The Pope and America's Adjunct Faculty

Let’s be honest; Pope Benedict XVI has little charisma. Whereas John Paul II was the Frank Sinatra of the Vatican, Pope Benedict is more the Joey Bishop of the Papal Ratpack. Be that as it may, the faculty and leaders of America’s 200 Catholic universities answer directly to Rome and His Holiness. Ironically, the 1991 document (For those who’d like to read it in Latin, click here to visit the original document on the Vatican web site.) that required Catholic universities in the U.S. to answer to Rome was written by John Paul II. The Ex Corde Ecclesiae (from the Heart of the Church) required American Catholic universities to seek affirmation from the Holy See. As a result of the Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 13 American Catholic colleges and universities ended their affiliation with the Church, or were declared “no longer Catholic.”  
So, where am I going with all this? Straight over to Jamaica, New York, to a Catholic college called St. John’s University. Then, it’s due west to Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, in Wisconsin. Over the course of the past month, both institutions have made remarkable strides toward part-time faculty equity. At Marquette University, the institution’s faculty senate will, today, discuss a report from the school’s faculty council. That report urges university administrators to give the school’s adjuncts contracts, salary increases or benefits. According to a piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The report asserts that Marquette has a moral obligation as a Jesuit institution to fairly compensate part-time instructors.”
A moral obligation! Finally. Of course Catholic colleges, heck, every religious institution in our country have a moral obligation to treat all workers fairly and equally. This is how the Marquette report puts it, “We believe that every group of individuals who is part of the larger community that comprises ‘Marquette’ should be treated equally and should have access to the same benefits as any other member.”
The effort to have the Marquette community take up this discussion was spearheaded by a tenured professor in the theology department, Dr. Daniel Maguire. Faculty in Maguire’s department, last year, passed a resolution urging university officials to look into the way Marquette University treats it adjunct faculty—who teach 41 percent of the courses offered at the institution.
Meanwhile, in its May 15th issue The Chronicle of Higher Education includes a piece about St. John’s University. St. John’s recently converted 20 non-tenured positions in their writing program into tenure-track slots. The huge news is that university administrators hired the 20 non-tenured faculty teaching in those slots onto the tenure-track.
Poof…you’re now a tenure-line faculty member. Dorothy clicked her heels together and made it from Oz to Kansas.
St. John’s administrators not only made a huge commitment to the university’s writing program, administrator’s there showed immense courage and moral leadership in hiring the non-tenured faculty already teaching in those slots. All of the 20 writing instructors had been hired in over a period of two years as full-time temporary faculty on one-year contracts, and most hold terminal degrees. 
When AFT FACE was on the verge of getting millions for 2,000 new tenure-line faculty slots for SUNY/CUNY, full-time faculty objected to hiring already-employed non-tenured faculty for the newly created slots. According to a piece in the New York Sun, “Many full-time faculty at City University of New York and State University of New York schools said giving preference to the adjunct faculty in their departments would restrict who they could hire and would not necessarily strengthen their departments.” A University of Albany department chair was ever more haughty on the subject of hiring non-tenured faculty into newly created tenure-line slots: “That’s not the normal way we do it,” the chairman of the physics department at the University at Albany, John Kimball, said. “It’s a nationally advertised search for any new faculty members. Adjuncts are welcome to apply, but they’re not given special preference over anyone else.”
AFT union officials went right along with this ridiculous slap in the face. I wrote about it here. There are 20,000 non-tenured faculty represented by the AFT at SUNY/CUNY and not a single one of those faculty has a snowball’s chance in hell of line conversion through their union contract. Why? Because the union contracts negotiated year-after-year never include line conversions. At York University, in Toronto, Canada, faculty recently went on strike for several weeks to protect line conversions included in their union contract.
At Marquette University, faculty there believe the debate over the equitable treatment of adjunct faculty, and the hoped for improvements in pay, benefits and job security, will spur similar movements at the nation’s 27 other Jesuit colleges. One imagines if a movement for the ethical treatment of adjuncts were to take root and flourish, it would, perhaps, find no better place to sprout than within the nation’s 200 Catholic universities. After all, Ex Corde Ecclesiae was based on canon law, and so is Dr. Daniel Maguire’s argument. Within the Catholic Church, canon law is the linguafranca of the land.

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