them? What if those things were things that needed to be done for an expensive research project? What if they were things that other members of the research team were relying on that person to do? Federal law (FERPA) forbids Dr. Goldman from discussing a student's performance with anyone but the student, except in specific circumstances (such as with a university review board assessing a complaint). She certainly cannot discuss them with the public. So Dr. Goldman cannot defend herself. All she can do is sit there while Ms. Dibbern publicly assassinates her character by holding news conferences to falsely accuse her of being anti-union. Is this fair?


Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

FERPA also prohibits the Provost commenting on her academic performance.


Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 2 a.m.

It's still 'he said she said' until more facts are know and frankly I find both sides not very credible and suspect each has more blame than they admit. I hope that Ms Dibbern waives her privacy rights and makes a full disclosure simply so it is publicly known how the U operates in such matters. As to Dr. Goldmans email, it indicates several things to me; 1. He / She has a problem with being generally polite to people and needs to work on that. It's unprofessional not to have some type of opening salutation and immediately sets a rude tone for the rest. It also starts one wondering about a hostile work environment. 2. The very specific demand for actions of a micro management nature are often, but not necessarily, a set up for a dismissal, since they tend to make 100% compliance very difficult. So, love to see more on this one, it seems a brash dismissal unless there is far more culpability on Ms Dibbern's part that indicated here. I do not find it unbelievable that the U would try to root out organizers and find it somewhat amusing that so many here think the administration somehow wonderfully different than other management groups. I say this while still thinking a Union is not a good idea, but knowing that power behind a veil can mask some ugly stuff.


Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 1:05 a.m.

First, I think unions don't belong on college campuses. Unions have gone overboard and are ruining this country. Second, if she couldn't do the work or make the grades she should be busted. We all have to do the job we were hired for and if she can't then no one should be stuck pulling her along and doing the work for her.

Marshall Applewhite

Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 12:32 a.m.

There is absolutely no reason why student researchers should even have the opportunity to unionize. This is quite possibly the last part of society where we want to be fostering an attitude of complacency.


Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 12:09 a.m.

a2phiggy, I read the email and didn't think it condescending, degrading or inappropriate at all. I thought it was direct and to the point in identifying problems and giving needed direction as to what was expected to someone who was obviously distracted from her agreed upon duties. I think this matter was resolved in a timely and appropriate manner. This is why a union would be detrimental to proper research expectations. Do we want our researchers out at lunch drinking and smoking dope like the auto workers, and then going back to their jobs. We can't "recall" research like we do cars.


Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 7:42 a.m.

Really, well here's your break...........It still happened and union officials only concern was that it was made public.

West of Main

Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 12:12 a.m.

Give me a break. The line about the auto workers is inappropriate and off topic.


Thu, Jan 19, 2012 : 11:06 p.m.

Miss Dibbern, Please release your academic records for the past two years so those of us with an open mind to your cause can develop an informed opinion. You can post your records the same way you posted the email that you allege tells you to stop your unionizing efforts.


Thu, Jan 19, 2012 : 11:03 p.m.

If we know nothing else at this point, we do know that Dr. Goldman, and likely other professors managing GSRAs, need instruction on managing people. The tone of her e-mail is condescending, degrading and inappropriate. I feel for Ms. Dibbern, and hope that the situation gets resolved in a prompt manner.


Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 9:05 p.m.

How in the world is the email condescending or degrading? Dr. Goldman lays out clearly the problems she has with Dibbern's work and asks her to address it.