A New Chapter: Faculty Retirements

Professors Robert & Amy McCormick

Professors Robert and Amy (Christian) McCormick enjoyed a combined 54 years on the Law College faculty—Amy teaching Basic Income Taxation, International Taxation, Estate & Gift Taxation, and Tax Policy, and Bob teaching Labor Law, Sports Law, and Decedents’ Estates & Trusts. The two also teamed up on joint scholarship exposing inequities in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Now the Emeritus Professors are enjoying their recent retirement and look forward to having more time for travel. Amy enjoys Latin American literature, cooking, biking, skiing, and spending time with friends and family. Bob’s goals are to “read, listen to music, watch classic movies, work on my handball game, ride my bicycle, spend time with my sons, their families, and my friends . . . and laugh a lot.”

Amy McCormick

Professor Amy McCormick—a St. Louis native—graduated with honors from Georgetown University and Harvard Law School, where she enjoyed studying tax law. “It touches on many human endeavors, and the tax policy choices a society makes reveal much about what that society values,” she notes. “I was also drawn to ideas about how legal reform could improve society.”

Her early major works—published in law journals at UCLA, the University of Virginia, the University of Southern California, and the University of Cincinnati—examined a range of issues. While practicing law in Washington, DC, Amy published an article proposing a new tax system to discourage carbon dioxide emissions; a year later, the White House publicly advocated the adoption of a similar tax.

Since joining Michigan State Law in 1994, Amy’s writings have exposed implicit biases against women in U.S. tax law. She has revealed ways in which the joint income tax return substantially harms women, discouraging some wives from working and frequently contributing to an annual coerced transfer of wealth from women to men. She has also identified other ways in which factors like withholding rates affect the transfer of wealth from lower- to higher-income spouses. In symposia, she likewise described how the tax system tends to reward white couples with marriage bonuses and to impose marriage penalties on African Americans.

Amy’s writings have also shed light on inequities that flow from the rule of joint and several liability that is imposed on all joint filers, and much of her work influenced Congressional reforms to the Internal Revenue Code’s innocent spouse provisions. Elsewhere, she addressed legislative proposals for marriage penalty relief and their effect on filing status choices.

As satisfying as creating a significant body of scholarship has been, teaching has brought Amy even greater pleasure. “I take real pleasure in teaching and interacting with students,” she says. “It’s enormously rewarding to help students encounter new, stimulating ideas and understand challenging material . . . to see the light go on when a student puts new ideas together, or comprehends a complex statute for the first time.” Amy still has plenty of opportunities to see that light. Although retired, she will continue teaching Basic Income Taxation at MSU Law.

“I’ve gained so much from my students,” she says. “They are wonderful people and have been very generous with me. They really cannot know how grateful I am for the experiences they have given me over the past two decades. Students are the heart of the school, and I feel very privileged to have worked with them.”

Robert McCormick

That feeling is echoed by Amy’s husband, Professor Robert McCormick, who spent 18 years at the Law College in Detroit and another 16 since the school moved to East Lansing. Looking back, Bob’s central sentiment is one of deep gratitude.

“What could have been better than spending those years reasoning and debating the vital and sometimes confounding ideas of the law with bright students who were eager to learn and challenge one another?” Bob says. “They made the job a rich, happy, and rewarding experience. While teaching was often a lot of work, it never was a chore—and to know that after so many years is a wonderful thing.”

The Highland Park native graduated from MSU, cum laude, in 1969, and then earned his J.D. at the University of Michigan Law School. He joined the Law College faculty in 1979, and served as Associate Dean from 1986 to 1989. Sports law caught Bob’s attention in the early 1980s when legal issues emerged in the courts. With few teachers in that area and no casebooks, he assembled his own teaching materials and launched a sports law class, which he taught for two decades.

In 1984, Bob and Professor Matthew McKinnon published “Professional Football’s Draft Eligibility Rule: The Labor Exemption and the Antitrust Laws” in the Emory Law Journal, arguing that the National Football League draft eligibility rule was a combination in restraint of trade violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. Two decades later, Bob joined the legal team of Ohio State sophomore running back Maurice Clarett in an antitrust challenge to that rule. Clarett prevailed in federal district court, but the decision was reversed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bob’s many other writings were published in law journals at the University of Michigan, Vanderbilt University, Washington & Lee University, and Villanova University, as well as in national publications such as the New York Times and National Law Journal. He was also a frequent guest on radio and television sports programs.

A labor arbitrator in public and private labor-management disputes, Bob became a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators in 1988. In 2007, he was named a Fellow of the College of Labor & Employment Lawyers. He spent a decade as Chairman of the UAW–Chrysler Corporation Appeal Board, and chaired the Labor & Employment Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan from 1991 to 1992. The section honored Bob and Amy for writing and producing the 2003 video documentary, “Toil, Trouble, and Triumph: The Legacy of Michigan Labor Lawyers,” with the aid of a $20,000 grant from the State Bar.

The Legacy of the McCormicks’ Joint Scholarship

The professors—both Spartans fans—have left a 10-year legacy of joint scholarship focused on the legal status of college athletes and their relationship to universities and the NCAA.

In their groundbreaking 2006 article, “The Myth of the Student-Athlete: The College Athlete as Employee,” published in the Washington Law Review, they argued that grant-in-aid athletes in revenue-generating sports at Division I NCAA institutions are not “student-athletes” as the NCAA claims, but instead should be viewed as “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act. The McCormicks revealed that the NCAA created the “student-athlete” concept in the 1950s in reaction to a state court’s determination that a college football player was an employee under state workers’ compensation laws. They also uncovered the vast control exercised by university athletic departments over athletes and the stark lack of academic value most athletes obtain in exchange for commercially valuable work.

In subsequent works published at the University of San Diego, University of Texas, and Wake Forest University, the McCormicks offered other criticisms of NCAA regulations. They first noted that labor, antitrust, and tax laws all regulate commercial activities, while often exempting amateur ones. Consequently, such laws have exempted “amateur” college athletics from regulation. The professors debunked the “amateur” label, however, exposing the commercial and lucrative character of college sports and concluding they should be subject to the same legal regimes that apply to other commercial entities.

They then explored racial implications of NCAA amateurism rules that prevent college athletes from sharing in vast sports revenues, despite providing essential labor. Because those rules apply only to athletes and not to coaches, athletic directors, or others in the college sports industry, a largely African American workforce generates extraordinary wealth but is forbidden from sharing in the revenues that instead are reserved for industry managers who are overwhelmingly of European-American descent. The McCormicks compared this regime to apartheid-like systems throughout history, under which members of a racial majority exploited minorities for entertainment and profit. The professors next examined the history of racial integration in college sports. The two found that such integration came about primarily when it served the economic interests of white-run football bowl organizations and universities to field the most competitive teams and to reap the resulting financial rewards.

The McCormicks’ work has helped drive a change in public perceptions about college sports. A recent Time magazine cover story asked, “Should College Athletes Be Paid?” and journalists regularly comment on the vast economic imbalance between the NCAA and college athletes. Such discussions—which were very rare a decade ago—have become commonplace, thanks in large part to the pioneering work of Professors Bob and Amy McCormick.