It’s time to accept adjunct union at Duquesne

By: Duke Staff

While LGBT students at Duquesne were being attacked online because two students criticized the university’s decision to bring a Chick-fil-A on campus, Duquesne remained largely silent on the issue. With the exception of a brief statement posted on Facebook, the administration has not weighed in to defend students, or offer any clarification or leadership on the issue. However, President Ken Gormley did take time to draft a 960-word email to campus about why he disagrees with the recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision to reject an appeal from Duquesne.

The university appealed a decision by the local NLRB chapter that said the NLRB has jurisdiction over Duquesne. This was significant, because the local NLRB ordered Duquesne to recognize its adjunct union, formed in 2012 and still unrecognized by the university five years later. Now, the university will likely have to recognize the union, although the theology department is exempt from the decision. Duquesne based its appeal off the fact that it is a Catholic college, and claimed that Duquesne has a religious exemption from NLRB oversight, as Gormley mentioned in his email: “[In 2012] the University took a principled stand that it could not risk negotiating its Catholic Mission in the Spiritan tradition or the faculty’s role in it with a union, much less entrust its mission or that relationship to the supervision of a government agency in Washington, D.C.”

Of course, Duquesne is subject to the supervision of dozens of government agencies, rendering Gormley’s argument utterly baffling. To list just a few, Duquesne is beholden to the Department of Education (Pell grants, Federal Work-study, Federal Student Aid Department, etc.), the Internal Revenue Service (Duquesne enjoys tax-exempt status and receives public tax exemptions for its endowment and endowment donations), the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police (who bestow accreditation on the Duquesne police department), and the United States Armed Forces (who pay the tuition costs of ROTC students at Duquesne). The university is subject to hundreds of state and federal laws, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

No one from Duquesne, including Gormley, has ever clarified exactly what religious principles the NLRB will force the university to violate. According to the NLRB, its purpose is to oversee the formation of workers unions and to “prevent or correct unfair labour practices by employers and unions.” So what exactly is Duquesne afraid of? Catholic teaching explicitly supports workers’ rights to unionize, as stated in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Seven Catholic Social Teachings: “If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected — the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions.” If anything, as a Spiritan university, Duquesne should welcome the presence of a union and the involvement of the NLRB.

So if the “religious freedom” argument makes no sense, then why is Duquesne so opposed to the NLRB and the adjunct union? Adjunct professors at Duquesne who teach two classes per semester make about $14,000 per year and have no guarantee of employment from semester to semester, according to a 2013 investigative piece from The Duke. They are considered part-time workers, and therefore do not receive any health insurance benefits. A recognized union on campus would likely petition for higher wages, longer contracts and some employment benefits, which would limit Duquesne’s ability to hire million-dollar basketball coaches. Heaven forbid.

We at The Duke challenge President Gormley to reconcile the current treatment of adjuncts at Duquesne with the university’s “Catholic Mission in the Spiritan tradition” of Duquesne, since it’s so important to him. If he is unable to do so, we recommend the university cease its pointless resistance of the adjunct union and actually live out its Spiritan mission in a meaningful way. And look, we made our argument in far less than 960 words.


  1. This piece is an excellent example of informative and social justice oriented writing. Congratulations and thank you for this service to the Duquesne community. I would only add that Catholic Georgetown University hosts an adjunct union and evidently finds no conflict between that policy and its Mission Statement, one not very different from Duquesne’s.

Comments are closed.