APP Statement in Support of the Adjunct Faculty at Duquesne University

September 2012

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council this coming October 11, 2012, we believe that it is both appropriate and necessary to question and challenge recent assertions by Duquesne University that it should be granted a “religious exemption,” from the sanction and procedures of U.S. labor law in order to block adjunct teaching faculty’s ability to organize, form a union, and collectively bargain. The university’s position is particularly painful given Duquesne’s acceptance of unions outside the academic disciplines, its history of promoting unions and labor education in the past, and especially the legacy of Monsignor Charles Owen Rice, one of the university’s most influential graduates and namesake for an annual endowed lecture on Catholic social teaching.

The Second Vatican Council represented a confident and robust attempt by the church to confront the world in a spirit of generosity and tolerance and thereby transform the world into a more peaceful and just place. Sadly today, it seems that sexual and financial scandals, combined with the influence of powerful reactionary financial interests, have combined to shrink the scope of Church teaching and make it complicit in the growing global and national economic inequality - today more extreme than at the time of the council, at levels not seen since the Great Depression. The Second Vatican Council called for vigorous efforts “to remove as quickly as possible the immense economic inequalities which now exist.”

The Council’s pastoral constitution “The Church in the Modern World,” asserts the interdependence of person and society, along with the necessity of promoting the common good. It strongly recognized the limitations of an individualistic ethic. “Profound and rapid changes make it particularly urgent that no one, ignoring the trend of events or drugged by laziness, content himself with a merely individualistic morality. It grows increasingly true that the obligations of justice and love are fulfilled only if each person, contributing to the common good, according to his own abilities and the needs of others, also promotes and assists the public and private institutions dedicated to bettering the conditions of human life.”

This brings us to the heart of the matter. In discussing the principles governing economic life as a whole. The Council asserted: “Among the basic rights of the human person must be counted the right of freely founding labor unions…without risk of reprisal.” The document asserts that this fundamental right to a freely organized labor organization is rooted in the need for “the active participation of everyone in the running of an enterprise…workers themselves should have a share also in controlling these institutions, either in person or through freely elected delegates.”

Justice cries out for Catholics who still affirm the spiritual optimism and joy of Vatican II to consider the state of full time adjunct faculty at Duquesne and other local institutions. A full time adjunct with an advanced degree teaching a full faculty load of eight classes in two semesters will earn less than $25,000 a year and not receive any health care benefits. Given the steadily climbing costs for students, the tuition money paid by a single student for a single class will pay the adjunct’s remuneration for teaching the same class. Classes are normally authorized for a minimum of ten students, so the worker’s share is 10% or often substantially less. Top administrative personnel make up to 22 times as much as these adjuncts!

What makes this situation more acute is that many if not most of these young teachers are carrying enormous debt loads as a result to the escalation of the cost of a university education growing at twice the level of inflation for decades. How do these young faculty, teachers of the future generations of Catholic educated professionals, speak with a straight face about Catholic social teachings about economic justice?