In a rare unanimous opinion in August, the National Labor Relations Board overturned its Chicago regional director’s controversial decision that Northwestern University football players are employees -- and therefore are entitled to unionize and to bargain over the terms and conditions of their employment. But the NLRB ruling avoided the case’s substantive issues, resting instead on a discretionary refusal to exercise jurisdiction.
For the Northwestern football players who brought the case, the issue is over. There is no right of appeal from the NLRB’s ruling. The impounded union election ballots that the 76 eligible players cast were never counted, and they now will be destroyed with no one knowing the outcome.
Yet we would argue that the real and continuing importance of this case lies in what it has contributed to the long overdue, and now increasingly intense, national conversation about the treatment of athletes in college sports -- especially how athletes can influence the rules that control their competitive and academic lives and the level of financial aid and other benefits they receive.
The College Athletes Players Association (led by former athletes, including a Northwestern football player) and other union advocates argue that the door is still open to reform college sports through unionization, a means that most in the college athletics establishment disfavor. The NLRB ruling painstakingly repeats (seven times) that the board reached no decision whether college football players ever might be allowed to unionize.
Yet the rationale for the NLRB’s decision not to rule -- that team sports require common rules with leaguewide applicability, but the vast majority of colleges and universities with major football and other sports programs are public institutions not covered by the National Labor Relations Act -- makes it hard to envision that the NLRB would reconsider this issue anytime soon.
The board’s refusal to decide the merits averted what undoubtedly would have been an abrupt and enormous transformation of college sports. Athletic and other leaders at Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame and Stanford University already had hinted at withdrawing from big-time athletics had their players been allowed to organize as employees. But the decision still leaves open at least two major and related issues at the center of current discussions of college sports reform:
How to give college players a direct voice in determining how they are treated. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s member colleges and universities develop both institutional and national policies that govern what they think is the right experience for their athletes. But as former athlete Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, observed, “How do they know? They haven’t asked the players.” If not through unionization, then some other regularized means must be developed, besides litigation, whereby college athletes can participate directly in the conversation about the rules that apply to their sports.
The existing campus model would be something akin to academic and staff councils, created to give official voice through elected representation to the concerns of constituents, and allow for formal recommendations to be made to the governance structure on their behalf. Some argue that this type of input is not enough.
In January, the NCAA began experimenting with actual student seats with full voting rights on bodies that determine policy. How well that will work and whether it will be considered enough remains to be seen. The College Athletes Players Association will not likely be satisfied with anything less than fully equal representation.
How to fairly shape the college athlete’s total experience. We emphasized “besides litigation” above because what we see as the second major issue -- how to allocate the skyrocketing revenue that players help produce in big-time college athletics and determine what players’ educational, health and financial aid experiences should be at all NCAA levels -- has already found its way into the courts in multiple ways. It is now a race to see if voluntary reforms can outpace litigated results.
In 2014, a California federal judge ruled in a class action brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon that NCAA regulations limiting players’ commercial rights to their own names and likenesses violated antitrust laws. The Ninth Circuit recently issued a stay on that decision until the full appeal can be heard. In the meantime, the Pac-12 conference proposed that the NCAA vote in January on a proposal that would allow athletes to use their names, images and likenesses to promote their own nonathletic business ventures. Two other antitrust claims addressing NCAA rules limiting athletic “grants in aid” are also making their way through the courts. The NLRB ruling cited the beginning of some scholarship reform within the NCAA as additional support for declining jurisdiction in the unionization fight.
The stakes are not small -- for athletes or their institutions. Northwestern’s program generated $30 million in the 2012-13 academic year from ticket sales, broadcast contracts, stadium rights and merchandise sales (not including football-inspired donations from alumni and others). And those numbers are at the lower end for institutions in the five most powerful football conferences or other conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision, all of whose revenues will continue to increase from their unprecedented long-term media rights contracts.
As those revenues have grown, colleges and universities have made ever greater demands on their athletes for more effort -- sometimes up to 40 or 50 hours per week in addition to their studies. And, in response, athletes are increasingly questioning whether athletic obligations are impeding their academic opportunities.
The Northwestern players had the chance to graduate debt-free -- an opportunity that many of their fellow students would envy. They were awarded scholarships estimated at $61,000 per year, covering their tuition, fees, books, and room and board -- but limited by the NCAA rules until recently to these items alone. For the first time this year NCAA rules permit athletic scholarships to cover the higher “full cost of attendance” at an institution, which is the value of a full need-based or academic scholarship.
In these circumstances it is not surprising that the NLRB regional director questioned the contention of NCAA and college and university officials that Northwestern football players are really students and not employees.
What may surprise is that the Northwestern athletes who brought the unionization petition did not ask for the opportunity to bargain for additional compensation or direct funding -- even though athletes throughout Division I have watched their institution’s additional revenues handsomely enhance coaches’ salaries, create new staff positions and support significant overhead across athletic departments. Rather, the Northwestern athletes sought an expansion of other benefits and protections related to the traditional view that college sports are as part of the athletes’ educational experiences (and consistent with their institutions’ tax-exempt purposes). They called for enhanced academic support, broader medical coverage for all sport-related injuries before and after graduation, measures to minimize and compensate for traumatic injuries, and guaranteed four-year scholarships to protect against involuntary ineligibility.
This concern with their overall college experience, and how it affects preparation for their future lives, resonates with athletes throughout the NCAA membership, not just those at the high-revenue institutions. But, to concerned athletes, the only avenues to pursue these issues seem to have been to ask to be declared employees -- rather than students competing as athletes -- or to bring other adversarial lawsuits under laws designed to regulate commercial economic activity. Whatever one thinks of collective bargaining as a process, that avenue now appears closed. But these issues will not soon go away.
The colleges and universities that make up the NCAA have little time to come to terms with the twin challenges we’ve raised; the search for meaningful solutions to the right treatment of athletes is now part of the terrain of college sports. And unless the college sports establishment can find the correct balance quickly, and provide athletes with a meaningful and continuing voice, these issues will most likely be decided outside of the academy -- with the potential to totally and suddenly upend the world of college sports in ways that may not well suit the college and university environment.
Christine Helwick is former general counsel for the California State University system and now advises college and university clients at Hirschfeld Kraemer. Jeffrey Orleans is former executive director of the Ivy League, which competes in the NCAA’s Division I, and now advises college and university clients at Hirschfeld Kraemer.
Submitted by Jake New on September 28, 2015 - 3:30am
Arizona State University has apologized and offered to cover the medical expenses of local councilman after the university's mascot, Sparky, injured the man by jumping on his back. The councilman, David Schapira, was still recovering from back surgery during last week's football game when Sparky playfully jumped on Schapira's back, resulting in a torn muscle. "ASU sincerely apologizes for Sparky's excessive exuberance at Friday night's game," the university told the local ABC affiliate.
Schapira recounted the incident on Twitter:
Finally home from the hospital! Here's what happened Friday that put me back in hospital 2 months after back surgery: pic.twitter.com/FGdpVli3x9
State spending on public higher education has been in a free fall since the Great Recession. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2013-14, average state support for higher education was 23 percent less than it was prior to the recession. For many colleges and universities, reductions in state spending have left sizable budgetary holes that cannot be filled exclusively with spending cuts.
The result, in most cases, has been steady increases in tuition and fees charged to students. In effect, as public investment in higher education has declined, the cost burden associated with public higher education has increasingly shifted to students and their families.
Public concern, if not outcry, over this situation has resounded nationwide, and presidential candidates from both political parties have taken stands that higher education has become unaffordable for many students and families. Their response has been to propose policies that would lower the price of college as well as build a stronger federal-state partnership to ensure that states make appropriate investments in higher education.
However, missing from this conversation is the question of how investments -- and cuts -- are distributed among institutions of higher education. While state support flows to all public colleges and universities, some institutions depend on it far more than others. Research universities can look to endowment funds, gifts, auxiliary enterprises and federal funds for revenue when state funds decline, and their students are often more able to bear increases in tuition. But at community colleges and comprehensive public universities, state appropriations are the dominant source of funding, and when they decline, tuition must go up.
It is therefore important that policy makers move beyond the question of total dollars for higher education and consider where those dollars are spent. This issue -- which institutions get what funds -- is a common topic in K-12 education finance, but is often neglected in higher education.
In July, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab (of which we are the director and an affiliate, respectively) convened a national meeting of experts to explore how state higher education funding is allocated. Given Governor Scott Walker’s recent budget and its corresponding cuts to the University of Wisconsin system, we spent time considering the per-student funding that the state of Wisconsin provides to its public colleges and universities. We noted that state spending differs significantly among institutions. For example, in 2012-13, the state provided the University of Wisconsin-Madison with approximately $12,410 per full-time-equivalent student (FTE), whereas it provided $5,157 per FTE to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and just $3,211 per FTE to the two-year University of Wisconsin Colleges.
Differentiated state spending among higher education institutions is not new. On the one hand, legislators and college leaders argue these differences are appropriate and justified due to variations in the quantity and quality of education and related services offered students. And, frankly, that may be an important contributing factor.
On the other hand, the differences in the magnitude and distribution of Wisconsin’s expenditures among in-state higher education institutions raised red flags among the experts. First, while a case might be made that flagship institutions, like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, require additional funding over and above the statewide average to maintain its core functions, the opposite case could be made for institutions such as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which serves a greater share of first-time college students and students from less-advantaged academic background that, arguably, may require more intensive academic supports and services to complete college.
This idea of “vertical equity” is woven into the fabric of K-12 education finance and well articulated in school funding court cases nationwide. That is, state funding for elementary and secondary education is frequently distributed in ways that provide compensatory, or extra funding, above the norm for schools that serve concentrations of economically disadvantaged students. The research literature that examines nonschool factors influencing academic success has repeatedly reaffirmed the important role that economic advantage plays.
In an era where spending cuts have been the norm, applying such a standard to higher education raises serious questions not only about the extent to which all colleges and universities receive adequate funding to support their mission but also who is most impacted by cuts in state appropriations.
This question of who may be most affected by higher education cuts introduces another concern -- whether those cuts are fairly distributed. Another important observation made by our group is that institutions already operating at the margin have less capacity to buffer students and families from reductions in state funding. Consider the community college, long relied on to be the most accessible and affordable point of entry to education after high school. To fulfill that mission and keep tuition low, such colleges depend on state and local support. But over time, that support has eroded sharply.
Again, community colleges are less equipped than public universities to attract out-of-state students or raise tuition to offset cuts, and their spending on instruction and student services may be too little to begin with. The two-year University of Wisconsin Colleges serve more first-generation students, more part-time students and more adult undergraduates than any other institutions in the UW system. Does just $3,000 to $6,000 a year (the national average is $5,700) in state support adequately ensure that academically vulnerable, economically insecure students, working parents and nontraditional learners will receive a quality postsecondary education that will prepare them for the workforce and beyond? It seems highly unlikely.
Improving the sufficiency and fairness of state allocations for higher education will require shedding more light on within-state funding distributions. It also will also demand a more careful accounting of the real costs -- not just how much is spent -- associated with educating different groups of students at the postsecondary level. Such data are currently nearly impossible to come by, but they must be collected.
Are UW-Madison students truly more expensive to educate, and if so, why? Are there reasons that could help explain why students at UW Colleges receive the lower level of investment? It is long past time for these questions and others like them to be asked and answered. Absent an unexpected influx of new funds, the future of college affordability will depend on how state monies are spent. We need to start paying attention.
Sara Goldrick-Rab is a professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the founding director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. Tammy Kolbe is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Vermont and an affiliate of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab.
Submitted by Paul Fain on September 28, 2015 - 3:00am
College Abacus is a free online tool for students and families to compare college pricing -- using net-price estimates taken from colleges and federal databases. The tool, which is owned by ECMC Group, a nonprofit loan guarantor, was one of several outside entities the U.S. Department of Education collaborated with on new data from the White House's College Scorecard, released earlier this month. College Abacus got early access to information from the large data sets that undergird the Scorecard, incorporating it into the online tool.
On Monday the group announced the release of a new tool aimed at low-income students. In addition to net-price comparisons, the new Pell Abacus uses data from the Scorecard to display college-specific information on financial factors such as average loan payments for Pell Grant recipients, the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants and the average monthly income percentage spent on federal loan repayments after college.
“By making this process simple to navigate without tax forms and accessible on mobile phones, we’re removing some of the key barriers preventing low-income students from exploring their full range of college options,” Abigail Seldin, co-founder of College Abacus and vice president of innovation and product management at ECMC Group, said in a written statement.
Submitted by Paul Fain on September 28, 2015 - 3:00am
Ivory Toldson is the new executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the U.S. Department of Education announced on Friday. Toldson has been deputy director of the initiative since 2013. He follows George Cooper, the previous executive director, who died in July.
A former professor of psychology at Howard and Southern Universities, Toldson also has worked for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, congratulated Toldson in a written statement. "Despite difficult circumstances," Duncan said, "he and the initiative’s team have continued to remain focused on their work and the students they serve."
Graduate student workers at Cornell University voted to form a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, they announced Thursday. The election took place outside National Labor Relations Board channels and the university has not recognized Cornell Graduate Students United. There’s a federal labor law precedent against graduate student worker unions at private colleges -- Cornell is private, although it operates some units of the State University of New York -- but the union says it would like to be recognized by the university anyway, outside of litigation. (New York University recognized its United Autoworkers-affiliated graduate student union, for example.) If that doesn't happen, the Cornell union says, it will explore various options to further student workers’ goals, which include increased stipends, workers’ compensation, six- and seventh-year funding, and more say in university affairs.
Joel M. Malina, a Cornell spokesperson, said in a statement that graduate student workers are not considered employees under federal labor law since “their relationship with the university is primarily educational. As a result, they do not have the right to union representation or to engage in collective bargaining. Cornell will follow the law.” If the law changes, he said, and graduate student workers still want a union, “such considerations are ultimately a matter for Cornell graduate assistants to decide through the appropriate process, which may include a legally sanctioned election should a sufficient number of graduate students request one.”
Levi Esses, Newman University’s dean of students, on Tuesday noticed Provost Michael Austin coughing and, as soon became apparent, choking, The Wichita Eagle reported. Fortunately, Esses knows the Heimlich maneuver and was able to dislodge a piece of candy on which the provost was choking. Austin was, of course, appreciative. On Wednesday, he quipped that “provosts should not try to walk and chew at the same time.”
Emails between newly selected University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and Iowa's Board of Regents reveal that Harreld met with multiple board members in July, weeks before candidates were formally interviewed by the 21-member presidential search committee.
Bruce Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents, confirmed in a statement that Harreld met with four board members on July 30 in Ames, Iowa. Harreld sent his résumé -- which has since been critiqued by faculty members for inaccuracy -- to regents in advance of their meeting. He also visited Iowa's health system on July 8. That day he gave a lecture to hospital administrators and had lunch with Rastetter and three search committee members.
"I especially appreciated your candor and perspective on the challenges and opportunities at UI," Harreld wrote to one regent after their July 30 meeting. "As we discussed, institutions only go up or down. It's clear many critical elements are in place to enable UI's next leader to take the institution to the next level."
That regent, Mary Andringa, wrote back to Harreld and encouraged him to apply for the presidency: "Crisis necessitates change -- it may be the big challenge that can energize you in the next five years!"
The revelation of these meetings further fuels concern among some faculty and staff at Iowa that Harreld's eventual selection was a done deal even before he and three other candidates were announced as finalists earlier this month. Harreld was selected as Iowa's next president, effective November, despite widespread faculty, student and staff opposition.
In his statement, Rastetter defended board members' meetings with Harreld. "The purpose of these meetings, which were at Mr. Harreld’s request, was for him to become more informed about the expectations the board had for the next president of the University of Iowa," he said.