Submitted by Jake New on December 17, 2014 - 3:00am
Legislation that would ban the unionization of college athletes passed the Michigan Senate Tuesday. The bill would require all college athletes to be classified as "students," preventing them from being classified as employees of the state's public universities. “The issue of student athletes and unions is one that will require study, and the governor will give the bill a thorough review once it is presented to determine whether or not he should sign it into law,” said David Murray, a spokesman for Michigan's governor, told Michigan Live.
There's been no indication that such an attempt to unionize was taking place at Michigan's public universities, Michigan Live reported, and the legislation was apparently in response to the ongoing unionization efforts of athletes at Northwestern University, a private university in Illinois. “The Republican Legislature has done so much union busting over the years that now they've resorted to busting unions that don’t even exist," a spokesman for Progress Michigan, a progressive marketing group, said.
College football frenzy is peaking, soon to give way to a crescendo of basketball mania culminating in March Madness. For about 108 of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, this is a distinctly mixed blessing, as intercollegiate athletics pose a drain on school finances – one that is growing steadily over time.
Schools are in an athletic arms race, feeling the necessity to spend ever more funds on high coaches’ salaries and fancy facilities lest they suffer athletic humiliation and the wrath of irate alumni and fans. According to USA Today data, more than 100 schools currently subsidize intercollegiate athletics by more than $10 million a year. The fact that the University of Florida is spending some $7 million to lure a football coach away from Colorado State shows the financial dimensions of this are huge. It is no wonder that at the recent White House college summit, Vice President Biden blasted schools for elaborate spending on stadium sky boxes.
But as President Ray Watts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently showed, it does not have to be that way. He is eliminating the school’s football program.
UAB has been a football power wannabe, playing in the shadows of its superpower state rivals, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Auburn University, which have won a majority of national championships in the past five years.
Its stadium, Legion Field, which seats almost 72,000 people, has limped along with an average attendance recently of under 15,000 fans per game. UAB takes in about $9 million in revenues from its athletics programs but spends $27 million. That $18 million loss amounts to nearly $1,000 annually for each of UAB’s 19,000 students – the equivalent of about 13 percent of the school’s in-state tuition price. Getting rid of football will eliminate some of that loss, though the school will maintain several other sports. More importantly, perhaps, the school will not have to spend tens of millions on new facilities viewed critical to remaining competitive.
Contrast the UAB experience to Ohio University, where we have some experience. Like UAB, it has a so-so football team (6-6 record) and considers a game with 15,000 attending to be pretty typical, despite its stadium capacity of 24,000. Like UAB, it plays in the shadow of a football powerhouse that regularly draws over 100,000 to its games, currently fourth-ranked Ohio State, playing UAB’s sister school Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Like UAB, OU is forced to subsidize intercollegiate sports to the tune of about $18 million a year – again, nearly $1,000 for each of its roughly 20,000 students on the Athens campus (partially disguised as part of a “student activity fee”). Both universities have medical schools. The institutional similarities are striking.
While UAB President Watts is saying “enough is enough,” Ohio President Roderick McDavis is following a more conventional path: let’s spend more to try to break into the ranks of the athletically anointed. Facing similar facility problems as UAB, OU has built a $12.5 million indoor practice facility, primarily for the football team.
It has also announced plans for an “academic center” costing more than $5 million, which will serve as a gated community of sorts where athletes but not ordinary students can study. Ostensibly, an existing study facility and the university’s library are insufficient for the athletes. Similarly, a decade ago the basketball coach made much less than McDavis, but now the coach is paid significantly more than he is.
When former Vanderbilt University President Gordon Gee made the athletic department a unit within the normal university bureaucracy, subject to all of its rules regarding budgeting and staffing, he said that if he tried to do that at Ohio State (where he also was president), he would quickly be pumping gas for a living. University presidents who try to unilaterally disarm athletics face fierce threats to job security that prevent any constructive reform to rein in college costs.
Instead, resources are misappropriated toward sports. Presidents like McDavis spend hours trying to cajole rich donors to help fund new athletic facilities when that money could finance the construction of, say, a much-needed performing arts center or more scholarships for excellent students. The crowding out of academic needs to support sports has come at a high reputational cost – OU has fallen 13 spots in the U.S. News national university listing over the past five years.
Boise State has emerged in recent years as a football power, but compares poorly with the less football-oriented University of Idaho. Despite spending more than twice as much as Idaho on athletics ($43 million versus $19 million), it loses more, and in both the Forbes and U.S. News rankings of colleges, Idaho clearly surpasses Boise. Many university presidents fail to recognize the Iron Law of Sports: when someone wins a game, someone else loses. It is impossible for a large portion of schools to achieve primacy in any given sport.
Economic pressures, however, suggest that other presidents may start biting the bullet and take the UAB route. Total college enrollments are lower today than three years ago, and high costs paired with widespread underemployment of recent college graduates are making students more price-sensitive than in the past. Passing on athletic subsidies to students in the form of higher fees is increasingly unrealistic.
The top 60 or so schools that are genuine athletic powers, about half losing $5 million or less annually on sports, are gaining control of the lucrative commercial aspects of sports through the NCAA athletic cartel. So while Watts might be catching some backlash for his decision to shut down the football program, do not be surprised if this turns out to be a recurring strategy for presidents to control costs in the future.
Additionally, the continued tales of corruption and abuse in sports that stain the reputation of higher education, such as phantom courses at the University of North Carolina, sex abuse at Penn State, and widespread cheating at other schools, should make presidents and trustees more willing to fight to withdraw from the arms race.
There is another model, where sports can be part of college life on an amateur basis without expensive coaches, ESPN television contracts, or athletic scholarships. In fact, this has been a glorious season for a New England town, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Harvard College had an undefeated football team, and M.I.T. went 10-1, losing only in a national playoff game -- despite spending relatively modest amounts on sports. While neither school makes any list of the top 100 football powers, they are at or near the top of nearly every academic ranking.
Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and teaches economics at Ohio University, where Joseph Hartge is an undergraduate studying economics in the Honors Tutorial College.
Submitted by Jake New on December 16, 2014 - 3:00am
The University of Texas at Austin will launch a new center dedicated to addressing the many academic and personal issues faced by college athletes, the university announced Monday. The Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation, which will be led by Daron Roberts, a former NFL assistant coach, will promote faculty research related to college athletes, develop a financial literacy program, and create a training and certification program for high school coaches that would encourage early intervention for troubling or violent athlete behavior.
"As a society, we should be doing everything we can to leverage the enormous popularity of athletics to develop leaders and cultivate integrity," said Bill Powers, the university's president. "We've long known that sports can teach critical virtues like teamwork and discipline."
Union advocates applauded two decisions by the National Labor Relations Board last week, one of which protects the right of employees using work email for union communications. The other decision revises rules for union elections and could shorten the union election process. In the first case, that of Purple Communications and Communications Workers of America, the board ruled that employees communicating with each other on work computers – but not on work time – are free to discuss union activity. The decision did not address communication with non-employees, however.
Aaron Nisenson, chief counsel for the American Association of University Professors, said via email that the decision as it pertains to higher education has particular relevance to faculty members, who frequently communicate via email. “The ability to use email to communicate is essential to faculty, particularly contingent faculty, who are often dispersed and may not be able to speak directly to each other regularly,” he added.
Referring to the second decision, in which the NLRB issued a final rule to modernize representation-case procedures, Nisenson said: “Given the speed at which elections will be conducted under the revised election rules, the ability to communicate via email is extremely important to ensuring that faculty members are fully informed.” The new rule, which takes effect in April, provides for electronic filing and transmission of election petitions, requires that contact information for all eligible voters be included in voter lists – which is especially important for contingent faculty members – and attempts to streamline others aspects of the election process.
“Previously, the results of elections could be tied up for years in pointless litigation, delaying the results of a democratic process, a situation that would be intolerable in any other context,” Nisenson said.
William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, housed at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said both decisions were “good for advocates and union members,” although he said that tenure-track faculty members at private institutions are generally unprotected from the email decision under current case law emanating from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1980 decision in NLRB v. Yeshiva University. According to that decisions, tenure-line faculty members at private institutions have managerial responsibilities and therefore are limited in their ability to form unions.
It should not be controversial to believe that growing up involves becoming stronger, becoming better able to withstand whatever slings and arrows life throws at us and to pursue our goals even against difficult challenges. Surely the college years can and should play an important role in that growing-up process.
And yet, too often colleges treat their students like hatchlings not yet ready to leave the nest, as opposed to preparing and encouraging them to fly.
There are a variety of policies and practices that give students what most of them seem to want, but not necessarily what they most need. Speech codes and trigger warnings are two over-protecting initiatives that have received considerable attention in the higher education press and beyond.
So much has been written about the problems with speech codes that there is no need to belabor the subject at this point. Aside from the legal problems they can present with regard to free speech issues, especially in public higher education, they presume that students cannot withstand, much less respond with vigor to, speech they find objectionable. They also serve as an example of how formal codes and policies are no substitute for shared norms and values concerning how people should behave with one another.
The trigger warning movement, which has offered another field day for those on the lookout for opportunities to ridicule colleges and universities, advocates alerting students in advance to anything potentially upsetting in materials required for a course. Above and beyond being forewarned, some students would presumably be allowed to avoid an encounter with such materials altogether. Aside from this being an insult to the intelligence and good sense of students and faculty members alike, it also threatens to spoil the thrill of discovery. After all, would all first-time readers of Anna Karenina really want to be told ahead of time that [SPOILER ALERT!!] Anna commits suicide by throwing herself under a train at the end of the novel.
And then there is the rash of speaker cancellations due to student unwillingness to be exposed to “objectionable” views from a guest to the campus. Part of this particular problem might be addressed by recognizing that an essentially ritual occasion like a graduation ceremony may not be the best venue for a controversial, as opposed to celebratory, message. That issue taken care of, it should be easier to push back on other occasions against students who are being overly selective in their defense of free speech.
Student reactions to displays of racial insensitivity and prejudice can be considered in this context. The persistence of racism in our society and on our campuses is most certainly disturbing and unacceptable. At the same time, while a couple of students hanging a Confederate flag in their dormitory window or some students sending anonymous offensive tweets should not go without some critical response, incidents like these do not seem sufficient to put an entire campus into a state of turmoil. Surely, that is attributing too much power to the offenders and displaying too much vulnerability on the part of those they would offend.
It is important to consider which institutional customs may be at odds with the task at hand. There is, for example, the practice that has become common of designating certain areas of campus as “safe spaces” for certain kinds of activities and identities. Such language goes above and beyond the informal establishing of preferred comfortable gathering spaces. The implication is that certain students, depending on their identities or preferred activities, are “unsafe” on other areas of campus. This magnifies the sense of personal danger out of all proportion and interferes with students’ appreciation of what it means to be in real peril. It is an obstacle to the development of authentic courage.
The exponential growth of professional student services staff – which, to be sure, has had its positive side – has played into a tendency toward what we might see as self-infantilization on the part of students, who are now in the habit of seeking formal institutional support and approval for the kinds of activities they used to be capable of managing themselves. The most unusual example of this in my own years as a college president occurred when a student came to me seeking institutional recognition for the group she represented, which, as it happened, was composed of students favoring safe, consensual S&M sex. I inquired as to why it was not sufficient that her group was not being interfered with by the administration. That was apparently not good enough for her: she wanted a blessing from those in authority. I declined to provide the blessing, preferring to encourage her to see that she could manage without it.
This support-seeking seems to be of a piece with the prolonged umbilical role that many students maintain with their parents into their college years, calling them several times a day on their cellphones. The parents, for their part, remain overly involved with their children – at least those parents whose life circumstances allow them to do so. And so we have socialization in reverse: rather than helping their offspring achieve adulthood, those who should be the grown-ups are living the lives of their children along with them. Parental over-involvement can make the institutional exercise of authority all the more challenging when it rises to (or descends into) litigiousness.
So -- whose responsibility is it to address this and other aspects of campus culture that stand in the way of students developing the kind of resilience and strength that they need in life? First and foremost, this job, like so many other tough and often thankless tasks, falls to college and university presidents. A job far easier to assign than to fulfill.
Those of us who have moved on to less complicated lives must at least have the good grace to feel their pain. The task, however, must be taken up if the undergraduate experience is to be what it should be. Where presidents lead, staff will follow – and so even will the faculty, if a persuasively argued connection is made to the essential purposes of the institution.
Here, then, are the questions that must frame a president’s response when one of those increasingly common eruptions breaks out on campus: How high does this measure on the Richter scale of crises? How can I respond in a way that plays to my students’ strengths as opposed to their weaknesses? How can this serve as an occasion to increase their wisdom and self-confidence? How will I help them to grow up?
To invoke the timelessly wise words of the Rolling Stones: If students can’t always get what they want, if we try sometimes, we might just find they get what they need.
Judith Shapiro is a former faculty member and provost at Bryn Mawr College and former president of Barnard College.
The board of Brookdale Community College Thursday night approved a series of cuts -- including the elimination of 48 jobs -- to deal with a $5.5 million budget gap, The Asbury Park Press reported. Board members made some minor changes to the budget plan, but largely approved it, saying it was necessary in light of fiscal constraints at the New Jersey community college. Faculty critics have said that the cuts are unfair to women, noting that two-thirds of the professors who will lose jobs are women, while the board is overwhelmingly male.
Submitted by Jake New on December 12, 2014 - 3:00am
College-aged women who are not students are more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault than those who are students, but victims of campus sexual assault are less likely to report the crime to police, according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report examined data from the bureau's National Crime Victimization Survey collected between 1995 to 2013 about women aged 18 to 24 -- the demographic that is most at risk for sexual assault. The researchers found that the rate of rape and sexual assault among nonstudents in that age group was 1.2 times higher than that of students. Of those students who were assaulted, however, 80 percent never reported the crime to police. For nonstudents, 68 percent never reported the assaults to law enforcement.
More than a quarter of students who did not report to police said it was because they believed it was a personal matter, and one in five said they were afraid of reprisal. Twelve percent of students said they didn't think the incident was "important enough" to report, a worry shared by only five percent of nonstudents. Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing on whether law enforcement's role has been missing in the debates over sexual assaults on campus.