Colleges and universities across the nation are reducing personnel costs by assigning more and more of their teaching work to adjunct instructors. Adjuncts are cheaper than tenured faculty and generally enjoy few if any of the fringe benefits the latter receive. Predictably, adjunct faculty, including those at Catholic colleges and universities, are exploring unionization.
Over the past couple of years, at least four Catholic higher education institutions have seen their adjuncts seek union representation. Manhattan College in New York, St. Xavier’s in Chicago, and Duquesne in Pittsburgh rejected their adjuncts’ request out of hand. And in a move that’s hard to interpret charitably, they have invoked their status as religious institutions to evade any legal obligation to bargain. After all, Catholic social teaching on the right of workers to form unions is clear, consistent and explicit. Other Catholic institutions call for a religious exemption so they can adhere to Catholic teaching on contraception; these colleges are calling for a religious exemption so they can contradict Catholic teaching on the rights of workers.
Georgetown, however, has a “just employment policy” rooted in Catholic social teaching that defends the right to organize and the right to a living wage. The school has insisted in the past that its food and custodial service contractors adhere to these policies. Admirably, when its own adjunct faculty employees started to discuss organizing, the administration concluded that its principles applied equally to itself. The university announced that the adjuncts had the right to decide if they wanted union representation or not, and agreed to respect whatever decision they reached.
Here’s to Georgetown, for using its role as an employer to evangelize the world with Catholic social principles.