Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

No NLRB Jurisdiction at Religious Colleges

Reversing a precedent set by the Obama-era National Labor Relations Board, President Trump’s appointed board on Wednesday said it doesn’t have jurisdiction over faculty members at religious colleges and universities.

The decision, concerning Bethany College, a Lutheran liberal arts institution in Kansas, heartened some religious education groups and First Amendment hawks who believe that the NLRB, a government entity, should have no say in how religiously affiliated campuses are run. Full article at Inside Higher Ed.

Personally, I am glad to see the NLRB refuse jurisdiction here and to allow religiously affiliated colleges and universities to make decisions when it comes to adjunct or part-time employment. As mentioned in the article, this decision “might be the catalyst for an informed discussion among individuals and institutions of goodwill to create a non-NLRB procedure and process.” This should be a time, especially for Catholic colleges and universities, to address the complexities that come with adjunct teaching. As Catholic Social Teaching tells us, it’s unjust to exploit someone’s labor or not consider what a living wage might be. However, we must consider that institutions of higher education often seek adjunct teaching from professionals already gainfully employed who are interested in teaching an occasional course. There are other circumstances where someone might wish to serve as an adjunct instructor but not seek or require full time employment, such as retirement or semi-retirement. The instances where individuals take on multiple adjunct courses at once and then try to assert rights to full time benefits or to unionize strike me as being built on dishonesty and a faulty foundation for both the employee and the employer. With nearly two hundred Catholic institutions of higher learning in the U.S., we should strive for a model where people are compensated fairly for their labor, and also defend the rights of the institutions themselves to make personnel decisions like any other religious organization. It seems to me, as someone who has attended four Catholic universities and worked in Catholic higher education for over a decade, that the smaller schools relying heavily on adjunct labor need to be more creative. This probably means creating more lecturer type teaching positions that pay a decent wage and make the people in those positions feel valued and part of the campus community.


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