What We're Watching:

Updated NLRB Guidance

NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memorandum to all Field offices providing updated guidance regarding her position that certain Players at Academic Institutions (sometimes referred to as student-athletes), are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, and, as such, are afforded all statutory protections. This announcement is an about-face for the NLRB, which reversed a regional office’s decision in 2015 regarding football players at Northwestern that would have allowed them to form a collective bargaining unit. 

Observations from the Memorandum:

  • The memo does not offer much clarity for public schools and raises questions as to whether private schools (e.g. Northwestern, Stanford, USC, etc.) need to start writing checks to players.
  • Even though FBS football dominates this topic, small private schools that sponsor men's basketball (e.g. Gonzaga, Villanova, Marquette) should be on high alert.
  • Public schools should also be wary, especially those who have athletic departments operating as affiliates to the University (e.g. University of Texas, University of Texas A&M).
  • It is unclear whether we have any indication that this extends beyond Division 1 FBS institutions.
  • Expect activists like Ramogi Huma to be supplying student-athletes with messaging similar to the "We Are United" push we saw last year. This could happen as soon as this weekend with boycotts and Twitter campaigns.
  • We still don't know what the courts are going to say about the matter - this memorandum is not the "final word."
  • Awareness is the key for now - keep an eye on story developments to maintain a proactive approach and be prepared with push-button responses or statements.

Top Online News Coverage:

160 total online news mentions
Of 503 reactions to NLRB memorandum coverage, 40% were "Love" and 15% were "Angry"

Other Topics We're Watching:

Growing Scrutiny Around Endowment Performance

The Wall Street Journal published an in-depth report yesterday raising skepticism around the long-term performance of university endowments in light of a significant number of them celebrating record growth in the past fiscal year. The article attributed the growth to impressive returns from investments in venture capital that are on pace for the greatest returns since the dot-com boom, speculating that returns could collapse if valuations were to suddenly sink. During a period where the country is plagued by economic uncertainty coming out of the pandemic, short-term financial success could also become a lightning rod for those in favor of taxing wealthy institutions.
Several universities are already beginning to see backlash as a result of recent endowment performance:
  • Duke University's The Chronicle published a piece claiming that despite a 56% annual endowment return, some faculty members were not given salary increases and were instead given additional work based on claims that the school was experiencing financial issues.
  • The American Prospect published an article claiming that despite "tremendous" endowment gains, Oberlin College in Ohio went ahead with its plans to fire and outsource union employees amid financial concerns exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • An open letter from the University of Southern California's Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation and USC American Association of University Professors published this week pointed to the size of the institution's endowment creating an inconsistent narrative as the school's tenure-stream is below the national average.
COVID-19 in Higher Ed:
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact university campuses, we will continue to monitor coverage around emerging trends.
  • A student at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington died from COVID-19-related complications after resisting the vaccine due to concerns about side effects.
    • People - 12K Engagements
  • The University of South Carolina saw an increase in backlash on social media in response to its temporary mask ordinance requiring students and guests to wear masks inside the stadium during football games. 
    • WIS 10 - 851 Engagements
  • A Tennessee State University student-athlete claimed in a now-removed viral TikTok video that his receiving the COVID-19 vaccine contributed to him being diagnosed with myocarditis. 
    • The College Fix - 838 Engagements

Trending topics by % increase

  • Sep 25 | NBC News | 9.8K Engagements: “Eleven people were charged in connection to the hazing death of a Virginia Commonwealth University student whose body was found at an off-campus house following a fraternity party.”
  • Sep 29 | Twitter | Steven Greenhouse | 139 Retweets: “Breaking: NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo releases memo saying college athletes should be considered employees who can unionize. She says it's illegal to retaliate against them for engaging in concerted activities.”
  • Sep 26 | Breitbart | 8.6K Engagements: “Several student groups at Arizona State University reacted to a viral video that shows two white students studying in the school’s “multicultural center” being harassed over a laptop sticker, which read, “Police Lives Matter,” claiming the white students displayed imagery of “white supremacy” and “white nationalism.” The students were eventually forced out of the university space. One student group even called for the “expulsion of the two white male students.””
Title IX: 
  • Sep 24 | LA Times | 462 Engagements: “The USC Title IX office found “sufficient evidence” longtime Song Girls coach Lori Nelson body shamed, harassed and retaliated against several former spirit squad members from 2016 until her resignation in 2020, creating an environment within the program investigators deemed “hostile and unhealthy.””
  • Sep 23  | The Gazette | 156 Engagements:The University of Iowa has reached a settlement with the female athletes who sued it alleging violations of the federal Title IX gender equity law, and that agreement is among the reasons UI Athletics announced Thursday it’s adding a Hawkeye women’s wrestling team.”

Trending topics by total volume

  • Sep 27 | Twitter | Charlie Kirk | 6.4K Retweets: “The media won't tell you this, but there is a massive China Virus outbreak at Harvard Business School Students are moving to ONLY online classes, despite 95% of all students and 96% of professors & staff being fully vaccinated. Is this what "following the science" gets you? 🤔”
  • Sep 27 | Twitter | President Beb | 2.5K Retweets: “Just got kicked out of an LSU building because I didn’t leave my face mask on while I was literally eating food. I’m vaccinated (as is 90% of my school), test regularly, and follow all of LSU’s guidelines. I’m sick of this pandemic and the insecure tyrants it has empowered.” 
  • Sep 23 | Fox News | 697 Engagements: “Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the Ohio Vax-to-School program. It’s for all vaccinated Ohioans ages 12 to 25. They can enter a drawing for one of five $100,000 scholarships. There are also 50 scholarships of $10,000 available. The money can be used at an Ohio college or university, career or technical education, or job training, the governor said.” 
Cost of Attendance: 
  • Sep 28 | Twitter | Joe Biden | 2.2K Retweets: “Our Build Back Better Agenda will strengthen our economy by lowering taxes on the working and middle class, and reducing the cost of child care, housing, and higher education. We will grow our economy from the bottom up and the middle out.”
  • Sep 24  | Newsweek | 349 Engagements: “A disturbing and racist email was sent out to members of various Black organizations on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus and sparked outrage among students. Yesterday, University officials released a statement condemning the uptick in anti-Black incidents.”
Campus Safety: 
  • Sep 23 | The Daily Beast | 278 Engagements: “A Colorado college student and Army veteran allegedly threatened his fellow students because he “liked to kill people” and built up a stash of weapons to follow through with it. Robert Killis, a 24-year-old CSU Pueblo student, was arrested Tuesday at a restaurant near campus with a bulletproof vest, a loaded semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, a handgun, several loaded high-capacity magazines, and nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition in his Chevy Silverado.”

Trending universities/colleges by % increase

NC State: Athletics Baylor University: Discrimination Athletics
  • Sep 24 | The Intercept | 2.2K Engagements: “Two Chinese American scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston were removed from their jobs on the same day last month, raising concerns among colleagues that they may have been targeted in fallout from the Justice Department’s controversial China Initiative.”
Vanderbilt: Athletics 
  • Sep 25 | Twitter | Clay Travis | 106 Retweets: “Georgia beat Vandy worse than I’ve ever seen Vandy get beaten before. Vandy had only 77 yards of total offense and just four first downs. Think Bulldogs could have scored 100 today if they’d wanted to do it.”
Arizona State University: Discrimination 

Trending universities/colleges by total volume

Clemson University: Athletics 
  • Sep 25 | Twitter | Peter Burns | 1.9K Retweets: “Clemson gets their 2nd loss Ohio State has a player quit in the middle of the game Oklahoma fans calling for Spencer Rattler to be benched Florida State is 0-4 Never change CFB, never change.”
  • Sep 25 | Twitter | Dan Orlovsky | 228 Retweets: “Been telling Clemson fans for 18 months the offense is behind everyone scheme wise. Trevor covered up a lot-& it held him back It can’t always be about “execution”. Your job coaches is to make execution “easier” It’s fair to say/ask “yes you can recruit-but can you DEVELOP”?"”
Harvard: COVID-19 
  • Sep 27 | CBS News | 6.8K Engagements: “Harvard Business School says it is reverting to remote learning after beginning the semester with in-person classes, citing a rise in breakthrough COVID-19 cases among its students. All first-year and some second-year MBA students will take classes online beginning this week. Classes will take place remotely at least until October 3, the school said in a statement.”
Texas A&M: Athletics 
  • Sep 25 | Twitter | Clarence Hill Jr. | 147 Retweets: “I guess since Texas A&M can't block a three-man rush that means they are soft and not ready for the SEC. I know I heard that stuff somewhere before. Also scored just 10 points at a neutral site game. As Michael Irvin once said so eloquently: Report it with the same intensity.”
Ohio State: Sexual Misconduct Athletics
  • Sep 23 | Twitter | Ron Filipkowski | 2.1K Retweets: “A Fed Judge in Ohio has dismissed the lawsuit brought by hundreds of OSU athletes alleging a cover up by coaches, including Jim Jordan, of sex abuse. The athletes pleaded with the Legis to extend the Stat of Limit, but after a public hearing they refused.”
  • Sep 25 | Twitter | PFF College | 1.5K Retweets: “Ohio State LB K'Vaughan Pope just quit in the middle of the game, per @AWardSports He threw his gloves in the stands, took off his jersey, and is being escorted to the locker room.”

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