Should Conservatory students be unionized like D1 athletes?

Katherine Lipuma, ‘Doah Contributing Writer
May 2, 2014

Recently, Division One football players at Northwestern University fought to unionize and be paid for their performance. These athletes want to be paid for their extremely high caliber performance because the school makes a very large profit from them. D1 athletes are considered pre-professionals as they are training to hopefully become professional athletes. In the same respect, conservatory students are pre-professionals in their field and are on their way to becoming professional musicians, dancers or actors. If D1 athletes are legally allowed to unionize and be paid for their performance, why shouldn’t conservatory students be allowed to unionize and be paid for their performances as well?

On Mar 26, 2014, it was ruled by the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Boardthat Northwestern University football players are considered employees of the university and can unionize. The argument is that the students commit so much time and energy to their sport because their performance on the field is directly linked to the amount of scholarship money that they receive. It was also argued that the school relies on the performance of the players to make billions of dollars on the sporting event itself. Previously it was viewed that if one were to consider these athletes employees of the university their scholarship money would be considered their payment. When put in perspective the amount of money made on the sporting event is not proportional to the, “payment,” the athletes are receiving. In short, the athletes fought to be considered employees of the university to ensure legal rights protected by a union and to receive employee payment for the games that they play.

So where is the parallel of D1 athletes to Conservatory students? While conservatory students are not under the umbrella of the NCAA, D1 athletes and conservatory students are both the highest caliber of talent at the collegiate level. Schools turn a profit from the performance of D1 athletes and from the performance of conservatory students and while both D1 athletes and conservatory students often receive scholarships, it is not proportional to the amount of profit the school makes on the talent of the students. It is rare in the conservatory setting for a student to receive a full scholarship the way D1 athletes often receive. If conservatory students were viewed in the same way D1 athletes are starting to be viewed, they would receive compensation for their incredible talents that the school, and the conservatory in particular, generate revenue from. It would also help these artists to make money for themselves in preparation for the harsh and low-income performance world that they are preparing to enter. Making some money from the performing that they do, conservatory students could focus more on their studies and practicing their craft and less on trying to work a job to pay off student loans and trying to save up to live independently post graduation as a starving artist.

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