Professors’ Rights to Organize at Catholic Schools

On Catholic Universities and Colleges and Labor Unions and Labor Organizations in
Higher Education



The Pennsylvania Division of the American Association of University Professors

The question of whether faculty can organize labor unions at Catholic colleges and universities has been hotly contested. Objections by different administrations have been based on the view that such unions might violate their institutions’ religious freedom rights or their rights as organizations to manage their professors when the professors are acting in the roles as administrators.
As the national professional body representing the rights and duties of all professors, the American Association of University Professors respects the long tradition regarding labor and its rights that the Catholic Church has developed since, at least, the days of Rerum Novarum. We, therefore, approach these issues with a full sense of the Catholic Church’s long history regarding workers’ rights.
We note that the 2009 document issued by the US Catholic Bishops on “Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Catholic Health Care and Unions” proposes an agreement whereby: “management [in the context of the document the management of Catholic health care institutions] agrees not to use traditional anti-union tactics or outside firms that specialize in such tactics and unions agree to refrain from publicly attacking Catholic health care organizations.” We also note that the document states that there were many different points of view taken into consideration regarding Catholic Health Care Workers and Catholic Institutions over the period of a decade and, yet, the different sides nevertheless “affirmed two key values: (1) the central role of workers themselves in making choices about representation and (2) the principle of mutual agreement between employers and unions on the means and methods to assure that workers could make their choices freely and fairly.” The Pennsylvania AAUP asks Catholic Universities and Colleges in this state to uphold the two key tenets of organization among Catholic Health Care workers enunciated above–the right to make choices about representation and the principle of mutual agreement as to means and methods—and apply it to Educational professionals, in this instance, professors. We are asking that the administrations of the various schools recognize that professors at Catholic Universities and Catholic Colleges are both professionals and servants to no lesser degree than Catholic Health Care workers.

The U. S. Catholic Bishops stated in their Pastoral Letter of 1986 on Economic Justice for All that: “The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate.” (104) As John Paul II indicated in LABOREM EXERCENS, underlying the human right to organize is the fact that “each sort [of work] is judged above all by the the measure of the dignity of the subject of work, that is to say the person, the individual who carries it out” (LE 6). Unions, according to John Paul are: “indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people in accordance with their individual professions. However, this struggle should be seen as a normal endeavor “for” the just good: in the present case, for the good which corresponds to the needs and merits of working people associated by profession; but it is not a struggle “against” others” (LE 20). The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church notes also that: “Today, unions are called to act in new ways, widening the scope of their activity of solidarity so that protection is afforded not only to the traditional categories of workers, but also to workers with non-standard or limited-time contracts”. Thus these rights taught us by Catholic social doctrine would apply not only to tenure and tenure-track members but also to term faculty, adjunct faculty, and other contingent faculty (CSD 308).

Professors of all types are highly-trained individuals who have the dignity of training future generations entrusted to them. To perform their duties they need not only the institutional means but the physical means to maintain the right to free inquiry advocated by John Paul in EX CORDE ECCLESIA where he stated: “The present age is in urgent need of this kind of disinterested service, namely of proclaiming the meaning of truth, that fundamental value without which freedom, justice and human dignity are extinguished. By means of a kind of universal humanism a Catholic University is completely dedicated to the research of all aspects of truth in their essential connection with the supreme Truth, who is God. It does this without fear but rather with enthusiasm, dedicating itself to every path of knowledge, aware of being preceded by him who is ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ “ (ECE 4), a statement amplified by Pope Benedict’s CARITAS IN VERITATE which maintains that to be fully human “Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development” (CIV 9). [Emphases in original documents.]


Unfortunately many contingent faculty earn too little to maintain themselves in their roles as teachers and scholars and, indeed, as individuals of any rank. Their future employment is forever in question. The integral human development necessary to develop the skills to teach, to have the means to do service, and to undertake research is impossible for most contingent faculty who must spend their time working crushing workloads, with no reasonable expectation of reemployment, and with too few physical resources to fully carry out their moral obligations. The first, indeed the supreme, goal of the American Association of University Professors is, as stated in our 1940 document, 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure: “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” While we do not presume that such a statement parallels the centuries of Church teachings yet, in this fundamental issue, we believe that there are significant bonds of similarity and accord.



Therefore, the Pennsylvania AAUP seeks to develop means by which administrations and faculty can develop institutions that foster mutual respect and organizational stability, within the sphere allowed by law, in keeping with the documents cited.


How chapters can transform your campus

Big or small, established or fledgling, an AAUP chapter on your own campus can accomplish a surprising number of things that even the most committed faculty member can’t do alone.

By Cary Nelson

A chapter can help institutionalize AAUP policies. Many campuses already incorporate the AAUP’s principles and recommended standards—including explicit AAUP language—in their faculty personnel policies. But many more AAUP principles should be built into your faculty handbooks and campus regulations, from the joint statement on student rights to guidelines on maintaining academic freedom in electronic communications and on college and university websites. As the world changes, the AAUP clarifies and strengthens its policy statements and recommended institutional regulations. We are now, for example, urging that better protections for speech related to shared governance be adopted on campuses nationwide. Your AAUP chapter can promote the adoption of these policies and be an articulate source of information about them. It is a continuing project, one that can have an immense impact on campus life.

A chapter can speak truth to power. The most immediate difference an AAUP chapter can make is to be a source of frank, honest, and forthright commentary on nearly every aspect of campus life. A chapter, moreover, is not a voice crying in the wilderness. Whenever possible, it should represent the consensus view of a core faculty group formally recommending actions, issuing warnings about real problems, and deflating administration hyperbole about false emergencies. An AAUP chapter provides the faculty with a voice that can shed sunlight on cant, self-interest, and deception and applaud good practices. Then, of course, the chapter needs to promote solutions to problems.

A chapter can organize the faculty. Even a small chapter can fulfill the first and second functions, but with greater numbers comes greater impact and influence. To reach the highest plateau—majority membership in a chapter—it is necessary to walk the halls encouraging colleagues to join the chapter through one-on-one conversations. Our experience shows that faculty members will join if approached individually by a knowledgeable colleague. The best practice is to approach new faculty members in their first weeks on campus. An organized faculty can press the university to increase the percentage of full-time, tenure-track teachers. It can press the administration to spend more resources on instruction. It can be a coherent voice founded on continuing solidarity. A faculty senate can represent the faculty and can build effective consensus around an issue, but it typically cannot organize the faculty. For a senate is an organic part of the institution and is dependent on the institution for its continued existence. An AAUP chapter, by contrast, is an independent faculty organization that is beholden to no person and no other entity; it is beholden instead to the principles and standards of the profession.

A chapter can promote sound governance. An AAUP chapter should be an ally, partner, and political advocate of faculty governance and its processes and products. When necessary, it can remind the senate, campus committees, and the administration of good governance principles. It can sound a warning when people—whether administration, faculty, or governing board—deviate from those principles.

A chapter can issue its own position papers. An AAUP chapter can harness faculty skills at research and writing and apply them to the general good and welfare. On a whole range of issues, the faculty needs a well-reasoned, well-researched, well-documented point of view. Detailed position and policy papers that address local issues or give a local context to national concerns are one way to shape institutional policy, build consensus, and avoid errors that are all too often the product of governance by administrative fiat. Oral opinion is more easily dismissed, but a high-quality white paper can carry the day, at least with those who value and respond to reasoned argument. But words also need to be supplemented by constructive actions.

A chapter can pursue grievances. A collective bargaining local will inevitably have a grievance officer to assist individual faculty members who have been mistreated or ignored. People often are not very good at being their own champions. At the very least, a chapter needs a local committee on academic freedom to assist people who are filing grievances. A more dispassionate third party can do better. Campuses without collective bargaining often have inadequate grievance procedures or none at all. Even without a union contract, your AAUP chapter can form a grievance committee to assemble evidence, pursue cases, and obtain justice for aggrieved faculty members. It can negotiate informally but effectively with the administration. It can seek assistance from the AAUP’s national office and pursue some cases jointly with the national staff. Doing a good job at providing these services can enhance a chapter’s credibility with both the faculty and the administration.

A chapter can collect dues. A faculty that wants to act collectively needs the resources to finance some of its activities. Faculty senates, unfortunately, too often have no financial resources. As a voluntary organization, however, an AAUP chapter can add modest local dues to the cost of a national membership. Dues can support member travel to state and national meetings, finance a local website, fund release time for an organizer, pay for copying and distributing documents, assist with legal costs, or pay for professional analyses of campus finances. An AAUP chapter bank account gives the faculty a degree of independence it can have no other way.

A chapter can obtain and distribute information about campus finances. This chapter function deserves an entry of its own because of its increasing importance in tight times. The AAUP has members who specialize in campus finances and who can—for a fee—analyze campus budgets and financial statements. You cannot negotiate with the administration about resources and priorities unless you know how much money is available and how it is being spent. You also need to know the history of campus spending and the likely status of future revenue streams. Where money is concerned, knowledge really is power.

A chapter can educate the entire community. A chapter should aim to reach not only faculty members and administrators but also students, board members, community members, legislators, and all employee groups. A chapter should be the key democratic voice on campus, and it should be clear to all that it is devoted to the general good and welfare. A chapter can use all the resources available to communicate its messages— from newsletters and press releases to websites and e-mails to teach-ins and social networks. By listening to and learning from other constituencies, a chapter can help articulate positions that reflect the interests of multiple groups. A chapter needs to communicate with all key constituencies regularly. If a newsletter gives people information they cannot get elsewhere, including detailed information about campus finances, the newsletter will be read. The AAUP conducts workshops on communications and media relations at its annual Summer Institute.

A chapter can build relationships with the national professoriate. Faculty members mostly build relationships with people at other campuses in their own disciplines. However rewarding those connections are, they are not sufficient to stay well informed about how to deal with the many general challenges higher education as a profession now faces. Membership in the AAUP— the only fully multidisciplinary national faculty organization—gives both individuals and chapters input, connections, support, and inspiration from colleagues everywhere.

A chapter can become active in a state conference. Most states have statewide organizations for chapters—called state conferences—that give chapters a way to consult with one another and plan actions relevant to state concerns. State conferences organize lobbying efforts, support membership drives, inform members and chapters about emerging issues, and help with local academic freedom and shared governance problems.

A chapter can collaborate with an experienced national staff to solve local problems.The various departments in the AAUP’s national office offer experienced assistance to individuals, chapters, and state conferences—membership; academic freedom, tenure, and governance; organizing and services; communications; finance; government relations; law; and research. A century of knowledge and experience is available with a telephone call or an e-mail. An immense array of resources is available on the AAUP’s website.

A chapter benefits from national representation. The national office represents faculty interests at a national level. We monitor legislative proposals, submit amicus briefs to the courts, conduct research on higher education trends, track salary patterns in an annual report, and issue strong statements on critical issues.

Cary Nelson is president of the AAUP and Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His career is the subject of the collection Cary Nelson and the Struggle for the University, and his most recent book is No University Is an Island. His e-mail address is


Petition against the Penn State Mandatory Health Plan



Some of you have suggested that a petition be circulated regarding the Penn State plan. For the convenience of our visitors we are passing on one of the on-line petitions.




Tim H. Blessing

President, Pennsylvania Division of the AAUP

President, Pennsylvania AAUP Chapter of At-Large Members

A gentle reminder about limits . . . .

This blog is maintained by the Pennsylvania Division of the American Association of University Professors (PA-AAUP). While, in the interest of academic freedom, we wish this blog to be open to all, we cannot post items that are destructive, libelous, violent, or hateful in nature. This afternoon a message was posted which suggested that the Penn State computers should be crashed. That message was blocked by us. It is difficult to assess what violence would have been done to Penn State and its employees and students by such an action, but any would have been too much. Please respect that we stand for academic freedom and that that, in and of itself, means that we will not post items that would restrict others’ freedoms.


Sandusky costs reach $48 million for Penn State. From where will the money come?

We have seen estimates that the Sandusky expenses will top the original $60 million that had been projected. Since Penn State says it will not take the money from its normal revenue streams, it will have to take it from other places. It appears that this may entail cuts in employee benefits for one (see earlier post on Penn State’s new medical plan.) We encourage our readers to keep us updated.