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HoltschneiderPut the words NLRB, DePaul University, unions and religious freedom in one headline and there is bound to be a variety of opinions and interpretations in the media. Vincentian President Dennis Holtschneider makes his stance clear.

DePaul will continue to protect the right of our adjunct faculty to discuss whether they would prefer a union as their representative. You will also see DePaul, however, oppose the NLRB’s new formulated test as to which parts of our institution are sufficiently religious to be recognized by the government.

The context…

DePaul’s part-time faculty are currently being courted by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the university is being portrayed as anti-union, and therefore, anti-Catholic.  In fact, we are protecting the faculty’s right to discuss representation with the two unions, but we are also taking a very strong stand against the Washington-based National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), for reasons I explain below.

The text of his letter

Dear Colleagues,

As our adjunct faculty consider the question of union representation, a number of you have inquired about the nature of the religious concern DePaul and other Catholic institutions of higher education are raising. The concern is attached to the present labor issue, but is not actually a labor question, nor does it have anything to do with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) or the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a second labor union now vying for our adjunct faculty’s membership. Instead, the issue comes from the manner in which the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently formulated its jurisdiction.

Since the Supreme Court and subsequent lower courts denied the NLRB jurisdiction over faith-based institutions in 1979, the NLRB has searched from time-to-time for ways around the ruling. Catholic universities in America became concerned four years ago when regional NLRB’s began determining their jurisdiction by asking our institutions such questions as whether our libraries were open on Sundays, all of our faculty and/or students were Catholic, or all of our students were required to study Catholicism. More recently, since a clarification provided in the case of Pacific Lutheran University, the NLRB has begun asking questions such as whether individual faculty are required to convey religion within their courses.

Such questions misunderstand, of course, that universities permit faculty the academic freedom to shape their courses as they think best, and that Catholic universities invite faculty of many faiths and none to join together in the larger religious mission of the institution. The more immediate issue, however, is that a government agency is attempting to determine – university-by-university – whether or not each institution is sufficiently religious to qualify for the exemption set out by the Supreme Court many years ago. This is a problem not limited to labor issues, but sets out a possible precedent where any government office could substitute and impose its own judgment for what constitutes religious activity, in this case dividing institutions and educators into mutually exclusive secular and religious spheres.

I tried to explain this at more length this morning in an editorial published by Inside Higher Ed. You can find the text of my editorial here. Some may interpret my editorial as an attempt to oppose unionization by raising a side issue of religious freedom, but in fact, it’s a genuine problem and completely independent of the local labor issue here in Chicago.

DePaul will continue to protect the right of our adjunct faculty to discuss whether they would prefer a union as their representative. You will also see DePaul, however, oppose the NLRB’s new formulated test as to which parts of our institution are sufficiently religious to be recognized by the government.

With great respect,

Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., President