Date of Award

Spring 2020

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Todd A DeMitchell

Second Advisor

Andrew Coppens

Third Advisor

John Wallin


This study considers the phenomenon of “dignity” as experienced by non-unionized, part-time, English Department faculty at a Catholic Church-affiliated campus in the Northeast region of the United States; I refer to the institution as Urban Catholic University. This focus is motivated by the apparent tension between Catholic social traditions regarding labor rights and worker dignity, on the one hand, and working conditions for adjuncts as described in the literature on higher education faculty employment. To wit, the labor-positive and union-affirmative tradition in Catholic Social Teaching (CST) has been unequivocally supportive of the rights of workers to unionize since the 1890s, but Catholic institutions tend to block enforcement of labor laws on their campuses on the basis of First Amendment protections against perceived government intrusion into religious matters. The literature review 1) clarifies the norms of faculty contingency in higher education (i.e., low wages, no benefits, part-time, temporary employment); 2) explores theories of organizational culture and learning and describes corporate influences on higher education; and 3) explicates the central role of dignity to CST. The conceptual framework of this study combines the social constructionist theory of knowledge and reality with a hermeneutic phenomenology that assumes experience and interpretation are inextricably intertwined. Both theories serve in this study to encourage adjunct faculty, who are often marginalized in governance and policy matters that affect their employment, to speak about their experience of working conditions in their own words. The hermeneutic design of the study includes semi-structured interviews and document/artifact analysis. The research question asks: How do non-unionized adjunct faculty employed by an English Department in a Catholic Church-affiliated university describe their experiences of “dignity” and how do those faculty reflect on the meanings of those experiences?

Keywords: adjuncts, contingency, dignity, Catholic Social Teaching, phenomenology