Documentation: Conscientious Objector—A Jesuit Resists Forced Membership in a Faculty Union

Editor’s note: Conscientious objection has a long history, typically associated with such causes as the war-time draft. Professor Cornelius Buckley, S.J., recently extended these principles to the faculty union at the University of San Francisco, a Catholic institution run by the Jesuits. The following statement was given at the university’s public arbitration hearing. The panel, composed of one union representative, one USF representative, and an arbitrator, has since denied Father Buckley’s request for conscientious objector status on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

Before making my plea for conscientious objector status, I would like to make it clear for the record that I am forced to submit to the jurisdiction of the arbitrator of this panel because of a collective bargaining agreement between the University of San Francisco and the University of San Francisco Faculty Association. I personally was not consulted about the establishment of the panel, and no member of it is of my selection.

The guidelines defining “moral principles” to determine an individual’s conscientious objector status are particularly offensive. I find the concept of proportionalism repugnant to my moral position.

Further, I strongly object to appearing before this panel to defend my conscience, seeing that the process of the hearing itself constitutes a violation of my conscience. However, as a Jesuit and an historian, I take some consolation in the fact that what I have been required to do here this afternoon is something very similar to what the founder of my religious order was forced to do 364 years ago.

In 1526 Ignatius of Loyola had to present himself before the Spanish Inquisition where he was obliged to define and defend his conscience. He flunked the test and was thrown in prison. By the time he was released he had come to the conclusion that the dogmatic bigotry which prevailed in Spain at the time could only stifle academic freedom and so he determined to take himself to the more tolerant climate of France. There he enrolled at the University of Paris, an institution which I take pride in claiming as my own alma mater, and one which has rightfully been credited with having had a profound influence on later Jesuit educational establishments. So much so, in fact, that early Jesuit historians often referred to Ignatius as the “father” of the Society of Jesus and Paris as the “mother.”

I feel that if granted my conscientious objector status I shall gain a victory for what is truly Jesuit educational philosophy: a respect for academic freedom and the integrity of each man’s conscience. And if I end up in the 1990 equivalent of a Spanish Inquisition cell—well, for future historians of USF that, too, may prove significant.

I hold the position that any faculty union in a postsecondary academic institution is intrinsically opposed to the purpose of that institution’s existence. In other words, I plead guilty before this panel to being a conscientious objector—”in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do”—to membership in the Faculty Association at USF or at any other institution of higher learning where I would be expected to teach. And a fortiori I am categorically opposed to paying dues to any such union.

In My Thoughts

First, I believe faculty unions of their very nature have a negative impact on collegiality which is so essential an ingredient in the academic world. The purpose of the university cannot be realized in an atmosphere where an adversarial relationship exists between the faculty, the administration, and the student body.

Second, a university faculty exists to educate; the administration to administer; the students to learn. I believe the management/labor mode of operation, the collective bargaining approach, and the threat of strikes, destroy this relationship. They do away with or trivialize such essential faculty procedures as peer review and advancement in rank and tenure. They do away with a trusting relationship between faculty and administration and, in my opinion, they tend to regard the students as consumers in a free market society. A faculty union takes away from the students the freedom to learn and inquire fully in their chosen fields of investigation without fear of work stoppages and other types of hindrances. In short, it compromises the nature of academic integrity, which is academic freedom in search of truth.

Third, because the union substitutes collective conscience for personal conscience, it creates institutionalized tensions between individual faculty members and individuals who make up the administration and student body.

Sundry examples taken from the recent history of USF can easily confirm what I have stated above. Allow me to state a few. The USF Faculty Association has adopted policies which I, as a member of the USF faculty find repugnant to my ethical principles. These practices included, among others, the threat to call a strike and withhold committee work, writing to potential parents advising them not to send their sons and daughters to USF, counseling prospective students not to consider USF as the institution where they should carry on their academic career. Such practices indicate to me that the Association places its own interests above those of the University in general and of the students in particular.

Finally, as a Jesuit with the vow of poverty and a priest who is at the service of all, I personally feel that a faculty union goes against what is most essential in my vocation. Unions are formed to give job security to their members; my vocation is to be exploited, that is, to be at the service of all people, particularly the students. Because of my vows I do not seek better wages, better working hours, more security. I personally feel that my membership in any faculty union prevents me from exercising in perfect freedom the mission my superior, to whom I am bound in obedience, has given me. I realize many of my fellow Jesuits, who well may live the Jesuit life better than I, do not share this opinion.

In My Words

On January 23, 1985, I explained my position vis-à-vis faculty unions in a letter addressed to Dr. William Binkley, then the USF vice president of academic affairs. I stated: “I am a firm supporter of free trade unions in the marketplace and in communist countries, but not in the halls of academe.”

Professor Michael B. Lehmann, who was at that date president of the USF Faculty Association, was only partially correct when, in his letter to me of January 31, 1985, he said, “It appears to me that you have a political disagreement” with the Faculty Association. Indeed I did have political disagreements and continue to have such disagreements. My “political disagreements,” however, are secondary, accidental, and not pursuant to my request for conscientious objector status. What is substantial is this: I am against all unions in institutions of higher learning.

In What I Have Done

I have been a faculty member in three different Jesuit universities and have been consistent in my opposition to the presence of a union in an institution of higher learning.

Besides being a faculty member, I was a trustee at the University of San Francisco when the union was begun in the law school, and I took the extreme position that it was to the University’s advantage even to cut ties with the Law School if that faculty persisted in pressing for a union. Later, when the faculty union was established on the main campus, I declined to associate with it, arguing that my position as a trustee created a conflict of interests. After my tenure as a trustee came to an end, I continued to have nothing to do with the union. In 1985 I was one of the faculty members who petitioned the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation for advice on how to force the union from including my name on its roster.

As I explained in a letter to the USF Faculty Association, “I have never attended any union meeting, voted in any union election or responded to any questionnaires from the union.” As far as I knew I have never paid dues to the union. If there is ambiguity here it is only because as a member of the Jesuit community I do not see, nor do I have complete control over, how and where Jesuit monies are appropriated. I did request that the treasurer of the Jesuit community put my union dues in escrow until the question of conscientious objection was finally decided. As far as I know that is what he did.

Fr. Cornelius Buckley, S.J.


Fr. Cornelius Buckley, S.J., is Professor Emeritus (history) at the University of San Francisco, and presently a chaplain at Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, CA. He has translated and written a number of books, the latest of which is Stephen Larigaudelle Dubuisson, S.J. (1786-1846) and the Reform of the American Jesuits.