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Anticipating a ‘Contingent’ Union at Gonzaga


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Gonzaga Admin Building
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At 2:45 p.m. on May 7, I lit a candle at the Grotto for Mother Mary on the campus of Gonzaga University.  It was a lovely moment of dappled sunshine through a canopy of trees, a few students hustling down one of the many, criss-crossing paths and a slight breeze… I then turned from those observations and thought about what would be happening around me in approximately 15 minutes.

Fifteen minutes from 2:45 p.m. on May 7, I might not exist. That is to say, in the fashion of existentialist Jean Paul Sartre I am the self, “I will be in the mode of not being it.” I was projecting myself! I was envisioning myself in the Globe Room of Cataldo Hall, where a meeting had been called by Gonzaga’s administration, and where the president of the university himself, and the academic vice president herself, would appear for what had been billed as a time of dialogue.  Or a listening session.

At any rate, the 15 minutes went by in a flash, and I found myself in the mode of being, or not being, an adjunct instructor with a bad hair cut. I sat there in a room of about 200 empty chairs, which faced three microphones on two vacant stools. Gradually, other contingent faculty members strolled in. I could tell they were contingent by the way these individuals seemed to stare at the floor, as if someone might pull the rug out from under them in the twinkling of an eye. And just so you understand, contingent faculty consist of those non-tenured track souls who are either hired by the institution on a semester by semester basis (adjuncts) or perhaps under a year to year contract (lecturers). Either way, for the most part, students don’t know the difference. They call us professor or doctor… or, in my own case, the Reverend Doctor Kinder-Pyle.

No, I’m only joking about that last bit.  I tell my students at Gonzaga in Human Nature and Critical Thinking to call me “Scott,” or “Hey, you!” which is what I also say to their counterparts at Eastern Washington University.  And my point in mentioning these informalities, which include a highly conversational pedagogy, is that formality sometimes petrifies me. It renders my face to stone.  And as I finally stood up to read a statement on the Unionization of the Contingent Faculty in this auspicious place…in front of Thayne McCulloh, Patricia O’Connell Killen and God and all, I could almost feel my eye-sockets cracking… I could almost hear the hinges of my jaw bones rubbing together… as if I were under some strange seismological pressure.

And yet, of course, that’s not the issue. My emotions in front of these two high-profile administrators have nothing to do with the various grievances that we, the lecturers and adjunct faculty members, have with the school’s policy. And, of course, what appeared to be a tectonic shift in the layers of my 50-year-old face had really been the awkwardness I experienced in simply expressing things like the following:

  • As Gonzaga moves toward a corporation model of labor management, it makes good sense to a growing number of us that adjunct faculty organize as a formal bargaining unit. In this way adjunct faculty will be in a position of legal parity our employer.
  • In the past, administration and tenured faculty have exercised good will toward adjunct faculty. However, with each new administration, policy governing adjunct faculty tends to shift. This results in uncertainty and job insecurity for adjunct faculty. Negotiating as a bargaining unit promises to bring stability and predictability to our contractual relationship with the administration.
  • Pope Francis teaches us that “trade unions have been an essential force for social change without which any semblance of decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism.” Further, the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church (2004) holds that labor unions exert a “positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life” (#305).

Well, so much for the statement of the Service Employees International Union 925.

And so much for the unionization wave that has seen better working conditions at Georgetown—the G.U. of the East–and other universities across the country.

And so much for our hope that the administration would remain neutral, and let the faculty members talk to and with one another about the formation of a union.

With a wave of their microphones, McCulloh and Killen said how they appreciated my bullet-pointed comments, and pivoted toward handling the concerns of contingent faculty without a union.  They were there (in the Globe Room of Cataldo Hall) to listen. Why they weren’t there a year ago, or a year before that, remains to be seen!  And listening is what these persons-made-in-the-image-of-God did. They listened as one contingent shared how she needed health-care benefits when her husband’s employment had changed, and how, as an adjunct for over 20 years, no one had approached about the possibility of getting some. They listened as another contingent spoke about how the cheap labor of adjuncts and lecturers subsidize the times that our tenured colleagues go on year-long sabbaticals, do research and write scholarly articles. They listened as another contingent said how he had moved his family from across the country to work at Gonzaga, and yet, because of policy that limits the number of years a lecturer can teach, he was informed that his services were no longer required. They listened. They listened for over two hours, from 3 p.m. to just past 5 p.m., and often reframed what they heard as the “inelegant” treatment of valued employees.  And they promised to take what they heard back to Gonzaga’s Board of Trustees.

To which I say, Bravo!  Give us an Encore Performance in the fall!

But here’s my problem, and it’s an existential problem.  That is to say, Why does the Jesuit Institution of Gonzaga University exist?  Is it to raise up the ideals of intellectual honesty and perhaps social justice?  And the answer to the latter is Yes. Yes… and (insert nervous cough) No!  

It’s Yes to the extent that the meta-narrative on campus remains a predominantly, although non-coercive, Christian one.  (And to be sure, what Jesus refers to as Mammon we might call the Commodification of Education today.)

But it is No to the degree that the systemic powers and principalities of Gonzaga will hire a union-busting attorney and refuse to see the contingent faculty as equal partners in negotiating their working conditions.   What a shame!

I still look forward to teaching Critical Thinking in the fall at GU, and even two classes of Human Nature in the spring, and when I do, my earnest hope is that I can refute Sartre’s main thesis with no apologies:  I am the contingent faculty member I will be in the mode of teaching my students well and in the mode of relating to my colleagues with integrity and compassion.  And I am the union member that I will be with others who want fair treatment and respect under the law.

Scott Kinder-Pyle
Scott Kinder-Pyle
Scott Kinder-Pyle identifies as an ordained pastor in Presbyterian Church (USA), and has served as an adjunctive professor of philosophy, religion and literature at Eastern Washington and Gonzaga universities. Scott is a poet and the author of There’s No I in Debris—Except this One! In 2020 and 2021, he served as a resident chaplain at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, and has subsequently worked for Kindred and Gentiva Hospice as a Board Certified Chaplain [BCC], accountable to the Association of Professional Chaplains. Most recently, Salem Lutheran Church of Spokane’s West Central neighborhood has welcomed Scott as their interim pastor. He’s married to Sheryl going on 36 years, loves his children, Ian and Philip, enjoys films like Adaptation, ponders painting in the near future and appreciates the thinking of Emmanuel Levinas.

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Tom Jeannot
Tom Jeannot
10 years ago

Thank you, Scott, for such an eloquent soul-baring message.


Tom Jeannot

Lace Williams-Tinajero
Lace Williams-Tinajero
10 years ago

Thank you Scott, for your beautifully written and insightful article. I resonate with your situation, well in part I guess, as you have lasted longer in an adjunct role than I ever could.


[…] Quick, how do you get liberal academics to turn into Ayn Rand conservatives? Mention adjunct professors. […]

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