From time to time, the Senate Chair will publish short essays on issues affecting the community. The views expressed are solely his own. Faculty are invited to reply to

A Report on Northwestern University Qatar:  Nine Proposalspdf

Stephen F. Eisenman, President, Northwestern Faculty Senate
March 2015


After I became Faculty Senate President in January 2014, I approached Provost Dan Linzer with the proposition that I travel to Doha to review for the Senate the school in Qatar known as NUQ.  Previously, Senate President Babette Sanders had been invited but was unable to go during the time proposed.  Dan quickly agreed, and the process was set in motion. On January 23, 2015, I returned from three days in Doha, Qatar.

The nation of Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula has a population of 2.2 million, with 275,000 people possessing citizenship.  Citizens enjoy the highest per capita income in the world, about $110,000. They pay no income tax. 90% of the population (citizen and non-citizen, rich and poor) lives in Doha, the capital city. Non-citizens, the majority of whom are foreign workers, come from India (545,000), Nepal (400,000), the Philippines (200,000) Egypt (180,000), and Bangladesh (150,000). They are subject to the kafala system, leaving them vulnerable to restrictions imposed by their labor-sponsors. Workers in Qatar have no right to strike or unionize.

The dominant religion in Qatar is Sunni Islam. Arabic is the official language.

The weather in Qatar is subtropical-dry, with temperatures over 100 degrees from May to September.

NUQ was founded in 2008 in collaboration with the Qatar Foundation (QF) as part of Education City, a large, multi-university campus on the outskirts of Doha. The other universities represented on the roughly five square mile campus are:  Virginia Commonwealth, Weil Cornell Medical College, Texas A&M, Carnegie-Mellon, Georgetown, Hautes Études Commerciales de Paris, and University College, London.


NUQ currently has about 200 students, 36 faculty and 80 staff.  It offers BS degrees in Journalism and Communication, a minor in Media and Politics, and a certificate in Middle Eastern Studies. The school is currently housed in an architecturally distinguished facility designed by the late Ricardo Legorreta, and built for Carnegie-Mellon University’s programs in biological sciences, business administration, computational biology, computer science and information systems. Next year, NUQ will have its own dedicated building, a vast and splendid affair designed by Antoine Predock.  Predock’s long career has been based in the American Southwest, so he is a good choice to design and build in a desert where average summer temperatures are withering.  

NU’s school in Doha is run by Everette E. Dennis, whose titles are Dean and CEO, the latter a concession to a local political culture in which even junior government ministers are addressed as “your excellency.”  (The meaning of the term “dean” is apparently imprecise in Arabic, also rendering the title CEO expedient.) Three senior administrators answer directly to Dean Dennis: Kathryn Symank, Chief Operations Officer; Jeremy Cohen, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; and Klaus Schoenbach, Associate Dean for Research. Professors Scott Curtis (Dir. Program in Communication); Mary Dedinsky (Journalism); and Sandra Richards (Liberal Arts) are each tenured at NU and report to Jeremy Cohen.

Initial Questions

The issues that concerned me prior to my visit to Qatar – posed by faculty within the Senate and without – were the following:

1. What is the mission of NUQ?

2. What is the cost of NUQ to the university as a whole?

3. Is there academic freedom and freedom of inquiry at NUQ?

4. Is it ethical to locate a school in Qatar, an autocratic monarchy?

5. What are the living conditions of the migrant workers in Qatar?

6. What are the terms of appointment and promotion for faculty at NUQ?

My brief answers to these questions are found below.

But it is necessary first to observe that the faculty, staff and students at NUQ are clearly dedicated to the success of the enterprise and to their own intellectual and professional advancement. The dozen faculty members I spoke to were all enthusiastic and engaged teachers and scholars. The untenured faculty in particular were bright, creative, quick-witted, and genuinely concerned about providing the best possible education for their students. I wish that I had time to watch them in the classroom. Dean Dennis is committed to the success of NUQ, appears to know everything that is going on, and is determined to ensure that his school is the equal of others at Education City and Northwestern. Finally, I spoke to about a dozen students – without exception, they were articulate, engaged and thoughtful. Again, I wish I had the opportunity to see them in the classroom or review their work.

The Mission of NUQ

According to Dean Dennis, Provost Linzer and President Schapiro, it is:

a) To educate the young of the region is western-style journalism and communication so that they may extend values of free speech, open inquiry, and critical investigation to the media of the area. About 40% of students are from Qatar; most of the rest are from the wider Middle East, with a few from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Qatari students receive a full scholarship for four years. Non-Qatari students, with some exceptions, must pay full costs. (The QF foundation provides loans to most students that need them, allowing them to be paid back by commitments to remain and work in the country for a period after graduation.)

b) To allow Qatari women the opportunity of a full, U.S. style education, since few of them would otherwise be permitted by their religiously conservative families from obtaining an education abroad.

c) To offer NU students in Middle Eastern and North African Studies a safe base from which to study and travel in the region.

d) To give NU faculty in the Journalism and Communication schools, as well as MENA an opportunity to live and research in the Middle East.

The Cost to Northwestern of NUQ

So far as I can tell, NUQ is run at no cost to Northwestern. (I was not given access to any budgets.) Indeed, it appears the university makes money from the arrangement, though not very much. President Schapiro says the support adds up to little more than a “rounding error” in the annual budget. I would note however that five new endowed professorships at NU were recently funded out of QF money.

Academic and Intellectual Freedom at NUQ

The faculty at NUQ enjoy limited academic freedom.  This is not so much because they fear they will run afoul of Qatar ‘s strict censorship laws, though that is a possibility, but because most are untenured and largely answerable to the NUQ dean alone. In many ways, this vulnerability is no different than that experienced by any Non-Tenure Eligible (NTE) faculty member in Evanston or Chicago, but is exacerbated by 1) the broad authority of the Dean; and 2) the fact that continued residency in the country is dependent upon ongoing employment by NUQ. Non-renewal of a contract means leaving one’s house, community, and country of residence.

NUQ students, judging by their spoken responses to my questions, appear to have internalized many speech restrictions and willingly operate within them. They nevertheless also appear able to conduct serious journalistic and other academic inquiry.  One obstacle to education at NUQ is the difficulty in obtaining books that violate censorship laws. I was told however that the bans can often be circumvented by diplomatic strategy or subterfuge.

Outside the university speech is highly circumscribed. A new, state cybercrimes law punishes anyone who threatens “social values” or the “general order” by means of news, photos, and audio or visual recordings, even if they are true.  Article 134 of the penal code authorizes a term of up to five years imprisonment for criticizing the emir or vice-emir. Qatari poet Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami is serving a 15-year prison sentence for a poem that was deemed critical of the ruling family.  There is little sign that the regime is becoming more liberal in its attitudes toward speech – if anything, just the opposite.

The Ethics of NUQ

The ethics of establishing a campus in an authoritarian country are murky, especially when it inhibits free expression, and counts among its allies several oppressive regimes or groups. In addition, countries that produce enormous amounts of oil and natural gas that increase global CO2, and generate in equal abundance social and racial inequality, justly offend many. But those characteristics describe the United States no less than Qatar and don’t prevent Northwestern from maintaining campuses in Evanston and Chicago.

Labor Conditions in Qatar

Approximately 94% of the workforce is migrant labor who experience poor living and working conditions and have with no say in the government. According to Human Rights Watch, Qatar’s Law 14 of 2004, protecting migrant laborer rights is poorly enforced. Workers are controlled by their travel sponsors, (the “kafala” system), frequently denied their rightful pay, and as stated earlier, have no right to strike or unionize. Many are subject to arrest or deportation if their sponsors fail to renew their ID cards.  In May 2013, the Qatar Foundation announced new rules to protect workers engaged in World Cup (2022) and related projects. It is not yet clear if these guidelines (they are not laws) have had any significant impact on working and living conditions. In November 2014, the Qatar Labor Ministry announced that it would soon replace the existing kafala system with a contract-based work regime. The new system will reportedly allow workers to change jobs without risk of deportation.

Domestic workers, especially women, are at greater risk than other migrant laborers to abuse, (including sexual abuse), unpaid periods of work, and unlawful confinement. Domestic workers receive no protection under Qatar’s basic labor laws, and are often denied a single day off per week and basic freedom of movement. A year-long effort by the Gulf Cooperation Council to establish a regional framework of rights for domestic workers was recently abandoned.

Terms of Faculty Appointment

With the exception of visiting, tenured faculty from the Evanston or Chicago campuses, faculty at NUQ are non-tenure eligible. They are hired by Dean Dennis with the cooperation of administrators at the home campus, and less often, department chairs and faculty. They may be appointed and re-appointed for terms of one, two or three years.  Promotion is based primarily upon teaching excellence, though faculty are expected to engage in significant research leading to publication. 

Proposals for Immediate Implementation:

1.  Encourage the expansion of scholarship programs, funded by the Qatar Foundation, to subsidize tuition and other costs for lower-income, and non-Qatari students.  The school in Doha should not be exempt from the goals and priorities of the home institution.

2.  Establish a more robust MENA presence at NUQ, with joint faculty appointments and more frequent exchanges of both faculty and students. Such a program may facilitate the establishment of closer ties with other Mideast universities – for example in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel – so that NU and NUQ students and faculty can more easily study and research in these places.

3.  Create a more open faculty recruiting procedure. Faculty at NU should be regularly notified of opportunities to visit and teach at NUQ, and provided explicit information about the benefits, costs and conditions of appointments there. As it is, faculty are openly recruited from Communications and Journalism but not from Weinberg. All faculty in fields relevant to the curriculum at NUQ should have the opportunity to apply for visiting terms; e-mail solicitations and Department  Chair announcements are better ways to reach faculty than ads in the Daily Northwestern.

4.  Distribute to Northwestern faculty annual notices of available QF funds for joint NU/NUQ research initiatives. Currently, Indrani Mukherji, Executive Director of International Research Partnerships works with faculty in Evanston and Chicago to partner with colleagues in Doha on grant proposals for research support. But the current Associate Dean for Research at NUQ conveyed to me that much more collaborative research is both desirable and possible.

5.  Establish, publish and distribute a policy governing faculty appointment, re-appointment and promotion at NUQ.  Create a promotion and reappointment committee consisting of tenured faculty at NUQ and Northwestern Evanston.  Currently all reappointment and promotion cases are handled by Dean Dennis and his staff (including the tenured heads of programs) with the advise and consent of the Associate Provost for Faculty. Faculty at NUQ find the current system opaque. When one faculty member asked about promotion guidelines, he/she was told: “I don’t know, we’re working on it, we’ll talk about it another time.”

6. Examine the viability of five-year terms of appointment in addition to the current one, two and three year terms.  Loss of a position at NUQ also means the loss of a home and a country. In the absence of tenure, long-term contracts can provide stability, improve morale and advance academic freedom. In the unlikely event that a term of hire exceeds the length of the contract with the Qatar Foundation, faculty members should be allowed to complete their terms in Evanston.

7.  Create an NUQ shared-governance structure that enables faculty there to meet regularly and have a significant voice in the organization and structure of the programs.

Proposals for Long Term Implementation:

8.  Work in collaboration with other Education City universities to encourage the Qatar government to relax press and other free speech restrictions.  Inform the QF that progress toward greater intellectual and press freedom is a precondition for continued NU engagement. Lack of free speech protection can not be legitimated as a matter of cultural difference; it is the exercise of power by a repressive government over its people.

9.  Work in collaboration with other Education City universities to ensure that all migrant workers – men and women alike -- are paid fairly and on-time, that their legal rights are protected, that they have safe and comfortable housing, free health care, freedom of movement, and the right to quit, change jobs or return to their home countries.  Encourage student journalists at NUQ to examine worker’s rights and especially the rights of female, domestic workers in Qatar and elsewhere in the Middle East.  Inform the QF that progress toward greater worker’s rights is a precondition for continued NU engagement.

Finally, I would like to thank Dean Everett Dennis and his excellent staff for their kindness and hospitality during my visit.  I hope very much that the proposals above will be received in the same spirit of shared engagement and enthusiasm with which they are offered. I am also grateful to Provost Linzer and several faculty members from NUQ for their thoughtful criticisms of an earlier draft of this report.

Kellogg in Wonderland pdf

December 2014

“You’ve no right to grow here, said the Doormouse.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” said Alice more boldly: “you know you’re growing too.”

The economic volatility of Victorian England predisposed Lewis Carroll in 1865 to subject his heroine Alice to frequent growth spurts and sudden shrinkages: “One pill makes you larger/And one pill makes you small,” Grace Slick summarized a hundred years later in the psychedelic anthem “White Rabbit.” Alice however was exasperated by her oscillations and longed for a safe and steady equilibrium. 

Like Wonderland, modern capitalism has never existed in a steady state. The modest growth of the 1860s was succeeded by a severe recession that commenced in 1873; and in the 20th Century, the boom in the 1920s presaged the Great Depression. After World War II, pent-up consumer demand in the US, combined with the creation of the interstate highway system, the Cold War and then the war against Vietnam led to rapid economic acceleration followed by a deflation that began in 1974 and continues (despite several boomlets) to this day.  And it is unlikely that technology, real estate, financial speculation, transportation, war or any other deus ex machina will quickly rescue the US and other economies from the doldrums into which they have generally sunk since the collapse of 2008.  

And that’s a good thing.

The globe may not survive even the current stagnation; rapid growth would spell a still faster doom.  At our current pace of economic output and CO2 emissions, the earth’s rising temperature will by 2050 pass the threshold expected to cause irreversible devastation. Ice caps will melt and the oceans will rise sufficient to flood New York, Miami, New Orleans, and dozens of other major population centers in the US.  Pacific Island nations will be submerged, hundreds of millions of people will be forced from their homes in South-east Asia, and cities such as London, Amsterdam and Venice will be forced to construct ever-larger tidal barriers or sea walls. Agriculture will be devastated, with currently fertile areas reduced to deserts, and dry ones subjected to sudden and devastating floods. And the feedback leads in one direction only: artic and sub-arctic lands and water exposed by melting snow and ice will absorb rather than reflect solar light and heat, increasing temperatures even more; and thawing permafrost will release methane that will add still more to the thermal flux, leading again to rising temperatures, and so on. Thousands of animal species will go extinct – we are already in the middle of the greatest die-off since the Cretaceous-Paleogene – and the very fate of homo sapiens will be put in question. If the economies of the world expand at a faster pace than currently anticipated, the disaster will only come sooner.

But the leaders and marketers of Kellogg – consistently ranked among the top half-dozen business schools in the world -- appear to live in Wonderland. Draped across the walls of the Jacobs Center Auditorium (where I taught this Fall) are giant banners that read: “Are you growth minded?" and "Brave leaders inspire growth. In people, organizations, and markets." Just outside the auditorium, stenciled in large letters, my students and I read: "Growth demands social intelligence and purposeful collaboration" and "Growth is the greatest leadership challenge.” Kellogg’s new logo includes the motto: “Inspiring Growth.”

Kellogg employs outstanding scholars who understand very well that growth as it has been understood since the 19th Century -- increased production leading to more consumption (stimulated by the sales and marketing effort), followed by still greater production, and so on -- is simply unsustainable. Some Kellogg faculty, like faculty in other schools at Northwestern, are grappling in innovative ways with the economic, social and political implications of a global ecological crisis that demands that future production be reoriented toward the general good instead of higher GDP and corporate profit. They recognize that for global climate change to be averted, business leaders just like the rest of will have to say “You’ve no right to grow here.”  As the combined Senate Task Force on Climate Change and Sustainability Council undertake their work this year, they would do well to keep in mind what the Doormouse said.

Reply to Eisenman: Protecting Students, Ensuring Educational Opportunity pdf
May 2014


A question before our Faculty Senate at its May 7 meeting was whether it should form a committee to investigate whether improvements are needed in how the School protects its student-athletes’ health and educational opportunities. Our Senate Chair was the only Senate member who openly indicated support for the motion to form such a committee. Because I am confounded by this seeming indifference to what I see as the faculty’s paramount duties to protect our students from physical harm and from diminished educational opportunities, I am writing this in order to provoke a wider faculty discussion that might lead to a different outcome.

No one at the Senate meeting questioned either that there were important issues regarding whether our student-athletes’ health and educational opportunities are at risk or that critical information needs to be obtained before it can be determined whether the Administration is doing enough to protect the students against those risks. Among the more obvious unanswered questions that warrant further inquiry are the following:

Issues regarding the adequacy of our athletes’ protection from physical harm

-If our football players felt their health and safety interests were now being adequately protected, why would they have asked for a vote to determine whether a union was needed to secure such protections?

-If the Administration were now providing all of the safeguards that are needed to protect our football players against the potential life-long damages from the sport, would Coach Fitzgerald have offered the possibility of additional health protections as an incentive to vote against the union? The fact that it took the threat of a union vote for him to consider additional health protections indicates that external pressure for greater protections might play a constructive role. And, if the special concussion identification protections the School is proud of providing for home football games are significant, is there any reason the need for them is less at away games?

-In light of the facts that it has been recognized since at least 2002 that strict safety protocols are needed to try to protect football players from the potential life damaging effects of concussions and that the NCAA has only recently urged its member schools to implement a few of those protocols, has Northwestern implemented all of the recommended safety protocols, including the safety precautions that have been implemented by other leagues, such as the NFL and Ivy League, and that have been recommended by medical organizations, such as the American College of Sports Medicine, and the various international conferences that have produced guidelines on concussions in sports? Furthermore, do our own medical school doctors whom the Administration has consulted on best safety practices all agree that Northwestern is doing everything that should be done to protect our student-athletes not only from concussions, but from the cumulative effects of the routine impacts that are endemic to football and other high impact sports?

- In light of the likelihood that our former football players had been subject to years of concussion risks between the time the need for concussion safety protocols was medically recognized and the time Northwestern implemented at least some of those protocols, what, if anything, is Northwestern doing, first, to identify our former players who are suffering the consequences of having played without the needed protocols and, second, to help them obtain the needed treatment and/or insurance coverage?

- Although Northwestern’s President’s November 2010 Directive on Self-Regulation of Intercollegiate Athletics requires the head team physician to “file an annual report with the president of the University furnishing data on athletic-related injuries,” neither such report nor any data on the nature and frequency of athletic-related injuries has as yet been disclosed in response to the Senate Chair’s inquiries.

Issues regarding our student-athletes’ educational opportunities and the School’s academic standards

-If our football players were, as the Administration often proclaims, successfully negotiating the competing demands of football and serious academic engagement, would the NLRB hearing officer have found that football’s year-around, all-consuming, highly regimented demands made the players more like employees than students?

- With respect to our student-athletes’ educational opportunities, I have never questioned our Administration’s claims that our student-athletes are among Division I schools’ highest academic performers. Nevertheless, after reading the NLRB’s findings as to the year around time demands on the players and the regimentation of their schedules, the question of the appropriate balance between athletics and academics seems worth Senate inquiry, not only for football, but also for other sports where the players are predominately supported by athletic scholarships. Also, in light of William Cohan’s “The Price of Silence,” reviewed in the April 24 New York Times Book Review, about how Duke’s promotion of a variety of big-time sports teams has degraded the intellectual environment of that great University, it would seem especially timely to examine the question of how Northwestern is managing to maintain the appropriate learning environment in the face of the competitive pressures of big time sports, a question that will only become more pertinent if the NCAA adopts the recommendation to give the so-called “power conferences” more autonomy in setting their own standards.

Issue regarding Northwestern’s role in NCAA policies that are widely regarding as unfair to student-athletes

-Finally, Northwestern’s role in NCAA policy-making also deserves Faculty Senate scrutiny. The NCAA has been widely criticized for promoting practices that have exploited student-athletes, (some of whom can barely afford common necessities of college life), and for ineffectual efforts to protect players from concussions well after the risks were well known. The Faculty has an interest in learning whether Northwestern has been complicit in promoting such practices and, what, if any, efforts it has made to reform them. It is easy to target the NCAA for a litany of unfair practices, but if we don’t try to do anything about them, the blame becomes ours. As Walt Kelly wrote, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

The inadequacy of the reasons given for Senate inaction

Given that no one at the Senate meeting argued that there were not important issues regarding our student-athletes’ safety and educational opportunities, it is important to try to figure out why the Senate decided not to address the subject. As far as I can tell from what was said and not said, there are three reasons.

The rationale that the Senate can rely on the faculty representation on the Committee on Athletics and Recreation

First, several senators suggested that the interests of our student-athletes are being sufficiently protected by CAR, the Committee on Athletics and Recreation, which has some faculty representatives appointed by the President. We should all be grateful for the volunteer service of these faculty representatives, who I understand take their work very seriously and are doing a conscientious job. Nevertheless, CAR should not be a substitute for a faculty committee appointed by the faculty-elected Senate.

It is, of course, possible that the University President will appoint and reappoint to his committees faculty who profoundly disagree with his policies and want to scrap what he is doing in favor of doing what he is refusing to do. But, that seems unlikely. For example, would the President appoint to CAR a faculty medical ethicist who asserts that until the risks are better understood, it is immoral for Northwestern to continue its football program and thereby subject our football players to an unquantified, but nevertheless significant risk of lifelong injury? To be credible, any assertion by the Administration that we should rely on the existing system of faculty athletic oversight would require the faculty to pick the faculty overseers.

The rationale that the Senate can trust that the Administration and coaching staff will do the right thing

However, a deeper reason for the Senate’s failure to insist on independent faculty oversight appears to be the members’ assumption that the Administration, and undoubtedly Coach Fitzgerald in particular, should be trusted to do what is in our student-athletes’ best interests. I have no reason to doubt our athletic administrators’ and coaches’ good faith, their excellent performance of their jobs, or what has been widely reported as our players’ great respect for and trust in them. Nevertheless, to the extent the Senate refused to exercise its independent oversight role because of members’ faith that the Administrators and coaches will always put our students’ interests before their own, I suggest that our Senate has failed in its fundamental duty to our students.

Perhaps, however, the failure was also mine in not articulating strongly enough at the Senate meeting why that faith is unwarranted and why scrutiny by an independent faculty senate committee is needed. What I tried to explain was the following fairly simple point: with respect to protecting our student-athletes’ health and safety, the Administration has a structural conflict of interest that we as faculty don’t have, or, at least don’t have to the same degree.

This conflict arises from three undeniable facts: first, coaches’ jobs and pay to some degree depend on winning games; second, Administrators generally get psychic and financial benefits from winning teams and, third; the more money spent on student-athletes’ health care and benefits, the less money Administrators have available for other uses. Although I have no reason to believe our current coaching staff would ever jeopardize player health for the purpose of winning games or saving money, the two interests can come in conflict and it is not inconceivable that without proper safeguards, some future coaches or administrators might succumb to such temptations. The fact that for years the NFL saved money and protected coaches’ authority by withholding from its players information about the risks from concussions is a sobering lesson about how proper priorities can be subverted when a lot of money is at stake.

The Faculty Senate is, of course, not entirely immune from such conflicts. Many faculty, including myself, get psychic benefits from winning Northwestern teams and, to the extent the University finances might be reduced by paying for expansive student-athletes’ health care and benefits, faculty pay could be affected. Nevertheless, the conflict in both respects is far more attenuated for most faculty than it is for coaches and top administrators. The Faculty Senate’s own raison d’etre derives in large part from the fact that we don’t have confidence that the Administration will always do what is in our and the University’s best interests; we should have the same healthy skepticism regarding the Administration’s always doing what is in our student-athletes’ best interests.

It should not take recounting of the ways Northwestern’s coaches and medical staff failed in 2001 to protect Rashidi Wheeler from death in order to sensitize faculty to the magnitude of what is at stake here. After balancing the downside risk that the proposed committee might find the Administration is doing all that should be reasonably expected against the upside potential that the committee’s work might influence the Administration to adopt the enhanced safety and educational measures that could make a real, even life-saving, difference to our students, there shouldn’t be any question that the proposed committee should be formed.

The concern that the Faculty Senate may not be up to the task of running a special committee to investigate and report on reforms needed to protect student-athletes and uphold academic standards

A final reason for the Senate’s refusal to appoint a special committee to investigate and report on problems regarding our athletic program seems to have been concern that it might be difficult to recruit members for such a committee. Were that a valid concern, it would be highly discomfiting to those of us who labored on the GFC to create the Faculty Senate in the hope that expanding faculty participation in governance would allow for more and larger committees that could make the ideal of shared governance more of a reality. I don’t believe, however, this is a persuasive objection for two reasons.

First, I am confident that faculty will want to serve on this committee because of the intrinsic importance of its goals of protecting our student-athletes from harm, of improving their educational opportunities and of upholding the School’s academic standards. Second, I believe faculty will want to serve on this committee because of the exciting prospect of sharing their expertise with faculty from departments across the University in order to develop the creative approaches needed to protect our student-athletes’ health, safety and educational opportunities.

Because the success of this special committee would depend on drawing members from a variety of disciplines that might include, for example, medicine, law, education, business, communications and arts and sciences, the suggestion that this matter should simply be referred to the Senate’s existing education committee is not a good alternative. That committee has presumably already developed its own agenda priorities and is unlikely to have the multidisciplinary expertise that is needed for the proposed special committee. Furthermore, since no one identified with the education committee spoke at the Senate meeting to support the mission of the proposed special committee, it is questionable whether the imposition of such mission on that committee would be welcomed as an important priority.


In sum, because I tried and failed at the Senate meeting to sound an alarm bell that would motivate the Senate to do what I think it has a duty to do, I am writing this in the event that other faculty might happen upon it and find the cause worth pursuing.

John S. Elson
Professor of Law

John S. Elson
Harry B. Reese Teaching Professor of Law
Northwestern University School of Law
357 E. Chicago Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Tel: 312-503-8573
FAX: 312-503-8977

Football and Planet Northwestern

In the minutes before the start of my lecture classes, I sometimes joke with students or ask them what’s on their minds. Last week, the answer was football and unions:  “I understand team members are paid tuition, room and board to play football,” one senior woman said, “but aren’t they students first?”  A younger, garrulous, male student asked: “What happens if a football player gets injured and it affects him for the rest of his life? Would a union help him then?”  A third, generally reticent woman quietly stated: “The football team lives on another planet.”

At the April 2 Northwestern Faculty Senate meeting, members debated two resolutions concerning NU football.  Some said they didn’t have enough information to form an opinion about the unionization effort. But among those who expressed a view, the predominant one was that athletes should be students first. Like my students, they were neither pro-union nor anti-union, but why-union?  Their question in others words was: “How has it come to pass that a college football union seems to have become necessary?”

The answer involves land-grant colleges, competition for students, private universities and fundraising, professional recruitment, mass media, and perhaps the US penchant for violence. (College teams each suffer an average of 10-12 concussions per year.[1]) But regardless of its basis, big-money, intercollegiate sports are increasingly in conflict with the ideals of students and faculty members at NU.

Here is some data:[2] 1) Football players at NU work at their sport between 40 and 60 hours per week for a payment (tuition, room and board) of between $61,000 and $76,000 per year, plus various allowances; 2) football players are recruited for their athletic, not academic abilities; 3) Demands on football players are so great that many require tutoring to keep their minimum required GPA, and some choose to take less demanding courses in order to maintain eligibility; 4) The team has a full-time coaching staff of 25 (serving 125 players), with the head coach (Pat Fitzgerald) paid $1.8 million per year; 5) in 2012-13, the team generated $31.1 million in income, and $21.7 million in expenses, not including the cost of football stadium maintenance. 6) A new football practice facility approved for the lakefront will likely cost in excess of $300 million.[3]

The facts above describe a bloated sports system. Unionization, approved by the regional NLRB (but now under appeal by NU), is one logical response:

With unionization, players will get a piece of the profit they create; receive long-term compensation for disabling injuries; and a experience a measure of control (“a seat at the table”) over their working lives.

Without unionization, football players will continue to watch the value they produce enter the coffers of universities, professional franchises, concessionaires, and giant media corporations; live circumscribed social and intellectual lives; and suffer injuries that may eventually disable them. 

But is unionization the only possible answer to the crisis of big sports?  With or without unionization, football players at NU and elsewhere will continue to “live on another planet”: in the one case as well-paid professionals segregated from the main intellectual and social life of the university, and in the other as minimally paid professionals similarly segregated.

What my students and colleagues appear to want instead is a system where athletes are fully engaged in the life-world of the university. This may mean recruitment of true scholar-athletes, assurance that scholarships may not be withdrawn if an athlete quits his sport; tighter limitations on the time demands of football players; compensation if football players experience a disabling, long-term, or incipient injury.

We all believe that NU should be one planet – one community -- not many.  Ongoing efforts by the NU president, provost and deans to foster cross-school programs, research collaborations, and shared curricula, as well as the strategic plan “Northwestern Will” are expressions of that conviction.  But the university’s overemphasis on big-money intercollegiate sports – football in particular -- is an impediment to the realization of that idea. 

See also:

Stephen F. Eisenman

Professor of Art History

Chair, Faculty Senate

[2] United States Government before the National Labor Relations Board Region 13, Decision: Case 13-RC-121359; On April 9, attorney's representing Northwestern requested a review of the regional NLRB ruling on the grounds of "erroneous…factual issues" and "prejudicial error." See: