Statement by Alan K. Cubbage, Vice President for University Relations, in Regard to Filing by Union Regarding NLRB Review
April 17, 2014
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University believes that the recent ruling by the regional National Labor Relations Board director that Northwestern scholarship football players are employees and may be represented by a union was flawed, because it overlooked or ignored key evidence that Northwestern presented showing that its student-athletes are primarily students, not employees.
The decision by the regional director improperly refused to apply the legal precedent established in the NLRB’s 2004 decision in Brown University, in which the NLRB held that the graduate assistants were primarily students, not employees.
In addition, the decision by the regional director ignored key evidence that Northwestern presented at the recent hearing in Chicago, specifically regarding the fact that academics is the primary mission of Northwestern for all of its students, including student-athletes. Northwestern football players have a 97 percent graduation rate, the highest among FBS schools in the country. We believe that participation in athletic events is part of the overall educational experience for those students, not a separate activity.
Northwestern has appealed the regional director’s decision to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. The University will continue to explore all of its legal options in regard to this issue. Although CAPA filed a brief with the NLRB yesterday urging the Board to refuse to hear the University’s appeal of the regional director’s decision, the University is confident that the Board will grant review and decide the appeal on its merits. In all likelihood, the process will take some time and it could be months before the Board issues its decision on whether Northwestern’s scholarship football players are students or employees.
We agree that there currently are important issues regarding college athletics nationally and that students should have a voice in those discussions. However, we believe that a collective bargaining process at Northwestern would not advance the discussion of these topics, in large part because most of the issues being raised by the union are outside the purview of Northwestern.
Northwestern is committed to ensuring the health, safety and well-being of all of its students, including its student-athletes. The University provides primary or secondary medical coverage for all of its student-athletes for at least a year after they no longer are eligible to participate in intercollegiate sports -- and beyond if applicable. Athletic Department staff members also offer extensive support and personalized attention for all student-athletes in nutrition, health and exercise training.
Northwestern is proud of our students for raising these issues. Northwestern teaches its students to be leaders and independent thinkers who will make a positive impact on their communities, the nation and the world. Our student-athletes already have a strong voice at Northwestern via a Student Athlete Advisory Committee and the Leadership Council for the football team. We have worked with our students in the past to address these issues and we will continue to do so.