Northwestern’s Bad Arguments Against a Football Player Union

On April 25, Northwestern football players will vote on whether to form a union. But we may never know the results of the vote, because Northwestern University is fighting to have any union banned after the NLRB Regional Director ruled it could exist. In a legal brief appealing the ruling (pdf), Northwestern made a number of strange and disturbing claims, beginning with the argument that  “The University is not in the business of football.” If it’s not a business, then why are you paying your head football coach total compensation of more than $2.175 million per year in a 10-year contract, which is far more than the president or any professor at the school makes? Is it because football is the most important educational activity at Northwestern? Or is it because football is a big business?

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Strike Averted at University of Illinois at Chicago

News from the University of Illinois at Chicago faculty union (an AAUP/AFT joint union):

“STRIKE AVERTED- University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty (Local 6456) has successfully negotiated a tentative agreement on labor contracts for tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty!”

We posted several articles during the earlier February 18 & 19 strike, including from Howard Bunsis and Jane Buck. Another strike was planned to begin on April 23.

Different Understandings of Academic Freedom

I’m going to disagree with the arguments in Aaron Barlow’s post earlier today about the meaning of academic freedom. When Patrick Deneen described academic freedom as permitting “the airing and defense of any and all views,” I think he was absolutely right (although Deneen did it in order to criticize academic freedom, arguing that “academic freedom is not a particularly conservative principle”).

Barlow tells us that academic freedom “was intended as a particular right of the faculty granted for quite specific purposes–and with clear limitations.”Indeed, that’s quite true, but only if you keep the past tense intact.

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Columbia College Chicago Restores Second Section of Controversial Class

Peter Kirstein notes on his blog about an important development in a recent case: “Columbia College in Chicago is offering two sections of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict course in their fall 2014 semester offerings. Instructor Iymen Chehade has been in the middle of a major academic freedom case concerning a prior reduction of sections of this class. It is to the credit of Columbia College that they have shown the flexibility and the commitment to academic freedom to restore the offering of two and not merely one section of this heavily enrolled course.”

Read more about the case in the Chicago Reader, and a statement by Guy Davidi, the co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, the Oscar-nominated documentary that sparked one student complaint last fall about bias after Chehade showed it in his class about Israel and Palestine, which was shortly followed by one out of two sections of the class being cancelled for Spring 2014. The Illinois AAUP’s Committee A (of which I am a member) issued a report about the case, along with a response from Columbia College (which denied that the complaint had any role in cancellation of the section).


NLRB Recognizes Northwestern Athletes as Eligible for a Union

In a big victory for labor rights (and student rights), the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Northwestern athletes are eligible to form a union and called for a secret ballot election. Northwestern University spokesperson Alan K. Cubbage said the university would appeal the decision and declared: “Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.” Appropriate or not, workers should get to decide if they unionize, not their bosses. And the notion that students can’t be employees will shock the millions of students who work in order to pay for college.

I’m a little surprised that the NLRB ruled in favor of the students, considering that the NLRB still doesn’t recognize graduate student teachers as employees. But I hope Northwestern will recognize a union of student athletes regardless of the legal obligations, just as the university recognizes the rights of academic freedom and free speech for faculty and students despite having no legal requirement to do so.

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Interview with Rev. Joseph Lowery, 50 Years after New York Times v. Sullivan

On March 9, 1964, the unanimous US Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of New York Times v. Sullivan, revolutionizing freedom of the press by requiring “actual malice” in defamation suits involving public figures. The case began when a fundraising ad for the civil rights movement appeared in the New York Times, criticizing violence in the segregated south. L.B. Sullivan, an obscure Montgomery commissioner unnamed in the ad, claimed that criticism of the police harmed his reputation. The Rev. Joseph Lowery is the last surviving figure in the case, and he was an accidental defendant.

Official White House Photo of Rev. Lowery by Chuck Kennedy

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U of I Chicago Faculty on Strike Today

UIC faculty are holding a two-day strike on Feb. 18 and 19 to protest the failure of the administration to negotiate in good faith for more than 18 months. Today, Feb. 18, there are rallies planned at 10am and 12:30pm, in addition to picketing and demonstrations. There has been news coverage in the Chicago Reader, Chicago Sun-Times, and Chicago Tribune, and an Illinois AAUP statement of support. Read an article by UIC professors Lennard Davis & Walter Benn Michaels in Jacobin explaining the reasons for the strike.


UIC Faculty Plan Strike Next Week

The UIC United Faculty (an AFT/AAUP union) announced a two-day strike next week:

After 18 months of bargaining, the faculty at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is headed for a two-day strike on Tuesday, February 18th and Wednesday, February 19th. UIC professors did not want it to come to this, but the trustees’ proposals continue to short change both faculty and students. UIC administration continues to hike tuition to the point it has amassed hundreds of millions in profits each year and more than a billion dollars in reserves, yet refuses to pay professors what they’re worth. Many members of the faculty who teach first-year students only make $30,000 a year!

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Rape Denial on Campus

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal argues, “What is called the problem of ‘sexual assault’ on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike.…If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students ‘collide,’ the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault.”

In the world of the rape deniers, forced sexual activity is simply an unfortunate “collision.” Rarely is blaming the victim so obvious, or so grotesque.

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What’s Wrong with the “Protect Academic Freedom Act”

The Orwellian-named “Protect Academic Freedom Act” is not a defense of academic freedom; this is a total attack on academic freedom.

Now, you might think that it’s purely a symbolic law because no American college would ever endorse an academic boycott of Israel, and it doesn’t even apply to colleges that are institutional members of the American Studies Association (the wording requires that the organization be “significantly funded” by the institution, which the ASA and other associations clearly are not). Still, even if the proposed law was purely symbolic, it would deserve condemnation for the evil symbolism of allowing the government to dictate the policies of colleges with regard to global injustices.

But, in reality, the amendment would have a very real impact beyond mere symbolism. The proposed legislation would cut off federal funds under the Higher Education Act to all universities unless they violate the First Amendment by cutting off funding to student groups that support a boycott of Israel.

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