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Loyola Chicago Faculty Union Debates Escalate, Students Question University’s Social Justice Commitment

lucDuring the same week that faculty elected to form a union under the unconstitutional oversight of the National Relations Labor Board (NLBR), Loyola University of Chicago sanctioned its student government for a demonstration in favor of higher wages for unionized workers, again calling into question how Catholic colleges should handle issues of unionization and social justice.

“One of the common refrains of the protesters and their supporters is that the administration’s actions are hypocritical. The four students say they are being punished for following the very social justice values the university taught them in the first place,” In These Times reported.

The four students in question were recently cleared of allegations of disruption and harassment in connection with the November 20, 2015 demonstration in a University dining hall. On that day, a group of students gathered to present their concerns to Amarak representative Bill Langlois, the University’s food services contact, asking for higher wages for unionized food service workers.

Following the demonstration, the University claimed that the students violated campus community policies governing disorderly conduct and harassment. As a result, the student government, which sponsored the event, was punished while the four student organizers were cleared, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Lilly Osborne, one of the four students who organized the demonstration, noted that her fellow students felt the University was contradicting its Jesuit mission and emphasis on social justice. “It’s difficult to live out social justice values,” Osborne reportedly said. “I don’t have a lot of faith in the administration to do the right thing,” she later added.

The University did not disapprove of the demonstration and also failed to clarify its understanding of social justice or how it plans to handle its union issues.

“As a Jesuit, Catholic university, we strongly believe in, and welcome, debate and differing views on campus,” said Loyola spokeswoman Kristin Trehearne Lane. “We support students who express their views through respectful and responsible means.”

The Church on Social Justice, Unions

“Social justice according to Roman Catholic theology recognizes the challenges facing fundamental human dignity in modern society,” Acton Institute President Father Robert Sirico told The Cardinal Newman Society. “Unfortunately, it has become the modern-day equivalent of the ‘Peace’ and ‘Free Love’ signs of the 1960s counter-culture, which became a catch-all for libertinism rather than ordered liberty properly understood. For many Catholics today, social justice is a justification for any number of progressive causes.”

Social justice does recognize the rights of workers to form and join unions, but Catholics must also remember that, as Blessed Pope Paul VI recognized in Octogesima adveniens, unions should not engage directly in political and social causes contrary to Catholic teaching, Fr. Sirico explained.

“In his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII notes that man’s labor is necessary, and man is granted a natural right to procure a wage in return for his work,” he continued. The Church cautions however against unions that become political or accumulate too much power, noting that “unions must fulfill a moral obligation to recognize the fundamental dignities and rights of the individual,” Fr. Sirico said. “It is not a doctrinal imperative for Catholics to support every union demand.”

Unconstitutional NLRB Oversight Continues

The University is also dealing with a separate union issue this week, as adjunct and non-tenure track faculty voted to form a union. As the Newman Society previously reported, the faculty vote stems from an ongoing dispute with the NLRB, which has been exercising unconstitutional government oversight of Catholic universities and colleges.

In December 2014, religious colleges won a significant concession from the NLRB when it abandoned its previous assessment test. Key to the decision was the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1979 ruling in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, which forbids the Board to assert jurisdiction over employee relations in religious education and to attempt to decide whether institutions are sufficiently religious for exemption.

But the NLRB soon adopted a new test. Instead of questioning whether an institution is religious, it now seeks to determine whether individual faculty members have a religious function. Although the new test continues to violate the Supreme Court’s ruling, The Cardinal Newman Society acknowledged that it is a big improvement, as it recognizes the authority of colleges to determine by their own policies whether certain professors have a religious function. The Newman Society also argued that the new test is also unlikely to be upheld by federal courts.

“[W]hat is at stake here, is Loyola’s guaranteed First Amendment rights of religious freedom and autonomy — essentially our right to define our own mission and to govern our institution in accordance with our values and beliefs, free from government entanglement,” stated Loyola’s Senior Vice President for Administrative Services Thomas Kelly in an announcement to University faculty in December.

While the Newman Society has generally supported Catholic colleges citing their Catholic identity in an effort to preserve their religious freedom, it has noted that many colleges have not done this consistently over the years and are now just resorting to such an argument. It has argued further that all professors at a Catholic college should have a specifically religious function with the expectation that they will uphold Catholic values and doctrine and advance the college’s Catholic mission.

Among other instances reported by the Newman Society, annual drag shows, a pagan student club, support for gender-neutral restrooms and controversial campus speakers have called into question the importance that Loyola University Chicago has placed on its Catholic identity in the past.

Besides Loyola University Chicago, other Catholic colleges that have recently opposed NLRB intervention include Carroll College, Duquesne University, Manhattan College, Saint Xavier University and Seattle University.

Last week, Carroll College became the first Catholic college to win a favorable ruling against the NLRB since its new standard of evaluating the religious function of faculty was implemented.

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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