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.

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