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Northwestern players celebrate a January 2013 Gator Bowl victory. Could those “players” soon become known as university “employees”?

Furthermore …

U of Michigan rejects Israel boycott, slurs

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is said to be largely an East Coast and West Coast issue, especially on college campuses. It’s supposedly not much of a problem in the Midwest.

BDS is basically an anti-Semitic or at least anti-Israeli effort to undo the state of Israel economically “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.” Of all the nations in the world, including Arab countries, that have human rights violations, BDS singles out … Israel, the only democracy in the Mideast.

Well, maybe BDS is primarily a coastal matter. But look at what has happened recently at the University of Michigan.

The central student government there indeed voted emphatically not to pass a BDS resolution. According to a newsletter from Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, “hundreds of students lined the second floor of the Michigan Union and more than 2,000 viewers watched CSG’s live-stream of the six-hour-long event.”

SPME reported that it had heard reports during the debate of ugly slurs. “SPME welcomes, and encourages, vigorous scholarly debate on campus about a broad range of topics involving the Middle East; but talk of ‘kikes’ and ‘dirty Jews’ … is not academic discourse, political discussion, or, as its supporters regularly contest, simply ‘criticism of Israel.’ ”

SPME is right. Michigan students did the right thing in rejecting the resolution. Now the school has to make sure the debate doesn’t take on uglier overtones than it reportedly already has.

Colleges gird for fallout of unionization

The longest-running argument in sports is not between Louisville and Kentucky basketball fans, or between Ohio State and Michigan football fans, or even between admirers of Purdue and Indiana.

It is the argument summed up by three words: students or athletes?

Those who contend college football and basketball players are primarily students maintain that they are well rewarded by the scholarships and other benefits they receive from their schools. Those who contend college players are primarily athletes say it’s only fair that those players should share in some of the billions of dollars college sports generate.

That argument may be drawing to a close.

In a finding that rocked the sports world in general and Northwestern University in particular, a National Labor Relations Board regional director declared that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be considered employees of the university and are thus entitled to form a union.

Yes, at a time when organized labor is generally on the decline, colleges may soon have to look for the union label if they want to continue to field a major sports team. It will be some time before the issue is finally decided, of course, with court hearings, briefs, negotiations and many discussions. But the debate is joined.

The NLRB’s Peter Sung Ohr writes clearly and reasons tightly. In Northwestern’s case, he wrote, “it cannot be said the Employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students.’ The players spend 50 to 60 hours per week on their football duties during a one-month training camp prior to the start of the academic year and an additional 40 to 50 hours per week on those duties during the three or four month football season. Not only is this more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs, it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies.”

He notes that players don’t even attend class while they’re in training camp or for the first few weeks of the football season.

“After the academic year begins,” Ohr continues, “the players still continue to devote 40 to 50 hours per week on football-related activities while only spending about 20 hours per week attending classes.”

Ohr’s decision will be appealed to the five-member NLRB in Washington. Upheld, it could set a precedent for other football programs at private colleges and universities that fall under federal labor regulation – such as the University of Notre Dame. Public universities are subject only to state labor laws. But the ruling almost certainly will encourage similar legal challenges at the state level.

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