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President Dougherty’s Letter Addressing an NLRB Issue

I write to provide a context for the University's assertion of its First Amendment right to religious exemption from the authority of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to impose a union of our adjunct faculty on the University.  I appreciate your patience for a long communication on a difficult situation.

The University was not aware of any general discontent among part-time faculty until an intention to unionize with the United Steelworkers was made public in the media. We literally found out about it in the newspapers. No group of adjuncts had approached the University to ask for dialogue.

It is important to point out that the University as such has no policies on adjuncts, only a definition. There are no University pay scales; these vary by College and Schools. They also vary by the role adjuncts play. In the professional schools, they often serve to add clinical experience. In the College, they tend to teach introductory level courses. There are no benefits or long term securities associated with these positions due to their ad hoc and transitory nature. Only in the last several years have the numbers of adjuncts in the College increased significantly.  At the same time, there appear to be a growing number of part-time faculty who seek to make a full-time living by taking on multiple part-time assignments, often spread among several universities.

We are not unmindful of the teachings of the Catholic Church on labor. The Church continues to support the right of working men and women to organize. Our history of positive relations with our existing unions is evidence of our appreciation of this fact. Nevertheless, we believe that, in the case of faculty who are central to the core of who and what we are, concerns for our religious mission are a higher priority. These concerns certainly are a higher priority than deference to the machinery of NLRB regulation, which has no explicit expression in Church social teaching. In this context, the primary concern of the Church is that the dignity of men and women be respected at work, that they have fair pay and reasonable working conditions, and that they enjoy an atmosphere of dialogue in which their voices are heard. We are committed to these ideals.

Our specific concerns related to a union formed under the jurisdiction of the NLRB  include the following. Could we lose our right to hire faculty members who would best advance our mission? Could our right to require mission orientation for faculty be challenged? Would we lose our ability to employ merit pay based on criteria that include commitment to the mission? Would grievance processes impede our ability to remove or refuse to rehire adjuncts who are hostile to our mission? Would an adversarial relationship develop between the University and our adjuncts, undermining our ability to build and sustain a sense of community around the academic core of our mission? Where would potential concessions on mission issues end?  In short, the Steelworkers appear to be opening a path that could lead to the compromise or loss of our Catholic and Spiritan identity.

None of our faculty are steelworkers. We are not aware that the United Steelworkers has any prior experience representing faculty in Catholic universities. The purpose of Duquesne is education and the advancement of our mission. We do not want to run the risk that the Steelworkers would seek to influence issues at the university far beyond pay and other working conditions. We routinely engage in amicable and successful bargaining with our four existing unions, but none of these represent faculty.  We can never risk bargaining away the core tenants of our mission.

The United States Supreme Court addressed many of these types of concerns in Catholic Bishop v. NLRB. In this case, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment provides an exemption from NLRB jurisdiction in order to protect an institution's religious liberty and identity. Subsequent to the Catholic Bishops decision, a federal appellate court ruled that the NLRB-crafted test for religious exemption infringed on the First Amendment rights of religious institutions. That court established the proper criteria for religious exemption:  1) that an institution holds itself out to students, faculty and the community as providing a religious educational environment; 2) it is organized as a non-profit; and 3) it is affiliated with a religious institution.  Duquesne clearly meets these standards.

Our position in this matter also is being advanced by two other Catholic universities: St. Xavier University in Chicago and Manhattan College in New York, who are also challenging the NLRB's asserting jurisdiction over faculty. Both of these universities have the explicit support in their positions from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, which is the main membership organization of American Catholic higher education, representing over 200 Catholic universities. Their position is also endorsed by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (representing the 28 American Jesuit universities), the Conference on Mercy Higher Education (representing the 17 American Mercy universities), and the Lasallian Association of College and University Presidents (representing the six American Lasallian colleges and universities). This agreement on the need for preservation of religious exemption from NLRB jurisdiction represents an overwhelming consensus of opinion among the leadership of American Catholic higher education on this issue. It confirms our view that what we are doing is the right thing for the future of Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit.

At the heart of this matter lies our ability to protect our mission. Duquesne has been faithful to our mission since its founding. We respect the unionized men and women at Duquesne and the contributions they have made and continue to make. Each member of our community is valued by the University, but some, including our faculty, stand at the core of our identity as a Catholic and Spiritan university.

There will be differing perspectives on these complex and challenging issues. Let us resolve to express these differences in a manner that is respectful of one another and that presumes the good will of all involved. Thank you again for your dedication to Duquesne.

Charles J. Dougherty, Ph.D.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic research universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. The University is nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review for its rich academic programs in 10 schools of study for 10,000-plus graduate and undergraduate students, and by the Washington Monthly for service and contributing to students' social mobility. Duquesne is a member of the U.S. President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction for its contributions to Pittsburgh and communities around the globe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Princeton Review's Guide to Green Colleges acknowledge Duquesne's commitment to sustainability.