Approximately one week ago, during an average morning, a story emerged in the headlines that struck a nerve and immediately brought to the surface, reminders of that age old “sports v. arts” conundrum. This is something that has followed myself, and likely any other student dedicated to pursuing music in higher education, for the length of our time in the U.S. educational system itself.
The news at hand:
Football players enrolled at Northwestern University have been granted the right to unionize, based on the conditions of their time spent devoted to the sport and the nature of their relationship and responsibility to their team coaches in order to stay an active member of their team.
A portion of the ruling achieved by a regional branch of the National Labor Relations Board and highlighted by the New York Times, outlines the following details of a football player’s average level of commitment and places emphasis on the extremity of such as being a key justification for the change in title designation from amateur college athlete to employee:
“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,” the ruling said. “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.”
Some of the benefits sought by students and their pro-union advocates, the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, are not unreasonable given the rough and physically risky nature of sports and football in particular. Eventual implementation of things like “concussion reform [and] improved medical coverage for athletes,” two of the objectives mentioned via CBS Sports, do not incite the same kind of internal recoil as the prospect of these new employee-not-student athletes being paid salaries separate from what we know to be the traditional sport scholarships of colleges and universities. (Note: this ruling only affects private institutions.)
Nothing has kicked in yet and no numbers have flooded the web either but this connection between employee and getting paid leaves an opening for asking,
What about other students whose major requires: massive time, attention, dedication, risks injury and subsequent loss of scholarship, and, like sports, involves “performance” for the benefit of not only college and university attendees but the general public as well?
After so much talk about sports, it may appear as though the train of relevant thought has long gone off the tracks on this one. However, re-read that question, mull over for only a moment and it probably is not hard to see where this is going: Music majors. Particularly performance majors.
While I am no chief authority on collegiate sport regulations and while I am of the understanding that there have been practices executed by figures of authority in collegiate sport settings that are most likely, and at the very least, questionable, this isn’t about saying that sports players in colleges are asking for discussions is a nonsensical request. Like any system that remains unchanged and actively in place for an extended period of time, there are undoubtedly pieces of said system that are probably in need of review, evaluation, change and or overall elimination in order to fit with the changing times. However, the general appearance of this problem and the description of justification for what makes college students who play sports, markedly different, and now potentially entitled to payment for their “services,” just sounds like a classic concentration on athletics as being its own entity worth separation, with a complete disregard of the double standard that is forming by not considering that other students whose lives are heavily filled by their collegiate pursuits, could see a parallel and want (and in concept deserve) employment designated payment too.
So many aspects of the defense for CAPA, as to why the football players at Northwestern need employment classification, can be easily likened to the career of an aspiring collegiate orchestra player or vocalist. Hours and hours of daily practice, both self-conducted and group held via rehearsals, obligation to a “team” in the form of whatever group(s) a musician is required to participate in so as to not only hone their skill but fulfill scholarship requirements, control of conductors over said groups with regard to individual placement and or inclusion in a group entirely, based on performance, expectation to perform in institution-hosted concerts as well as concerts often open to the general public, much like college sports games available to students and the general public, and of course the risk of injury with the extreme amount of physical exertion necessary to complete all that practice and performance time. This being in addition to the pile of non-music related studies that music majors have to do, just like an athlete does and the various GPA benchmarks required by higher education to retain their aid.
Awards are based primarily on an appraisal of the student’s ability as demonstrated in the audition. The student’s academic standing and the needs of the institution also play a role in awarding Conservatory Scholarships…
…Scholarships are awarded with the understanding that the recipient will be available for performance activities as might be required by the Conservatory. It is understood that some of these activities, such as Musical Theater & Opera Orchestras, accompanying, chamber ensembles, Dance & Theater performance, etc., may be in addition to curricular requirements.
Requirements for Conservatory scholarship renewal include the following as well, also stated on the conservatory’s website:
Successfully earned enough credits to equal full-time enrollment
Have satisfactorily participated in all assigned ensembles as determined by the Directors and the Division Chairs
Must have achieved a grade of no lower than 3.0 (B) in the major subject areas
Must have achieved a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.7 (B-)
There’s nothing wrong with collegiate athletes working to self-advocate and there’s nothing wrong with trying to ensure that they themselves take better caution when it comes to their health, well being and maintenance of their other academic studies, in order to leave with a solid understanding of many subject areas beyond athletic training. Nonetheless, clearly if this change of view and accompanying policy changes trend to other private high education institutions across the U.S., the result will be a plain dismissal toward other student fueled areas of similar responsibility to one’s passion and talent. Athletics shares these realities, both official and heavily implied with not only music but fields like dance, theater and other creative pursuits. (No one makes you drill plays on your own time, or run scales late at night, but, your skills won’t get any better if you don’t and you have to keep up…)
Whatever the reason, these other areas do not even come into play as a side note worth partial analogy, even when so much is structurally comparable. One has to wonder if seeing collegiate sports in this new light has the potential to domino over to other majors as well, or, if singling out those in sport will be as far as the discussion goes, as is so often the case with U.S. curricular priority.