BY PETER N. KIRSTEIN
I realise this post may not endear me to the leadership of my university, but I will approach this with the knowledge it appears on an A.A.U.P. blog! Catholic universities such as Saint Xavier, Duquesne, and Manhattan have fiercely resisted the right of part-time faculty to organise into a collective bargaining unit. Despite repeated rulings from regional National Labor Relations Board directors that the National Labor Relations Act applies to adjunct faculty at faith-based institutions, (See Pacific Lutheran for guidance), these three institutions have repeatedly appealed their pro-union decisions to the N.L.R.B. in Washington, D.C.
Last year, the N.L.R.B. sent the appeals back to the regional N.L.R.B. offices with the directive to apply Pacific Lutheran to those institutions. In June 2015 the Chicago N.L.R.B. office ruled again in favour of the adjuncts’ right to organise, and that the ballots from the 2011 election should be counted. For five years! Yes five years, the votes of adjunct faculty under N.L.R.B. supervision at my university have been impounded, waiting for a definitive ruling by the national N.L.R.B.
The three universities’ basic argument is that the First Amendment provides for a separation of church and state. Therefore, they claim a religious exemption from federal labour law that otherwise would represent an unwarranted intrusion into the sovereignty and religiosity of faith-based universities. In other words, their religious charism immunises them from N.L.R.B. intervention.
In Illinois private universities are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. As some are aware, the Monetary Award Program (M.A.P.) as I noted in an earlier post, “provides an average of about $2800 to low-income students that defrays tuition at state and private universities across the state of Illinois.” Saint Xavier receives around $6,400,000 and despite the anti-education governor Bruce Rauner, did receive an installment of about $3.4 million. It has not received the full amount for academic year 2015-2016 which is a significant headwind for the institution. Such monies are very important in retaining the viability of many private, not to mention public institutions, of higher learning.
In addition, Catholic universities receive federal grants such as Pell Grants, and Work Study, which began during the Great Society/War on Poverty programs of Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. In addition military veterans receive significant financial aid to attend institutions of higher learning, regardless of their status as private or public institutions.
To claim a religious exemption to stymie the right of adjunct faculty to organise, and yet rely heavily upon state and federal aid borne by the taxpayers, strikes me as inconsistent and regrettably an unpardonable contradiction. The main reason why the three institutions do not want their adjunct faculty to organise is a reluctance to improve the compensation of these faculty members.They don’t want to pay a subsistence wage to part-time faculty who educate our students with skill, preparation and expertise. Let them concede that in order to clear the air!
At my university, we have a union for full-time tenured and non-tenured (F.T.N.T.T.) faculty that was formed the year before the infamous Yeshiva case in 1980. It is one of the older unions in the Roman Catholic world of higher education. I think academic justice, academic freedom, and human rights are enhanced when all faculty enjoy the rights that so many labour activists from Eugene Victor Debs to Dr Martin Luther King Jr fought and died for.