Some fairly strong reporting out of the New York Times on Northwestern University’s campaign against their football players trying to unionize. Apparently, Northwestern is leaving no stone unturned, and administrators and others have used age-old threats, most or all of them specious. The reason seems clear: this isn’t about what little the athletes will gain. It’s about something that Northwestern finds much more scary: sharing even just a smidgen of power with the athletes it exploits. For more, read below the fold.
Here’s what the Times has reported:
Familiar anti-union arguments, that the business will close or move out of town if a union is formed, have been tweaked for the college football setting. Players have heard warnings that the formation of a union would make it harder for them to land jobs after graduation; that [Coach Pat] Fitzgerald might leave; that alumni donations would dry up; that Northwestern’s planned $225 million athletic center could be scrapped. The women’s fencing coach told his team that a union could put the future of fencing in jeopardy, though he later apologized.
These, as well as a former president’s assertion, according to the Times, “that a vote for the union could mean the end of Division I sports at Northwestern,” are threats with little basis.
- How would future employers know which players voted for a union? Furthermore, not hiring someone on the basis of union activity is illegal.
- Why would Fitzgerald, a Northwestern alumnus, leave because of the vote?
- Why would alumni stop giving money? Do they only give money on the basis of the football team’s success, and if so, then as long as the football team won, wouldn’t that spigot keep running?
- Why would Northwestern not build its new fancy-shmancy athletic center? Wouldn’t it still want to support athletics?
- How would unionization of the football team eliminate the fencing team?
- Why would Northwestern give up on Division 1 sports if a team unionized?
For all of Northwestern’s claims of righteousness, it still would do no more than any other university to provide long-term health benefits for its athletes. You may ask whether that’s needed. For an answer, just read about the case of Fred Rensing, who was paralyzed in a football practice-field accident in 1976 at Indiana State, and who, with his family, struggled financially for the rest of his life just to get by. The university’s long-term responsibility or commitment? $0.
I doubt that the players will vote for unionization; there’s just too much pressure on them, coming from all sides, including especially their coach. Bosses take unionization personally (not that they shouldn’t).
That said, I salute those players brave enough to vote yes. And shame on Northwestern, an otherwise great university, behaving so mendaciously in order to protect itself from a bogeyman of its own creation.
Further proof that in higher education, critical thinking and intellectual honesty go out the window once dollars and power are involved.