Student group forms following UMD professor's resignation

Student group forms following UMD professor's resignation

Updated: April 11, 2021 11:02 AM
Created: April 10, 2021 09:51 PM

“It was literally a choice between my job and my life...and I chose my life." 

That’s how Dr. Tracy Bibelnieks described her decision back on March 24th to not withdraw her resignation from the University of Minnesota Duluth that she says was accidently sent earlier than she originally intended.

Bibelnieks is a tenured Associate Professor of Mathematics & Statistics currently serving out her final semester with UMD.  

Her resignation was brought on by what’s been described as an “environment that a reasonable female department member would find to be intimidating, hostile or offensive.”

That was the verbiage used in a report released two years ago after an investigation was done by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action following the resignation of an assistant professor in the department, Dr. Kristine Snyder, in 2018.

Snyder now reacting to seeing one of her colleagues also resigning two years after that initial report was release.

"Honestly, it’s been harder to watch things after I left, than it was for me to be there," Snyder explained. "I think the biggest problem people have is nothing happened and now they know nothing happened because they know something was found."

Bibelnieks said it was her perception that nothing had happened since the report that made her experiences in the department even harder, saying it was, "incredibly damaging to myself, to my personal life, to my family, to my professional work."

When Kari Olson, a student of Bibelnieks and a senior at UMD, got word of her resignation she said she wanted answers and change. She created the group "Students for Accountability and Equity in STEM", now 15 members, to seek push for a shift in culture.

"We've been just boots to the ground getting the word out and we've crafted demands for the Math and Stats Department and delivered them last week to administration," explained Olson.

Their demands were written out as follows:

  • "We demand public acknowledgement [from the leaders of UMD’s Math & Stats department] of the following: 2019 EOAA findings, Dr. Tracy Bibelnieks’s resignation, the causal relationship between the EOAA findings and Dr. Bibelnieks’s resignation."
  • "We demand accountability [from UMD’s Math & Stats department] in the form of collaboration with external bodies (EOAA, ODI, similar organizations) to build, publicly release, and execute a plan designed to do whatever necessary to dismantle the department’s “intimidating, hostile, and offensive environment” (as per the 2019 EOAA findings) and replace it with one that is safe, inclusive, and equitable for all. This progress should be continually evaluated and assessed by an external body such as the EOAA. This plan should be implemented and made public no later than September 1st, 2021."
  • "We demand that UMD’s Math & Stats department mandate ally and advocate training and bystander intervention training for all staff and faculty. This training should be completed no later than September 1st, 2021. Additionally, all faculty and staff should be required to commit [in writing] to implementing said programs."    

The Dean of UMD's Swenson College of Science and Engineering, Dr. Wendy Reed, has said that she will meet with Olson and her group. 

"Shifting a culture is hard, and necessary.  It is unacceptable and we lament that people in our college have experienced harm,” said Reed. “Changing a culture requires everyone to learn new ways to interact and hold each other accountable.  In addition to addressing incidents of misconduct directly, in SCSE we are working to build a culture that supports people in this work.  We do that through evaluating, documenting and changing our policies and procedures that may introduce bias, by supporting education and training, by providing opportunities for dialogue and growth. I am committed to ensure that all SCSE faculty, staff, and students feel welcomed, safe, and respected."

Though she says that she did not ask students to form this group or speak out, Bibelnieks says she’s proud that they have.

"Students need to stand up. They are a force of change. They are absolutely in their element and they are absolutely valid in asking for equity and accountability."

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