Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



University of San Francisco Press


Contingent or “adjunct” professors are highly educated and often excellent educators, yet they are suffering from a nationwide epidemic of low wages, a lack of benefits, poor working conditions, short and sporadic contracts, and—to make ends meet—long commutes that often involve two, three, or even more institutions. This story of contingency on American campuses is fast becoming a well-tread narrative, not only in periodicals that focus on academic life (e.g. the Chronicle of Higher Education, Vitae,, but also more recently, in mainstream news outlets as wide spanning as the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, Forbes, The Atlantic, and Salon. even did an 8-part series on the struggles of contingent faculty. Like an ancient myth that gets told and retold throughout the centuries, the setting and the names may change but the story always retains certain core elements: the lack of benefits, the shabby pay, and, of course, the “administration” cast as the villain. The moral also remains consistent: if we want to help the contingent professor, we need to support unionization of contingent faculty and collective bargaining in order to gain leverage against the (evil) administrators.

This story is told about Catholic universities just as often as it is any other university, and aptly so, since Catholic universities employ roughly the same percentage of contingent faculty as the national average. Furthermore, the solution of unionization fits neatly with a cursory reading of Catholic social teaching, which, from its inception in the wake of the industrial revolution, has been pro-union. But does unionization suffice to offer a truly Catholic response to the contingency epidemic in the American academy? In this essay, I will argue that while unionization is a fine first step, it ought not be the whole of a Catholic response to the contingency crisis. It is incumbent upon Catholic colleges, which espouse to be communities inspired by the Catholic vision for the common social life, to actively work to be more inclusive of contingent faculty.

Chapter of

Catholic Identity in Context: Vision and Formation For the Common Good, Lane Center Series, Volume 6


Erin Brigham
Stephen Black


Reprinted with permission.