Panel: Speaking of Dignity: Non-Unionized Adjunct Faculty Teaching at Catholic Church-Affiliated Universities

Panel Description

According to the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” issued under the authority of Pope John Paul II in 2004, “the rights of workers, like all other rights, are based on the nature of the human person and his transcendent dignity,” and include these essential rights: “the right to a just wage;” “the right to a working environment … which [is] not harmful to the workers’ physical health or to their moral integrity;” and, “the right to assemble and form associations.”  Despite these fundamental precepts of Catholic Social Teaching, Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit asserted a religious exemption from the duty under the National Labor Relations Act, which is applicable to private universities generally, to bargain with a union elected by a majority of Duquesne’s adjunct faculty.   With the support of the Association of Catholic College and Universities, Duquesne challenged the National Labor Relation Board’s jurisdiction to order the University to bargain over adjunct faculty terms and conditions of employment in an enforcement proceeding brought by the Board in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  In January 2020, the Court of Appeals issued a decision in which it (i) refused to enforce the NLRB’s bargaining order, (ii) rejected the test propounded by the NLRB in the Pacific Lutheran University case that determines the applicability of the religious exemption by examining the actual role played by adjunct faculty in maintaining a university’s religious educational environment, and (iii) found that the religious exemption under the NLRA should be applied institutionally, not more narrowly to only those job classifications within a proposed bargaining unit that perform religious duties.  Subsequently, in the Bethany College case decided by the NLRB last summer, the Board expressly overruled the duties test articulated in its 2014 Pacific Lutheran decision and adopted the institutional exemption test set forth in the D.C. Circuit’s Duquesne University decision.  With similar broadening effect in the Title VII context, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision last summer in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru that extended the ministerial exemption under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to deprive teachers in religiously-affiliated schools from protection against discrimination in their terms and conditions of employment when they are responsible for “educating and forming students in the faith,” regardless of the teacher’s ministerial title, religious training, or even membership in the particular faith.  Meanwhile, recent data reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Education, the General Accountability Office, and the Academy of Arts & Sciences, among other sources, show that more than 50% of faculty at Catholic colleges and universities, excluding graduate students, are part-time or temporary and that the average compensation for such faculty in the Humanities is less than $3,000 for a 3-credit course.

This panel will explore the relationship between the principles of Catholic Social Teaching relating to human dignity, freedom of association, workplace expression and participation, and equitable sharing of enterprise benefits and burdens, and the efforts of Catholic universities, by invoking religious doctrine, to obtain an exemption from laws designed by the secular state to effectuate similar principles of workplace equity, participation, and freedom from harm to health and personal dignity.  Jacob Bennett, who has served in contingent faculty positions on his way to earning his doctorate in education from the University of New Hampshire in 2020, will frame the human and ecclesiastical dimensions of the panel’s discussion of adjunct faculty working conditions by summarizing portions of his doctoral dissertation in a paper titled “Speaking of Dignity:  Interviews with Non-Unionized Adjunct Faculty Teaching at a Catholic Church-affiliated University.”  James Coppess, Associate General Counsel of the AFL-CIO, who appeared on behalf of the adjunct faculty union in the enforcement proceeding against Duquesne University in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, will describe the basis for the union’s position in that case, and will discuss the conflict between Catholic universities’ professed adherence to AAUP principles of academic freedom for their faculty and their reliance on faith propagation as a ground for exempting faculty from the protection of labor and employment laws.  Maria Maisto, who co-founded and serves as President of the New Faculty Majority, a not-for-profit advocacy association dedicated to securing equity and academic freedom for adjunct and contingent faculty, will describe how NFM supports contingent faculty who seek to fulfill the mandates of Catholic Social Teaching while balancing contingent faculty and management interests. NFM encourages such faculty to draw deeply from Catholic Social Teaching on labor organizing and on such principles as dignity, solidarity, justice, and the common good in their advocacy efforts in the Catholic university workplace.  David Marshall, Adjunct Professor and Director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law at St. John’s University School of Law, will moderate the panel’s discussion.

Panelists Bios

Jacob A. Bennett holds a PhD in Leadership & Policy Studies – Higher Education from the University of New Hampshire (’20), MFA in Creative Writing – Poetry from Goddard College (‘09), and a BA in English from Wesleyan University (‘03). Jacob studies higher education policy, organizational change, and labor relations, with a critical lens focused on contingent faculty issues. Methods include phenomenological interviewing, document analysis, hermeneutics/discourse analysis, among others.

James Coppess is Associate General Counsel of the AFL-CIO, which he has represented for more than two decades in testimony before numerous Congressional committees and advocacy before the U.S Supreme Court, various U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the National Labor Relations Board in many of the most high-profile and precedent-setting cases under this country’s labor and employment laws.  James was counsel of record for the union intervenor in Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit v. National Labor Relations Board.  He decided to enter the labor movement because of his personal experience growing up in a working-class Catholic neighborhood in Detroit and as a member of the United Auto Workers and the Detroit Federation of Teachers.  Recently, he has represented faculty unions at several Catholic colleges.

Maria Maisto is co-founder and President of New Faculty Majority, a national non-profit organization focused on improving the quality of higher education by transforming the working conditions of the majority contingent faculty. She has presented and published on the contingent employment crisis in higher education in academic, mainstream, local and national media outlets and led advocacy efforts to address policy issues including worker misclassification and adjunct access to unemployment, student loan relief, and health insurance.

David R. Marshall is Adjunct Professor and Director of the Center for Labor & Employment Law at St. John’s University School of Law where he teaches Employment Discrimination and Labor & Employment Arbitration.  For more than 30 years, David has represented employers in state and federal court proceedings, and before various administrative agencies and arbitrators, in matters involving claims of employment discrimination, breach of contract, wrongful discharge, and unfair labor practices.   David began his legal career at the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, DC, where he briefed and argued a variety of unfair labor practice and representation cases in the United States Courts of Appeals.