Petitioners Seek Adjunct Faculty Rights

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Audrey Mallinak • The Spectator

After waiting in the hallway on the first floor of the Administration building, a small group of faculty, students, community organizers and activists made their way into the president’s office to deliver a petition for just employment practices.


Audrey Mallinak • The Spectator
Audrey Mallinak • The Spectator

Michael Ng, Louisa Edgerly, and Theresa Earenfight were among the professors and faculty present at Fr. Morris’ talk on building equality between professors in the academic world.


The document, with over 500 signatures from students, staff, faculty and community members, is a continuation of the efforts for unionization and recognition by adjunct faculty and other members of Seattle University. The petition calls for all Jesuit universities to adopt fair employment practices. They call for the practice of mission values, which these signees believe uphold the ideas of justice in all aspects, including labor rights.

Just 30 minutes before the conversation in the president’s office, a lecture on just employment was given by Fr. John Morris of St. Mary’s College of California. As both a Catholic theologian currently involved in union negotiations at St. Mary’s College of California and a former Seattle U student, Morris believes that these values are incredibly important for Jesuit universities. Just over a dozen in number, the people assembled were among many who have called for unionization and fair labor practices at Seattle U. In his speech, Morris called to the inherent Catholic values in labor rights.
“The person takes presidence over everything else,” he said.

Calling on the teachings of Pope Leo XIII and Saint Ambrose, Morris explained that in Catholic theology, workers’ rights are part of a long tradition. In his lecture he pointed out how the idea of work has always included the whole person in religious thought, and always put the person first. On top of this, Morris explained that unions have been seen as beneficiaries of the common good, and have a long history in theological ethics. He ended by quoting a verse from Matthew in the New Testament.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you,” Morris said.

This message of connecting the struggle for just employment with the values of justice and supporting the whole person resonated with adjunct professor of history, Michael Ng. He sees this message of just employment as important for Seattle U. Ng saw the invitation of Morris and the meeting with President Fr. Stephen Sundborg, S.J. as essential steps.

“This was an attempt at a positive engagement that was not angry,” Ng said. “It was very civil… Father Sundborg met with us and spoke to us very civilly, we spoke to him very civilly, and we want more of that.”

As this month marks the anniversary of the official beginning for the movement of faculty unionization, Ng talked about the hope he and fellow faculty share. He sees faculty unionization as a step towards a better campus, one with a more meaningful shared governance.

“This is an old idea, that faculty shouldn’t just be a part of the educational environment but that we should be running the university in partnership with the administration,” Ng said.

For senior psychology major Douglass Coleman, labor rights are all too real. Growing up with a single mother who struggled finding work and providing for her family, labor justice is incredibly important to him. As one of the members of the small group that read a prepared statement, he got involved because he believes in the right to live, not just to work-to-live.

“I think that Seattle University needs to be a shining example, and make sure that they’re paying all of their laborers a fair and equitable wage,” Coleman said.

Ng shared this sentiment of wanting to be leaders on this issue. He wants Seattle U to join the ranks of universities like the University of San Francisco or Georgetown University, which have not only engaged in a conversation about just employment, but have also followed through with recognition and legislation.

Moreover, Ng wanted there to be more open and direct communication between the administration and faculty. This is something Morris spoke to, calling on the Pope Leo XIII’s idea of an obligation for both workers and employers to remain in civil conversation. As the school year draws to a close, Ng expressed the hope that the conversation will become more open in the future.

Jason may be reached at [email protected]