Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. set off controversy last week (and has since attracted widespread praise at his institution and among conservatives) for urging his students to carry concealed weapons, in part so they could defend themselves against Muslims. He clarified that he was referring to Muslims who are like those who have engaged in terrorist acts, and not all Muslims. Falwell is not only defending his comments, but building on them. He announced Wednesday that Liberty is loosening its remaining rules on guns, and will now allow them in residence halls.
On Wednesday, however, another president of a Christian college weighed in on these issues. Loren Swartzendruber of Eastern Mennonite University published an essay in which he said, "The attacks in Paris, recent violent attacks in South Carolina and California in the United States, expressed hatred towards immigrants, and now the sight of another Christian university president urging, in fact condoning, acts of violence to his student body -- I feel an obligation to publicly enter this conversation." He announced a series of plans, such as promoting "peace-building efforts," and promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue.
Eastern Mennonite, in Virginia, bans weapons from campus.
Non-tenure-track faculty members at the University of Chicago voted 96 to 22 to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Wednesday. More than 10,000 faculty members at dozens of colleges and universities have voted to form SEIU-affiliated unions in the past three years, and the Chicago union is one of several to include full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members, in addition to part-time faculty members.
A university spokesman said the university would begin collective bargaining proceedings with the new unit. Eric D. Isaacs, provost at Chicago, said in a statement, “I greatly value the contributions of every member of our community to our shared mission of intellectual engagement, teaching and research, and I thank you for your dedication to our students and to the University of Chicago community.”
Submitted by John Gerdy on December 10, 2015 - 3:00am
In 1997, I published a book titled The Successful College Athletic Program: The New Standard, in which I wrote about “the deal” between the “student-athlete and the institution." Specifically, I argued that the agreement in which student-athletes provide athletic performance in exchange for the opportunity to earn a well-balanced athletic, academic and social experience resulting in a meaningful degree that prepares them for the next 50 years of their lives was, in principle, fair. As a former college basketball player and former associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, I saw enough evidence of this in the players I interacted with that I truly believed it.
Given how much the landscape of intercollegiate athletics has changed since 1997, though, The New Standard might as well have been published in 1887.
Everything about big-time college athletics has exploded -- from budgets to revenue generated, from media exposure to public scrutiny and, in a corresponding fashion, the pressure to win and the 24/7, 12-months-a-year athletic demands on players. The result? There is no longer any question that the education athletes are receiving as their share of the bargain at far too many universities has been woefully inadequate, and in some cases fraudulent. Clearly, it is time to restructure the athlete-institution agreement in a way that reflects the realities of major college athletics in the 21st century.
Before proceeding, we must recognize a fundamental reality. There is no longer any point in referring to the young people who play football and men’s basketball at the major college level as “student-athletes.” Given the amount of time they are required to spend on athletics, for all practicality, they are, in fact, professionals. Further, their ability to keep their scholarships (pay) hinges upon their ability to perform athletically (play). And a professional athlete is one who plays for pay. So let’s move beyond the notion that they are amateurs and can ever be so again. That is pure fantasy.
So how can the deal be restructured to be equitable in the wildly commercialized, highly professionalized, media-driven world of college athletics in the 21st century?
Let’s start with the basics, the benefits provided and costs covered for the athlete while on campus. Fortunately, many of these basic, on-campus needs are beginning to be met with proposals for increased cost of attendance and living stipends and the possibility of multiyear scholarship guarantees that have been granted through recent NCAA changes. That’s a good start.
But let’s not simply give athletes things while on campus to keep them and the public placated in the short term. We must also recalibrate our priorities to where long-term considerations become paramount. That will require a more creative, open-minded and strategic approach.
The New Deal
There are two fundamental principles and responsibilities that colleges and universities owe to all students, including athletes: an educational experience that is relevant in today’s world and a commitment to keeping them safe and healthy.
As has been well documented, the health risks of football are skyrocketing, driven by the increasing revelations relating to the risk of concussion and long-term brain trauma. We’re no longer talking about sprained ankles and broken bones. They can heal. Brains often do not.
As a result, the ground has shifted regarding institutional responsibility for not only athletes’ short-term health while on campus but also their long-term physical well-being. While there are many issues to be worked out regarding eligibility, length of coverage and adjudication of benefits and costs, some package of long-term health care after separation from the institution should be a part of the New Deal.
Further, it is abundantly clear that the standard college educational experience is not available for football and men’s basketball athletes. Yet we insist on forcing many who are clearly nontraditional students into a traditional educational format. Clearly, that approach has not worked. Simply consider the University of North Carolina’s decades-long use of bogus classes and majors to keep athletes eligible as exhibit A. And that was a school that had long been cited as one that did it the “right” way. Obviously, UNC is not the only college to engage in this practice, as evidenced in recent academic fraud cases at Syracuse and the University of Texas. The fact is, academic fraud and disregarding the long-term needs and aspirations of athletes in the name of winning has been going on, in one form or another, for decades, if not for a century.
We simply can’t continue to enter into agreements with young athletes based on a promise on which we can’t deliver. We must restructure the academic portion of their college experience in a way that will make the education they do receive worthy of, and relevant in, the 21st century.
As a foundation, there must be an opportunity and mechanism for athletes to return to school after their playing days are over. For example, for every year that an athlete plays for a university, he should be awarded an additional one-year full scholarship to attend the institution at a later date to more fully avail himself of the broad array of not only educational, but social, opportunities and experiences that were not truly available when playing ball. Regardless of how the specifics are worked out, the New Deal should include such a provision.
The On-Campus Payout
There is another aspect to the educational payout that must be addressed. What should the educational experience look like while on campus?
It starts with the sacred notion of the athlete as a full-time student. The college experience of these athletes is so radically different from that of the average, traditional student that they might as well be attending college on another planet. Why continue the farce of these athletes having to be traditional full-time students when the fundamental structure of the system prevents them from being so?
For example, during their main playing seasons, athletes should be part-time students. During the off-season, they should be required to be enrolled in more hours. But, once again, we must be honest. Being a major college athlete in the sports of football and basketball is a 24-7, year-round job. What they really need is a legitimate off-season. It was never intended that part of the deal was that we “own” them twelve months a year. They are not machines. Athletes need a period of time where they have no responsibilities or requirements related to the sport for at least three months per year. Even professional teams give their athletes time off.
Further, many expect that as a result of several legal cases currently in the system, athletes will be provided the right to leverage their own pictures and images for financial gain while enrolled in college. Rather than fighting these changes, educational and athletic leaders should embrace it as an opportunity to restructure the deal in new and creative ways that are more relevant for the athlete of the 21st century.
For example, giving athletes the opportunity to leverage their name and build their personal brand offers a wonderful experiential educational opportunity to restructure the bargain in a way that makes sense for today’s world.
Why not, for example, provide athletes the option of a restructured curriculum to not only allow them to leverage their name and brand but to provide opportunities to teach lessons in business and entrepreneurship? Let’s put a curriculum in place where, through a true, real-life case study -- their very own -- they learn the skills of innovation, branding and entrepreneurship.
Athletes will be much more engaged as students if their curriculum centers on using their name and image to build a personal brand or a small business that could result in their own financial gain. Such a curriculum could include studies in marketing, social media, brand equity, revenue development, financial investing, sales, leadership and mentoring development, sport management, coaching, and sport law. These courses are far more likely to be viewed as being more relevant by today’s athletes than those that comprise the more traditional curriculum.
Although some may consider such a change simply kowtowing to athletes, the point is that we must reconsider what a meaningful educational experience for athletes in today’s world consists of, as it is clear that the current framework is outdated.
While there may have been a time when athletes could achieve a well-balanced athletic and traditional academic experience, that possibility, for big-time football and men’s basketball athletes, no longer exists. While the athletic side of the enterprise has evolved exponentially, the expectations and standards relating to the academic side of the deal have remained virtually unchanged. We simply cannot continue to run a 21st-century athletics enterprise with a 20th-century mind-set and worldview.
So the question for higher education leaders is whether they are going to be progressive agents of change or victims of what will likely be draconian change. The choice for American higher education is to either sort this out among ourselves or leave it to those outside higher education to impose their version of change upon us.
In short, it’s time for a New Deal. This agreement should be comprised of a restructured academic experience that honors our responsibility to provide a real-world, honest and relevant educational experience but also reflects the realities of today’s athlete.
John Gerdy, former associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, is founder and executive director of Music for Everyone and author of Ball or Bands: Football vs. Music as an Educational and Community Investment.
The Black Student Union at Lebanon Valley College has made a number of demands of the college, and one is prompting considerable backlash. The students want the college to rename Lynch Memorial Hall, PennLive reported. The building is named for Clyde A. Lynch (right), an alumnus who was president of the college from 1932 to 1950, and who died in office. He is credited with helping to keep the college functioning and growing during the Depression, no easy task for a small college without a large endowment. Students who are pushing for the name change say that the name "Lynch" has racist associations because of lynching. But while many of the students' demands for change at the college are being praised, the name change is prompting a strong backlash, with many saying that the honor for the late president is appropriate and does not involve racial issues.
Miller College, a small private institution with about 275 students, is shutting down due to severe financial problems. The college, on the campus of Kellogg Community College, primarily offers upper division courses. The Battle Creek Enquirer reported that recent audits revealed financial challenges far greater than officials realized they faced, and that there was no way to get the college financially solvent. Among the problems appears to be that hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal aid may have been distributed in unauthorized ways. Western Michigan University announced Tuesday that it would offer assistance so that Miller students could complete their degrees.
Another women's college has decided to go completely coeducational.
The College of New Rochelle on Tuesday announced its plans to begin accepting men into its School of Arts & Sciences in fall 2016. The New York college has been accepting men in other programs for about four decades. Its School of Nursing, School of New Resources (for adult learners) and Graduate School are already coed -- the college's School of Arts & Sciences was the last holdout, and has been women only since the college was founded in 1904.
“This decision was made after very careful thought, evaluation of several key factors, and above all with a great reverence for the college’s mission,” Elizabeth LeVaca, chair of the college's governing board, said in a statement, adding that the board received supportive feedback on the change.
A Facebook page for New Rochelle alumni contained a mix of comments, many supportive and understanding but several quite critical.
Liberty University issued a response to criticism of Jerry Falwell Jr., the university's president, who attracted widespread attention for convocation remarks Friday in which he encouraged students to register to carry concealed weapons. The university statement denied that, when Falwell said it was important to "end those Muslims," he was talking about all Muslims. The statement said he was talking about "the Muslim terrorists who attacked innocents in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris, France. He also clarified that he was in no way referring to the many good and honorable Muslims who do not come into public spaces armed to kill innocents. When hearing the remarks in their full context, the public can see that there was no attempt to incite hate against anyone, much less all Muslims."
The statement noted that Liberty adopted its policy of allowing people to carry concealed weapons after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, which is not far from Liberty. "His remarks were a call to arms for self-defense and a criticism of political leaders who see the answer to such tragedies as more gun control. More gun control leads to more places and circumstances where innocents are unarmed and unable to defend themselves," said the university statement.
Liberty also released on Monday an essay by Daniel Howell, a biology professor at the university, answering those who expressed shock that the president of a Christian university would encourage students to become armed. "Unbelievers and others lacking knowledge about the true character of God sometimes refer to Christ’s moniker as the Prince of Peace to conclude Christianity must be a wimpy, defenseless teaching," wrote Howell. "Of course, this is one of many titles for Jesus, another being the Lion of Judah. While Jesus was exceptionally mild and meek at his first coming, we are assured by Scripture that he will not be so at his second coming. He is described in Revelation 19 as the king of kings who leads the armies of heaven on a white horse and utterly destroys his enemies with the word of his mouth (visualized there as a sword). In a world littered with violence, the Prince of Peace knows that real tranquility is only obtained through strength."
A growing number of institutions are seeking to require background checks for employees, but a policy for the California State University System has the faculty asking to put it on hold, according to the Los Angeles Times. The policy for all new hires took effect in August and requires criminal records checks as well as verification of past employment, education and references. Credit checks also could be part of the deal for some candidates. While current employees are generally exempt from the new policy, some who change jobs within the system could be subjected to it, along with student workers and consultants.
In a resolution last month, the systemwide Academic Senate asked Chancellor Timothy P. White to suspend the new policy and establish a task force to examine how background checks are to be used in hiring decisions across the 23 campuses. In light of faculty concerns about privacy and fears that the policy could drive away qualified candidates, administrators have said they'll monitor how the policy is working. But they haven't suspended it. They're also pointing out that the policy already has uncovered one faculty applicant’s past conviction of a lewd conduct involving a minor.
Lori Lamb, vice chancellor for human resources, told the Times, "This is exactly the reason we have this policy. … I would hate to be in my job and have something negative happen to a student or visitor and then learn a person had a conviction for that.” Lamb said the policy was developed over a two-year period with the input of the faculty union, but that they the Academic Senate is invited to participate in the monitoring process. Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania court blocked the State System of Higher Education's attempts to begin background checks for all employees as a policy that must go through collective bargaining with the faculty union, pending review by a state labor board. (Note: This story has been corrected from a previous version to note that the background check policy was not put on hold, despite the Academic Senate's request.)