UM Grad Researchers Get Right to Unionize

Also: room & board increases, Crisler Arena expansion

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (May 19, 2011): This month’s regents meeting, held at the Dearborn campus, began with rare public discord between a majority of board members and UM president Mary Sue Coleman – and an even rarer public debate between regents.

Mary Sue Coleman

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman before the start of the May 19, 2011 regents meeting, which was held at the Fairlane Center on UM's Dearborn campus. (Photos by the writer.)

The issue was a resolution introduced at the start of Thursday’s meeting – an item not originally on the agenda – to support the rights of graduate student research assistants to decide whether to organize and be represented by a labor union. Before the vote, Coleman spoke out against the move, describing the relationship between graduate researchers and faculty as a special one that was fundamentally different than an employee-employer relationship. Changing the nature of that interaction could affect the university in significant ways, which she said caused her deep concern. The board’s two Republican regents – Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman – also objected to the resolution, both criticizing the fact that it had been introduced at the last minute without time for adequate discussion.

The resolution passed on a 6-2 vote, with Richner and Newman dissenting. It was notable in part because, with the exception of votes regarding tuition increases, nearly all votes by the board are unanimous, and in accord with the administration’s recommendations.

The meeting also included a variety of other action items, but none that spurred commentary by regents. They voted to increase room and board rates for 2011-12 by 3%, approved the schematic design for a $52 million expansion of Crisler Arena, and authorized the tenure or promotion of 169 faculty members on the Ann Arbor campus.

Regents also authorized creation of the Institute for Health Care Policy & Innovation, a new venture to be housed at renovated space in the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) – a $13.7 million renovation project that regents also authorized at the meeting. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs, said the institute will be the largest co-located group of health care researchers anywhere in the world.

In other action related to the NCRC, regents approved agreements – among a collection of 17 conflict-of-interest disclosures – with six start-ups that will lease space in the former Pfizer site, as part of the university’s Venture Accelerator program.

And in another item added to the agenda during the meeting, regents voted to approve the hiring of Lisa Rudgers as UM’s new vice president for global communications and strategic initiatives, effective June 1 with a salary of $270,000.

The board also got an update from Sue Scarnecchia, UM’s vice president and general counsel, on the Compliance Resource Center – a new website that coordinates various compliance efforts at the university.

At the end of the meeting, philosophy professor Carl Cohen spoke during public commentary, passionately urging regents to intercede in the renovation of East Quad in order to prevent the Residential College from being pushed into smaller, inadequate space. The RC is a living-learning program that Cohen helped start in the 1960s, and that’s housed at East Quad. If regents did nothing, he said, “your Residential College will atrophy and fade away.”

Resolution of Support for GSRA Right to Organize

In a move that one regent called unprecedented, regents voted 6-2 to support the rights of graduate student research assistants to decide whether to organize and be represented by a labor union.

The resolution was introduced near the beginning of the meeting by Julia Darlow, the board’s chair. It states:

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 university Graduate Student Research Assistants, whom we recognize as employees, to determine for themselves whether they choose to organize.

UM president Mary Sue Coleman spoke against the resolution in a statement she read aloud prior to the vote. [.pdf file of Coleman's full statement]

Coleman told regents that she feels passionate about the issue personally, and is deeply concerned about it on an institutional level. She sees research assistants as students, not employees. This opinion has been formed from her past experience as a graduate student researcher, she said, as well as her work as a faculty researcher and mentor to graduate student researchers. If GSRAs choose to organize, it would fundamentally change the relationship between the GSRAs and faculty, she said. This relationship is key to recruiting both faculty and graduate students, she added.

Further, a student’s performance as a research assistant is indistinguishable from their progress as a graduate student, she said. They aren’t evaluated as employees – they’re measured in terms of their progress toward completing their degree.

Coleman noted that the funding for these positions is not a work-for-hire approach. Faculty raise funds to support the graduate student’s total education – including their apprenticeship in the lab or in other research-based academic settings, she said. “This has been an extraordinarily effective strategy for more than 60 years, and it is a model used by every major research institution in the country.”

It’s been a long-standing university policy that graduate student research assistants receive pay and benefit increases that are comparable to increases received by graduate student instructors (GSIs), Coleman said, so that GSRAs are not at a disadvantage. [GSIs are represented by the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) union. The GEO has been lobbying for GSRAs to have the right to negotiate terms of their employment.]

Coleman concluded by saying the university has enjoyed excellent relationships with the unions that represent some of its employees, and she expected that positive working relationship would continue. If regents adopted this resolution, the administration would abide by the applicable election procedures and work to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote can make a full and fair evaluation of the issue, she said.

Coleman said she appreciated the board’s concern for students as well as for UM’s academic quality. “We have worked through many vexing issues together, and although there is disagreement over this issue, I know we share an unwavering commitment to this great university.”

Resolution of Support for GSRAs: Regents Response

Regent Larry Deitch said he didn’t have an opinion about whether GSRAs should organize or not, but he was confident that they are employees, and as such they have collective bargaining rights. If they organize, that’s their choice, he said. It’s also the right of the university administration to reject any contract that doesn’t protect the qualities that Coleman had articulated, he said.

Andrea Fischer Newman

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman spoke against a resolution that recognized the rights of UM's graduate student research assistants to organize.

Regents Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman – the only Republicans on the board – both spoke out against the resolution. Both expressed dismay that they’d only received notice of the resolution shortly before the meeting.

Richner called the decision to act against the advice of the president unprecedented. He pressed Darlow to answer questions about who would define the group of GSRAs for the purpose of determining the bargaining unit. Darlow responded by saying that the term “graduate student research assistant” is defined in UM’s faculty handbook, and that there is already a process in place for determining how to define the bargaining unit. It’s premature to state who would be part of that, she said – that will be worked out later.

Richner asked whether Darlow would agree that the president can define that class of employees. Certainly not, Darlow responded. As Richner asked another question, Darlow said she didn’t feel it was appropriate to go into details about how this will be implemented. The board does not dictate the actions of the president, she said – they articulate policy.

Richner said it seemed then that Coleman would have some freedom to negotiate the makeup of the bargaining unit. Darlow said she’d already responded to that statement. Will the president, deans and others have the power to educate the campus about their views on this resolution and how it might impact the university? Richner asked. Darlow replied that everyone on the board was committed to the principle of academic freedom.

Richner then asked what Coleman was supposed to do with this policy. What if she determines that the law provides that graduate student research assistants aren’t employees? At this point, Darlow – clearly exasperated – told Richner that if he wanted to comment about the resolution, he should make a statement rather than try to use her as a vehicle to make his points.

Richner said there were a lot of questions about this resolution, and he didn’t feel they had a clear understanding of the issue. It’s one of the most important votes they’ve taken since he’s been on the board, he said, and he was disappointed that regents didn’t have the opportunity to discuss it – they’ve spent more time discussing issues of far less importance, he noted. He felt it would have a negative impact on the university’s reputation and on its ability to recruit faculty and students, and that there will be negative consequences to academic freedom.

Newman also objected to the resolution. She’d just seen it about 20 minutes before walking into the room, she said, though she understood that others on the board had known about it before then. She wished they’d had an opportunity to talk to people who would be impacted by this vote. She noted that she’d had experience working with unions both through her job and as a regent.[Newman is senior vice president-government affairs for Delta Airlines.] But the relationship between a GRSA and a faculty member is not an employee/employer relationship – it’s learning-centered, she said, and the university’s reputation hinges on that. They’ve worked hard to keep UM strong in the wake of competition, and this change would be harmful.

It was a rare occurrence when the majority of the board had such a fundamental disagreement with the administration, Newman said, adding that she found it deeply troubling. GSRAs should not be considered employees, she said, and she opposed the resolution.

A voice vote was taken without further discussion.

Outcome: By a 6-2 vote, regents approved the resolution, with regents Newman and Richner dissenting. Deitch left the meeting immediately following the vote.

Room & Board Rates for 2011-12

Regents were asked to increase residence hall rates at the Ann Arbor campus by 3% this fall. The rate increase for Northwood Community Apartments – housing primarily for graduate students and families on UM’s north campus in Ann Arbor – is 1% for the 2011-12 academic year. [.pdf of proposed rate increases]

University of Michigan room & board rates for 2011-12

Chart showing University of Michigan room & board rates for 2011-12. (Links to larger image)

Normally, the topic of room and board rates falls under the purview of the vice president of student affairs, Royster Harper. But Harper was out of the country, so provost Phil Hanlon made a few remarks before the regents’ vote. He noted that significant improvements to UM’s residence halls have been made over the past several years, with strong support from regents. Capital investments require a very careful balance between providing the best possible facilities for students, he said, while maintaining reasonable housing rates.

Hanlon said the rate increases reflect an anticipated increase of $2.6 million in expenses related to employee costs, food supplies and other items, but that the University Housing staff was able to reduce operating expenses in other areas by about $1.7 million for fiscal 2012, which begins July 1, 2011. He indicted that effort allowed the rate increases to be lower than they might otherwise be.

A staff memo accompanying the proposal indicates that the 3% increase for residence halls is divided into two components: 1% for increased operating costs; and 2% for residence hall renovations. Room and board costs for a single residence hall room would increase from $10,970 to $11,300. A double would increase from $9,192 to $9,468.

In April, Eastern Michigan University’s board of regents approved an aggregate 2.15% room and board increase, and a 3% increase for university apartments. A list of housing rate increases at peer institutions was provided as part of the regents meeting packet. At the top end is Duke University, with a 5.9% increase. A 5.1% increase is slated for Michigan State. Among other Big Ten universities, UM is at the low end of rate increases – only Purdue University has a lower rate increase, at 2%. However, UM’s room and board costs are among the highest in that group – only Northwestern and Purdue cost more. [.pdf file of comparison housing rates]

Regents had no comment on this item.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved increases in room and board rates for the Ann Arbor campus in 2011-12. They separately voted to approve a 2.9% increase for residence halls on UM’s Flint campus.

New Communications VP Appointed

In an item that wasn’t on the original agenda, regents approved the appointment of Lisa Rudgers as vice president for global communications and strategic initiatives. Her appointment takes effect June 1, with a salary of $270,000. She replaces UM’s previous vice president of communications, David Lampe, who stepped down from that job earlier this year. He now serves as executive director of research communication in the office of UM’s vice president for research.

Rudgers was the university’s vice president for communications from 2000-2007. She left the university to start her own consulting firm – Lisa Rudgers & Associates – where she worked for other institutions, including Eastern Michigan University. A 2007 article in The Ann Arbor News reports that EMU paid Rudgers $37,000 for media consulting services, providing advice on releasing a report and communicating with the media after a probe into the December 2006 death of EMU student Laura Dickinson.

In 2009, Rudgers returned to UM on a part-time basis as special counsel for communications in UM’s Law School.

In her new role, Rudgers’ responsibilities include developing the university’s communications strategy and overseeing the Freedom of Information office, Michigan marketing and design, public affairs, internal communications, Michigan public media, presidential communications, the film office and the news service. She will be a member of the senior management team and will advise deans, directors, executive officers and the president regarding communications, according to a statement issued by the university.

Crisler Expansion

At Thursday’s meeting, the board was asked to approve the schematic design for a $52 million Crisler Arena expansion project. The board had given its initial approval of the project at its January 2011 meeting, and had selected TMP Architecture and Sink Combs Dethlefs as the architects. Regents had also previously approved – at their October 2010 meeting – a renovation of the arena’s infrastructure and a replacement of seating to a capacity of 12,800.

Architect's rendering of Crisler Arena's proposed new northeast entry. (Courtesy of TMP Architecture and Sink Combs Dethlefs)

Don Dethlefs, CEO of Sink Combs Dethlefs, was on hand to give a brief description of the project – his Denver-based firm specializes in sports projects. The expansion will add about 63,000 square feet of new construction, and includes building new spectator entrances, retail spaces, concession areas, ticketing counters and a private club space. In addition, roughly 54,000 square feet would be renovated to accommodate accessible seats, increase the number of restrooms and concession areas, and add other fan amenities. Dethlefs said a new colonnade will for the first time mask the arena’s service functions, such as its loading dock and trash area.

Dethlefs described the addition as essentially enveloping the current structure. The concourse level will include significantly more restrooms for women, and a roof deck accessible to fans, with a view to the east. One of the new entries will allow access to the southwest, convenient for people who park at the Pioneer High School lot, he said. Glass entries will make the building seem like it’s glowing at night when events take place there, he said, and allow for natural lighting in the day to reduce energy costs.

Construction is expected to be finished by the winter of 2014.

Outcome: Regents unanimously approved the schematic design for Crisler Arena’s expansion.

Institute for Health Care Policy & Innovation

On Thursday, regents approved the Institute for Health Care Policy & Innovation, a new venture to be housed at renovated space in the North Campus Research Complex – a $13.7 million renovation project that regents also authorized at their May 19 meeting. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs, told regents the institute will be the largest co-located group of health care researchers anywhere in the world.

The institute will be part of UM’s Medical School, and bring together researchers who are studying a range of topics related to health care services, including insurance design and preventative care. The hope is that housing researchers in close proximity will spur additional innovation and collaboration. It’s expected that researchers from other parts of the university – including the colleges of engineering and pharmacy, and the schools of nursing, public policy, public health and dentistry – will eventually become part of the institute.

A national search for the institute’s director will begin soon. That person will be appointed by the president and will report to the dean of the Medical School. The president will also appoint an executive committee to help oversee the institute.

As part of this effort, regents approved a $13.7 million renovation project at the NCRC – the former Pfizer site. The project entails renovating 120,000 square feet in Building 16. Five floors, three conference rooms and a fitness center will be renovated as part of the project.

About 100 researchers who’ll likely join the institute are already working at NCRC, in different locations on the site. Eventually, more than 500 researchers could be part of the venture.

SmithGroup will serve as architect for the project, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2012.

Outcome: In separate unanimous votes, regents approved both the creation of the institute and the NCRC renovation project.

Tenure and Promotion Approvals

Regents were asked to authorize tenure or promotion cases for UM faculty in the Ann Arbor campus, presented by provost Phil Hanlon and Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs.

Hanlon began by saying the university’s preeminence rests in large part on the quality of its faculty. Decisions that they make regarding tenure and promotions will shape the future of the institution, he said – they take the process very seriously. Of the 233 cases that were reviewed, 169 were accepted.

Hanlon recalled that when former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had given a lecture earlier this year on campus, she’d been asked which role she preferred – secretary of state, or faculty member at Stanford. He said she responded by saying she most preferred being provost, because it allowed her to see into the future of knowledge being developed, as she reviewed the work of faculty who were up for tenure and promotion. Hanlon and Pescovitz agreed that it was a highlight of their jobs, too.

Hanlon and Pescovitz each highlighted three examples of exemplary faculty, reading descriptions of the accomplishments that each person had achieved. The faculty who were highlighted include: Anthony Grbic of the College of Engineering; Laura Kay Kasischke in the College of Literature, Science & the Arts; Tiya A. Miles in the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies; Gary Hammer in the Medical School’s department of internal medicine; Celina G. Kleer in the Medical School’s department of pathology; and Alexandra Minna Stern in the Medical School’s department of obstetrics and gynecology.

Outcome: Regents approved the recommendations for faculty tenure and promotions.

Infrastructure Projects

In addition to Crisler Arena and NCRC renovations, regents approved other infrastructure-related projects at their May 19 meeting.

Infrastructure Projects: Beal Avenue Water Main

A $2.2 million water main project on Beal Avenue involves a 60-year-old, 12-inch water main, which serves all university buildings along Beal Avenue between Hayward Street and Bonisteel Boulevard, on UM’s north campus. Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, often jokes about the exciting nature of these infrastructure upgrades, and this meeting was no exception.

According to a staff report, recent breaks have reduced water service reliability, and buildings in the area have experienced water infiltration from flooding. A recent study recommended that installing a storm relief sewer is the best way to reduce the surface flooding. UM’s Department of Architecture, Engineering and Construction will collaborate with Hubbell, Roth & Clark Inc. to design the project. Construction is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2012.

Outcome: Regents unanimously approved the Beal Avenue water main project.

Infrastructure Projects: University Hospital

Two projects for the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers’ University Hospital – totaling $9.7 million – were on the agenda.

A $4.8 million project to improve access to the hospital’s computed tomography angiography (CTA) technology includes renovating two radiology rooms to house a new CTA scanner system. The architectural firm Integrated Design Solutions will design the project, which is expected to be complete by the fall of 2011.

In addition, regents approved $4.9 million to replace an existing CT simulator with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system, and to renovate roughly 1,800 square feet in the hospital to accommodate the new MRI. The architectural firm Project and Design Management LLC will design the project, which is scheduled for completion in the winter of 2012.

Outcome: Regents unanimously approved the two University Hospital projects.

Building Named for Gorguze

Regents were asked to authorize naming the College of Engineering’s Engineering Programs Building as the Gorguze Family Laboratory. Vincent T. and Gloria M. Gorguze donated $5 million to fund an expansion of the building, located on UM’s north campus.

Vincent Gorguze received a bachelor’s degree from UM in metallurgical engineering in 1941. He worked for Ford Motor Co. and Curtiss-Wright Corp. before joining Emerson Electric in 1962, eventually becoming president and chief operating officer. Gorguze is now co-founder and chairman of Cameron Holdings Corp., which specializes in acquiring and operating manufacturing, industrial services and distribution companies.

Outcome: Regents approved renaming the Engineer Programs building as the Gorguze Family Laboratory.

Wolfson Endowment

Regents were asked to approve a variety of uses for $419,000 in estimated income from the Julian A. Wolfson and the Marguerite Wolfson Endowment Funds, which support the UM law school faculty. The uses include paying for faculty to attend professional meetings, equipping faculty offices, and sponsoring the Wolfson Scholar-in-Residence program, among other things.

Regents also approved continued use of the Wolfson reserves – unspent endowment income accumulated from prior years – as recommended by the law faculty for emergency and housing loans to the faculty.

Outcome: Regents unanimously approved items related to the Wolfson endowment funds.

Conflict-of-Interest Disclosures

On Thursday’s agenda were 17 items that required disclosure under the state’s Conflict of Interest statute. The law requires that regents vote on potential conflict-of-interest disclosures related to university staff, faculty or students. Often, the items involve technology licensing agreements or leases.

This month, the items included seven lease agreements, 11 licensing agreements and three research agreements with various companies, including several based in Ann Arbor.

Six of the agreements relate to start-ups that will lease space in the university’s Venture Accelerator program, located in Building 26 at the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) – the former Pfizer site on Plymouth Road. The highest-profile among those was a three-year lease agreement with Lycera Corp., which is planning to occupy 14,134 square feet of laboratory and office space. The item had been withdrawn from the regents’ April 2011 agenda because the deal hadn’t been finalized in time for the meeting. It was not on the original May 19 agenda, but was added at the meeting as a supplemental agenda item. Lycera is a start-up that’s developing treatments for autoimmune diseases like psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The lease would begin during the summer of 2011, with Lycera paying a monthly rate of $42,083.33 and 3% annual increases. The lease is a full service gross lease – all costs are covered by the monthly rent. In addition, Lycera will enter into an animal services agreement during the lease, paying standard rates for UM’s regulatory oversight of research animals for no more than $500,000 annually.

The disclosure was triggered because three UM employees also own stock in Lycera. They are David Canter, executive director of the NCRC; Lycera co-founder and UM professor Gary Glick, who also serves as the company’s chief scientific officer; and associate professor Anthony Opipari, a Lycera co-founder who serves on the firm’s scientific advisory board.

Other start-ups leasing space at NCRC that were approved by regents include Advanced Battery Control, Chemxlerate, Edington Associates, JBR Pharma Inc., and Reveal Design Automation Inc.

The remaining conflict-of-interest disclosures related to the following entities: 1250 N. Main LLC, BHJ Tech Inc., Arbor Research Collaborative for Health, Baker-Calling Inc., LectureTools Inc., Possibilities for Change LLC, SenSigma Inc., and Vortex Hydro Energy.

Outcome: Without discussion, regents unanimously authorized all 17 conflict-of-interest disclosures.

Presentations: Compliance Website, MSA Report

In addition to a presentation related to business education at UM’s Dearborn campus, regents heard two other reports, regarding: (1) a new compliance website; and (2) the Michigan Student Assembly.

Presentations: Compliance Website

Sue Scarnecchia, UM’s vice president and general counsel, gave an overview of a new website that coordinates various compliance efforts at the university. The Compliance Resource Center has been developed over the past 18 months, Scarnecchia said – a process that included interviews with over 100 individuals and many campus groups. She introduced two staff members – Fiona Linn, compliance project manager, and Kris Snook, senior paralegal and compliance coordinator – who took the lead on that effort.

Sue Scarnecchia

Sue Scarnecchia, UM's vice president and general counsel, gave a presentation about a new website that coordinates the university's various compliance efforts.

They also looked at the approaches taken by more than two dozen other universities, Scarnecchia said, and found two basic models: (1) a centralized compliance office; or (2) a decentralized approach, with compliance efforts handled by individual units. They didn’t think either model would work for UM, so they created their own, she said.

They didn’t want to create a duplicative process or add employees, so they decided to develop a website that coordinates existing compliance offices campuswide, she said. In addition, a compliance coordinator position was created – that job is held by Snook. The website is intended to respond to queries from outside entities or the regents, if questions arise about compliance issues. It also is designed to help people who are new to the university or to their roles, guiding them through compliance processes and providing resources.

The site allows users to browse by topic – such as athletics, health care or tax/financial – or by activity or operation. It also provides compliance overviews related to specific roles – faculty, staff, researchers or managers. There are mechanisms on the site to report concerns or ask questions, and a guide to “acting ethically.”

The site launched in March, and has had 3,500 unique visitors and about 13,000 page views since then, Scarnecchia said. Other universities have also started to ask if they can copy UM’s site design, she said.

Presentations: MSA Report

DeAndree Watson, president of the Michigan Student Assembly – the university’s student governing group – gave regents an update on MSA’s efforts to promote student activism, including an effort to boost recycling and composting on campus. He also noted that high school students at the University Academy, a Detroit charter school, have decided to model their student government bylaws and constitution based on MSA documents. Students from the school were coming to campus the following day to meet with him and other MSA leaders, he said. [.pdf file of MSA report]

Public Commentary

Carl Cohen was the only speaker during the meeting’s two opportunities for public commentary.

Cohen, a UM philosophy professor at the Residential College, outlined the history of the RC, a living-learning community located within the East Quad dorm. He noted that he was one of the faculty who designed the program, which opened in 1967.

Carl Cohen

UM philosophy professor Carl Cohen advocated for design changes in the upcoming East Quad renovations, to better accommodate the Residential College program.

Cohen said the RC does what’s now being praised at the new North Quad: “We integrate the residential circumstances of undergraduates with their university studies.” When the college celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007, more than 10% of graduates returned for the event – normally, such reunions only bring about a half percent, he said. What’s more, “our students have been more than loyal – they have excelled,” he said.

East Quad is about 70 years old, and will soon get a “badly needed” renovation, Cohen said. The RC, which he said will be exiled for the 2012-13 academic year, recently was shown plans for where the program will be located after the renovation. “Present plans are a total disaster,” he said. Spaces that have been used by the RC will be returned to university housing, and instead the program will be given less space in undesirable locations – including windowless cubicles for faculty in the basement, and classrooms and small offices that are “jammed on top of one another.”

“In this cramped and profoundly unsatisfying setting we simply cannot survive,” he said. Senior faculty won’t come, he added, nor will undergraduates be attracted to it.

Cohen urged regents to intervene and ensure that adequate space is provided to the Residential College in the renovated East Quad. He said he knew how passionate regents have been in supporting undergraduate education. “You have an opportunity to manifest that support,” he said. “You can make your pleasure known – you can save the college of which we have all been so proud. But if you do nothing, the planned deployment of spaces will go forward, and your Residential College will atrophy and fade away.”

Present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Julia Darlow, Larry Deitch, Denise Ilitch, Olivia (Libby) Maynard, Andrea Fischer Newman, Andrew Richner, Kathy White. Martin Taylor participated by speaker phone. Deitch left the meeting following the vote on the GSRA resolution.

Next board meeting: Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 3 p.m. at the Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]


  1. By Stephen Landes
    May 24, 2011 at 11:03 am | permalink

    RE: GSRA resolution

    Let’s see: resolution proposed by the majority with no advanced notice to the entire Board; reluctance to answer questions from the minority; relying on “we must pass this now, let the details be worked out later”; jam it through despite the concerns of the person most responsible for the operation of the University; all this in favor of unionization.

    Sounds like typical Democrat politics to me.

  2. By Anonymous Alas
    May 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm | permalink

    “Fundamental change” in the relationship between GSRAs and faculty is long overdue. Research assistants are treated very poorly in some units here (it varies from unit to unit and advisor to advisor). It’s too strong to say they’re students in name only, but their student side is definitely given a lower priority than their research side. They often get very little mentoring and are essentially treated as indentured labor, with their PhDs held hostage until they produce a certain amount of material. International students are particularly vulnerable to abuse, since they have to keep their positions to keep their visas. A little bit of collective bargaining could help redress this imbalance and promote consistency across units.

    Unionizing is not without risk. It’s always possible to make it economically infeasible to hire your members. It’s no coincidence that the massive growth of the lecturer class came after GEO was born. But should research assistants have the *right* to unionize? You betcha. They get paid, they get benefits, they’re subject to OSHA regulations, they pay income tax, Social Security, Medicare; they need that money to live on just like the rest of us. There is no sense in which they’re not employees, except in Coleman’s rosy memories of her happy grad school years–which were decades ago. It’s a different world now. Of *course* they should have the right to unionize.

  3. By Anonymous Alas
    May 24, 2011 at 2:02 pm | permalink

    By the way, while it’s nice that Coleman thinks that the U has “enjoyed excellent relationships with the unions,” I doubt that the unions in question would have quite as positive an assessment. The U employs some hardass bargainers, and several units have resisted complying with the terms of some of the contracts with all their might. And you might ask Kirsten Herold about her excellent relationship with her employer.

    Coleman’s arguments were used against the formation of GEO, and again of LEO, and similar arguments have been made against the unionization of faculty elsewhere by AFT and AAUP. Yet somehow, despite those catastrophes, universities manage to limp along.

  4. By Ben
    May 24, 2011 at 9:48 pm | permalink

    Republicans opposing the extension of collective bargaining rights to a new class of employee? I am shocked. Simply shocked. The president may be more concerned with ruffling feathers in Lansing, including those of friend Rick. And given the hair trigger that Republicans have set on education budgets, I can’t say I blame her.

  5. By Tom Whitaker
    May 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm | permalink

    Likewise, no one should ever be shocked that anything on the Regent’s agenda gets approved. The only shocker is when the approval is not unanimous. It is extremely rare that an item makes it onto the agenda without absolute certainty that it will pass unanimously.

  6. By Marvin Face
    May 25, 2011 at 10:16 am | permalink

    Tom, this is surprising to you? Anyone who has been part of a board or in other leadership positions knows that you only ask for a vote when you already know the outcome. Unwritten governance 101.

  7. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm | permalink

    “Sounds like typical Democrat politics to me.”

    About time some Democrats starting acting like Democrats in this state and in this city.

  8. By Rod Johnson
    May 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm | permalink

    Whoa, I just noticed the renaming of the building I work in (EPB) as the Gorguze Family Laboratory. First I’ve heard of it. (We also have a party deck living roof, by the way.)

  9. May 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm | permalink

    It is unconscionable that the Regents would make a decision as important as the one on GSRA unionizing with no prior discussion, consideration, or input in a surprise agenda item. This is purely a bad decision-making making process, and completely unworthy of the “Leaders and the Best”. As a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, I am ashamed of the party-line vote. A University should be led by people willing to use their brains!

  10. By Anonymous Alas
    June 1, 2011 at 11:18 am | permalink

    This isn’t about “unionizing,” this is the U coughing up a conceptual hairball; it’s not the Democrats’ fault that the Republican Regents are pro-hairball. It’s about rationalizing an obviously irrational situation, a fossil of an earlier time. GSRAs are legally employees, and employees have the right to collective bargaining. Maintaining the status quo would have been ridiculous and probably actionable (oh wait, this is Snyder’s Michigan now, maybe not). Students move back and forth seamlessly between GSRA and GSTA from semester to semester. It’s inane to think the nature of their employment fluctuates in some abstract way while nothing else changes. This is a win for anyone who doesn’t see unions as the generic Enemy.