Zelizer on the NLRB and the NCAA

Viviana Zelizer and Lauren Gaydosh chip in on the recent NLRB ruling about the employee status of student-athletes. Characteristically, they are not too impressed with arguments that the sacred world of collegiate athletics might be polluted by the employment relation: 


While surely there are serious grounds to worry about the commercialization of universities, the tragedy of growing student debt and other daunting economic problems involving academic institutions, recognizing and compensating students’ work efforts is emphatically not one of them.

Why not? Because a legitimate and vibrant labor market has long been a standard feature of college life. Students are already college employees, compensated with hourly wages and sometimes perks, like reduced housing costs or free food. And for the most part their labor becomes integrated into their education rather than corrupting their college experience. In colleges around the country, students work in a wide variety of jobs, in the libraries, dining services, computer centers, as residential, research and office assistants, as paid volunteers for psychology faculty experiments, raising funds for the university, and much more. … 

We therefore already have proof that education and labor can coexist without necessary mutual damage.

The key challenge is not adjudicating whether or not college athletes should be legally considered employees. Regardless of legal definitions all students engaged in campus-related work deserve proper protections and regulations. Whether on the football field or serving in a dining hall, whether they are producing extraordinary revenues for their institutions or earning small sums of spending money, colleges should guard their students’ welfare.

But, on the flip side, they think it’s not a matter of one logic simply rolling over another, either: 

Does this mean that we can start treating colleges as ordinary workplaces? That would also be a mistake. College labor is not the same as work within a Wall Street firm, a fast food restaurant, or a department store. As educational organizations, colleges are distinct economic settings with their own systems of compensation and work categories representing and reinforcing that distinctiveness. Within that economic world, scholarships, fellowships and grants are suitable forms of payment. Indeed, in the Northwestern case, among other demands such as medical coverage and the establishment of an educational trust fund, players are demanding guaranteed full scholarships but are not pushing for “pay-for-play” salaries.

Amongst OrgTheory people, I imagine Brayden is strongly in favor of the further formal professionalization of college sports on the grist-for-the-mill grounds that it will encourage the collection of an even greater volume data about pitches, baskets, and rushing yards. 


Written by Kieran

April 10, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Posted in uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Finally, some public support for this:



    April 10, 2014 at 6:23 pm

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