This past October at Loyola Marymount, the largest Jesuit and Catholic university on the West Coast, the Loyola community gathered for a profound dialogue on just employment practices in higher education. The event took place as part of the CSJ Center for Reconciliation and Justice and the Bellarmine Forum‘s “People, Planet, Profit – Business Today, Tomorrow – What Next?” conference and featured a panel of esteemed LMU faculty members and students, a Just Employment Project representative, and the anonymous testimony of two Loyola Marymount employees. You can view the event in its entirety here:
Dr. Matthew Petrusek, a professor in the LMU Department of Theological Studies, outlined the principles of Catholic social teaching that provide the universal ground for just compensation and the right to organize: association, participation, solidarity, subsidiarity, and the common good. He also spoke about the difficulty of applying these principles to concrete settings and encouraged everyone working to address the question of just employment to act in a “disposition of mutual charity, not mutual suspicion.”
Dr. Cathleen McGrath, an associate professor of Management and chair of LMU’s faculty committee on mission and identity, challenged the misnomer that business orthodoxy prescribes the lowest wages possible. She highlighted companies that have succeeded by treating their employees justly, including a great example within Loyola Marymount: the Loyola Marymount University Children’s Center. Over the past decade, the Center has increased the lowest hourly wages paid to teachers from $12.95 to $17.50, well above a living wage in Los Angeles and the state average for child care teachers of $11.93 an hour. LMU’s children center has also invested in teacher training and development and transferred many decisions in the workplace to its staff.
Building on Dr. McGrath’s remarks, economics professor Sean D’Evelyn discussed economic theories that account for the many benefits of high wages, including a boost to labor productivity. He further laid out the legitimate trade-offs that public and private institutions must make to balance efficiency with equity and justice as they carry out their mission.
The dialogue was greatly enriched by the perspective of two LMU employees who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. The first, an at-will employee detailed the many ways she felt mistreated and disrespected in her work environment. A second perspective came from a facilities staff member who shared that he and his colleagues feel under-appreciated by management and incapable of supporting their families due to a heavy workload and inadequate pay. He openly wonders if they would be treated better if they had union representation.
Finally, a fourth-year LMU student named Armani Gates spoke movingly about how important it is for students, as a protected class, to speak out for those who are being silenced. He also argued that the university has an obligation to adopt just employment practices.
“Because students have a powerful voice, we can advocate. LMU is a very corrective university in the sense that when they see problems and when people speak out and are passionate about these problems, changes actually happen.”
The panel discussion was moderated and organized by Prof. Anna Harrison from LMU’s Department of Theological Studies. Prof. Harrison is a strong proponent for just employment practices at Loyola Marymount. She stood in solidarity with adjunct faculty as they sought collective bargaining rights and advocates for the campus workers that serve the campus community on a daily basis.