Theology Department Excluded from Faculty Union Ruling

Courtesy of Nicolas Reid | SEIU Local 73The non-tenure track faculty union bargaining team (minus one member) stands in front of the Los Lobos de Loyola statue on the Lake Shore Campus.

One Loyola department has recently been left out of ongoing bargaining between a non-tenure faculty member union and the university.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided to exclude Loyola’s theology department from the union on March 16. The union, which is represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 and made up of the College of Arts and Sciences, was formed in January 2016.

The NLRB’s decision was made in response to Loyola’s Request for Review of the union. The request challenged the NLRB’s jurisdiction over Loyola on the basis that the university has religious affiliation. Aside from the exclusion of the theology department, the request was otherwise denied.

The theology department was excluded because of its direct involvement with religious education, according to the decision signed by NLRB members Mark Gaston Pearce and Lauren McFerran.

“A reasonable prospective applicant for a position in the university’s Department of Theology would expect that the performance of their responsibilities would require furtherance of the university’s religious mission,” Pearce and McFerran stated.

This means the NLRB found members of the theology department responsible for religious advancement, unlike other departments. This is a move that Loyola didn’t ask for when it challenged the NLRB’s original decision, according to Loyola’s Director of Communication Steven Christensen.

“The decision to remove these faculty members from the bargaining unit was unexpected, and their removal was not a request made by the university in its Request for Review,” Christensen wrote in an email to The phoenix. “The university has notified the faculty members in the department.”

Alyson Paige Warren, adjunct instructor for the English department and co-chair of the College of Arts and Sciences bargaining unit, said the union was pleased that the NLRB denied Loyola’s request but was disappointed in the theology’s exclusion.

“They’re our colleagues, they teach classes very much like we do,” Warren said. “We think that this shows kind of a misunderstanding on the part of the NLRB of what the modern theology department really is and what it teaches and what its … primary intents are.”

Part-time adjunct for the theology department Adam Hankins said the theology department sent administration a petition to be included in bargaining.

“We’re still interested in having a living wage. We’re still interested in having job stability. And so as we move forward we’re going to try to do what we can to secure those,” Hankins said. “Ideally, we’ll be able to do that through the union and ideally, the university will voluntarily recognize us.”

Teresa Calpino, an instructor in the theology department, said she thinks the ruling is not representative of the department’s academic work.

“I do think it’s unfair to single us out, not really understanding fully what it is that a theology department does as opposed to someone who works in pastoral studies,” Calpino said. “We really are part of the faculty of the university that just teaches in a particular discipline. We don’t have any sort of religious test of who can teach in the department.”

Associate professor of theology Devorah Schoenfeld said that while the ruling does not directly affect her as she has tenure, she advocates for equal rights for her colleagues and worries her department’s exclusion discredits its value.

“I’m concerned that this ruling sends the message that the work that we do is not academic and not like other departments in a way that could lead to disrespect to the work of the theology department,” Schoenfeld said.

Acting Chairman of the NLRB Philip Miscimarra disagreed with the NLRB’s overall ruling, citing three standards that should be used to determine if Loyola’s religious affiliation makes it exempt from the NLRB’s jurisdiction.

The three-part test includes whether the university declares itself to provide a religious education, is a nonprofit and is owned by or affiliated with a religious organization.

Miscimarra also stated in his dissent that separating the theology department from other faculty can cause “First Amendment concerns.”

“The distinction my colleagues draw between faculty who teach courses with ‘religious content’ … and the other petitioned-for unit faculty (who my colleagues find are subject to the Board’s jurisdiction, presumably on the basis that those faculty teach courses with exclusively ‘secular’ content) is forbidden by the main teaching of NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago,” Miscimarra stated.

The case he refers to was a 1979 ruling that teachers in “church-run schools” aren’t under the NLRB’s jurisdiction.

The Loyola non-tenure track faculty union bargaining team called the decision to exclude the theology department “perplexing and unfair” in a statement but expressed excitement that the Request for Review was denied.

“Together, we believe, it is possible to strive towards (sic) greater transparency and accountability through meaningful dialogue that will enable full-time lecturers and part-time adjuncts to feel that their employment conditions are secure and fair and therefore better able to ensure Loyola students receive the best education,” the statement reads.

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