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Summer 2022 Stories

Fall 2022 explore Journal

Seeking Understanding and Solidarity

Leading with Compassion

Solidarity and Common Good

That Meritorious Title of Colleague

Integrating the Catholic Intellectual Tradition into Graphic Design Courses and Scholarship

The Practice of Equality

Holding On and Changing the Tradition

Catholicity and Confusion

An Easter Solidarity Reflection

That Meritorious Title of Colleague

An Essay on Campus Solidarity

Matthew J. Gaudet

By Matthew J. Gaudet

Lecturer of Ethics
School of Engineering
Santa Clara University

That Meritorious Title of Colleague

As campuses reopened across the country, faculty, staff, and  students alike approached the 2021–22 school year with cautious optimism. We wondered whether our schools would be able to remain open, and whether we would be able to regain the personal connections that had been injured and weakened over a  year and a half of “Zoom university.” We hoped, above all, that we would be able to return to some semblance of normal campus life.

But what is normal campus life? If we are merely looking back to January 2020 as the status quo ante that we wish to return to, then we are missing the forest for the lonely little tree. The fact is, part of what made the pandemic so hard to bear was that our campus communities had been rotting away for decades—or perhaps longer—and lacked the necessary bonds to sustain such a challenge. Seasoned faculty and staff lament that campus culture is not “what it used to be” while their greener colleagues despair that academic life is not what they “thought it would be.” Both  are probably opining about an ideal that never was, but there is nevertheless truth in both of these claims.

While the events of the past few years have made matters worse, the university has long been a workplace built around silos, fiefdoms, and individual labor. We research and write alone; we plan and teach alone; we advise students and write recommendations alone. Those few occasions where we do come together—in department meetings and committee assignments—are often exercises in exclusion rather than opportunities for collaboration. The meritocratic ideals that the university aspires to are rarely met, and in their wake we are all driven to competition for scarce resources and scant power. Consequently, the distance between us has never been greater. A recent study in the United Kingdom found that 46 percent of researchers felt loneliness at work, and 40 percent said isolation was the main factor affecting their  mental health.

At one point in his groundbreaking book, University Ethics: How Colleges Can Build and Benefit from a Culture of Ethics, James Keenan, S.J. challenges his readers to “expand our own circle of who deserves  that meritorious title of colleague.” It’s a quick line that could pass unnoticed or, worse still, the line could simply be translated as a call to be nicer to those who work in our immediate proximity. But being nicer does not turn a coworker into a colleague. Rather, the key difference is that colleague implies a measure of solidarity exists between two coworkers.

It is time we had a serious conversation about what makes a coworker a colleague, and what makes a campus a community. The competition and division on our college campuses mirror those same forces in our wider world, and sometimes it can all seem too much to deal with. Compared to healing the divisions of the world, though, rebuilding community here on campus is a still lofty albeit achievable step. We can make our campus a port of community in a storm of loneliness, but first we need to embrace the virtue of solidarity.

Solidarity as a Social Force

Now, solidarity is a word that is used in a variety of ways in the contemporary lexicon. For 19th-century French sociologist Émile Durkheim, solidarity was the name given to the social force that held  communities together. Durkheim came to distinguish between two different forms of solidarity. There are those communities that are held together by their commonality. Durkheim described how small, rural,  agrarian towns tended to bond around shared values and common fortunes. Such towns tended (and still  tend) to be religiously and culturally homogenous, and thus share rituals—from Friday night football  games to Sunday morning church services. Also, because the local economy is rooted in the success of the agricultural crop, the entire town could share in celebrating a good harvest or collectively  bear through leaner times. Durkheim dubbed the social force that drew people together by sameness mechanical solidarity.

Durkheim also recognized, however, that as societies begin to embrace the division of labor and skills, solidarity itself shifts. In the urban, industrial cities that were emerging in his day, Durkheim observed that individuals were no longer drawn together by their similarity, but by their difference— particularly their different skills and labor. The computer programmer cannot perform her own surgery, the dairy farmer cannot program his own computer, and the medical doctor cannot tend her own cow. Instead, via the division of labor, we rely on each other and consequently, we are drawn into community. This social force Durkheim called organic solidarity. In our contemporary world, it is  hard not to see parallels between the social forces that Durkheim identified and the two sides of our current political divide. There is perhaps much to be gained by viewing each respective worldview  through the lens of organic and mechanical solidarity. However, we must be cautious not to bring our own biases to such a comparison, and in the process only see the strengths of one type of solidarity and the weaknesses of the other. Instead, it is important for us to recognize the inherent strengths and weaknesses in both these types of solidarity. Moreover, while Durkheim’s studies identified particular populations that were drawn together by organic or mechanical solidarity, in a place like a university, there is space for both forms to operate.

Durkheim was sanguine about organic solidarity functioning to draw industrial societies together when it operates properly, but he also recognized that it can also be distorted. While mechanical solidarity was built around shared norms and values, for industrialized societies, such norms and values had to be cultivated. If they were not, it would lead to what Durkheim termed anomie—a social disintegration deriving from a lack of meaningful shared social norms in the industrial world. Anomie leads to all manner of breakdowns in community, including in- creases in crime (because individuals lack a shared set of morals) as well as depression and suicide (because individuals lack meaningful connections beyond the exchange of labor and material goods.) And because organic solidarity names, grades, sorts, and ranks everything and, importantly, everybody on the basis of their utility, without cultivated community values, our relationships become a function of how much we can provide to the industrial machine. There is little  place for empathy, human dignity, or human rights in such a society. This could not be the case under mechanical solidarity. Meaningful bonds of what Durkheim called “collective consciousness” emerge  when communities are built around a common life. Good and bad times are faced together, and communities grow closer through such experiences. From this, empathy abounds. When, by chance of fate,  misfortune strikes only one member of the community, all community members recognize themselves in their neighbor, knowing that fate could just as easily blight them.

What Durkheim seems to miss, however, is that mechanical solidarity can become insular. Thosewhose beliefs, experiences, or worldviews stray too far from the collective norm are shunned and excluded because they do not share the sameness that holds the community together. Thus, mechanical solidarity leaves little room for diversity and, worse, can begrounds for bias and bigotry.

Conversely, if we extend Durkheim’s notion of organic solidarity, we can recognize that a diversity of ideas and experiences can function similarly in society to the division of labor, especially in a community—like a university—that functions around the exchange of ideas. Those who bring differing perspectives add to the collective wisdom, just as those who bring unique skills add to the community’s capacities.

Solidarity as a Moral Principle

It is worth noting that Durkheim published his workon organic and mechanical solidarity in 1893, amere three years before the American Federation of Labor was founded (1896), marking the beginning of large-scale labor mobilization in America, and only two years after Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), which began the tradition of Catholic Social Thought. I raise these two important events because they are representative of two moral responses to the deleterious effects of a distorted organic solidarity and our modern societies and as such, they point to a third way in which we use and understand solidarity today: as a moral principle.

When industrialization and urbanization reduced workers to their instrumental value, trade unions began emerging as a means by which workers could recover both their human dignity and their negotiating leverage. While collective bargaining led to higher pay and better working conditions, unions also provided their members a social bond. Since the first unions were formed by particular trades, and the effort to improve pay and working conditions in that trade, from the very start union membership was a function of common skills and work life. Unions aimed toward shared goals and shared threat to those goals. As unionization expanded into different industries, the common thread was that of the worker: Union members of all types shared the rituals,  experience, life, and values of the working class. In short, unionization provided a way to recover many of the positive aspects of mechanical solidarity, even in our urban, industrialized world. The group that  mechanical solidarity was formed around, however, is written smaller than society as a whole. The bonds of similarity only exist amongst fellow members of the same trade and union. This has two effects. First, the set of people that union members share their mechanical solidarity with—and thus empathy—is  much smaller. It does not extend to the banker who contracts cancer, the homeless veteran suffering from PTSD, the local entrepreneur’s child with disabilities, or any other suffering or struggle that occurs outside the union membership. Individuals may have other reasons to empathize and aid these and other neighbors, but the move toward mechanical solidarity is limited to the members of the union.

Conversely, any effort at drawing solidarity to the union cause from outside the union is also limited. Such efforts require solidarity to be  something other than a social force. For example, when grocery workers go on strike, the local grocery union will call upon local shoppers to shop elsewhere in solidarity. Many local shoppers will choose to not cross the picket lines, but they will not do so out of mechanical solidarity or any kind of social force. Rather, they do not cross the picket lines because they believe it to be the moral thing to do. They are acting on moral solidarity.

We find solidarity functioning similarly as a moral principle in the tradition of Catholic Social Thought. In Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo focused on the need to act in solidarity with the worker, but later writings in the tradition would expand solidarity to include giving special protection or advantage to the lowest members of society in all capacities. (It is worth noting that in this conclusion, Catholic Social  Thought has many willing philosophical partners, especially the liberal tradition of John Rawls.) Regardless of the theological or philosophical route one takes to get there, however, a moral solidarity with the poor and vulnerable has been used to defend social safety net programs such as welfare, social security, and Medicare. It is the basis for the legal establishment of human and civil rights through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Civil Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Finally, this logic is also the basis for why we elected to wear masks and social  distance at the start of the COVID pandemic: We were morally compelled to protect the elderly and  immunocompromised—those in the most vulnerable position vis-a-vis the virus.

It is no coincidence that the moral principle of solidarity emerged from the same social changes that Durkheim identified with organic solidarity. Moral solidarity was not necessary in communities built on  organic solidarity, for genuine empathy served the function of protecting the most vulnerable. Solidarity as a moral principle only emerged as a corrective  to a lack of empathy in communities built on mechanical solidarity, the division of labor, and (most importantly) the instrumentalization of human value. Moral solidarity and the rights that emerge from it are a mere simulacrum of genuine social bond. Rights may protect individuals from acute harm, but they do nothing to restore individuals to membership in the community. At the same time, moral solidarity can be effective in moving people to action, and while alone it is insufficient to hold a community together, it can operate as a powerful reminder of why we need solidarity.

Vasily Kandinsky, Kleine Welten IV (Small Worlds IV), 1922, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vasily Kandinsky, Kleine Welten IV (Small Worlds IV), 1922, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Solidarity on Campus

So, how do we create solidarity on college campuses drowning in loneliness and anomie? Well, having presented mechanical, organic, and moral solidarity as three distinct ways in which we understand and use the word solidarity, it seems clear that we need to draw upon all three types of solidarity within the university. The empathetic bonds of mechanical solidarity are perhaps the most genuine form of social bonding and are worth seeking to recreate genuine community on campus. At the same time, the division of labor and expertise is endemic to the modern university and thus, the bonds of organic solidarity ought to also be embraced, just not at the expense of mechanical solidarity. Finally, we must acknowledge the risks of encouraging mechanical  solidarity: that those who do not fit the model of communal similarity may be excluded from the community. Similarly, the risk of organic solidaritY is that individuals are reduced to their instrumental value, and those with little value to the institution are pushed to the periphery. In response, we may need to call upon moral solidarity to ensure full and equal participation, while still working toward finding more genuine means to full inclusion.

Returning then to Keenan’s call to widen the  circle of who we consider colleagues, let us ask: Do faculty think of grounds or facilities staff as colleagues, and vice versa? I’d venture to say that, for most faculty and staff members alike, coworker is a more comfortable label than colleague to describe this relationship. But why? And what does it mean for campus solidarity that we think this way? Certainly, there is a fundamental difference between the work of the facilities staff who maintain the classrooms and that of the professors who teach within them,  but deeper than that, there is neither common struggle nor common success that helps to bond the  groundskeeper or janitor and the professor. When a rural town experienced weather patterns and other conditions that led to a bountiful harvest, everyone in that town shared in the bounty. The local grocer or mechanic would see business increase as a result of farmers having a bit more cash in their pockets. But when a class goes well or research is published or a professor lands a major grant, this success is not shared across the professional lines of our university. No, if there is a form of solidarity that bonds the faculty to the facilities professionals it is based on difference and the division of labor, not similarity.

But even here, the system is designed to hide the labor of the facilities staff. Facilities work is done in the evenings or early mornings, ostensibly to avoid the crowds of midday. The communal effect of this practice is that it makes the labor invisible. And as a result, even the force of organic solidarity is muted. In my town or city, I recognize the value of my mechanic, my mail carrier, and my doctor because of my exchanges with them. But on campus, whiteboards get washed, trash gets emptied, floors get mopped, and toilets get cleaned all without anyone recognizing these efforts. Surely, we would notice if this work did not get done, but if it is getting done, it’s invisible to me. Thus neither mechanical nor organic solidarity compels me toward the invisible  person who labors while I sleep.

Now, the invisibility of grounds and facilities staff is perhaps the most extreme example, but is the relationship between faculty and academic support staff much better? Here, faculty and staff witness each other’s labors and presumably, both labors are ordered toward the same final end: the safe and effective education of students. Because of this, the genuine solidarity between faculty and academic staff is possible. Departments where staff contributions to the mission are fully recognized and the burdens and the spoils of that mission are shared can be fertile ground for genuine solidarity, which holds a shared  mission and a division of expertise and labor in  tension. Often, however, staff members are reduced to their instrumental value. We see tangible examples  of this in the regular platitudes from leadership,  about how faculty “couldn’t do what they do without the contributions of staff.” That may sound grateful, but it reveals a deeper issue: The central mission of the institution, educating students and advancing  knowledge, is exclusively reserved as a function of the faculty. Staff members “contribute to” but are held at arm’s length from ownership of that mission. As a result, staff members are excluded from sharing in the mission of the university (and the mechanical solidarity that is endemic to that shared endeavor) and instead reduced to only being valued for the instrumental “contribution” that they provide the mission. At best, academic staff and faculty are  bonded by their need for each other’s labor, not a shared participation, celebration, and burden of the school’s mission.

What of the faculty itself then? To what extent are tenure-track (TT) and non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty “colleagues” in the modern university? Much has been made in recent years of the inherent injustice of the NTT faculty model. The pay is lousy, the benefits are limited to nonexistent; NTT faculty are last to get scheduled and first to get let go. But beyond the inequalities, is there any meaningful social force drawing TT and NTT faculty together? In theory, faculty of all ranks and statuses should have strong organic solidarity because of their similar labors and shared location. And yet, TT and NTT faculty are more often defined by their antagonism than their similarity. Forty years ago, the NTT ranks were almost exclusively made up of professors-of-practice (POP) who held full time, non-academic jobs and were brought in to teach clinic-style courses from their industry expertise. POPs were less likely to hold a terminal degree, often were only on campus to teach one course, and generally did not conduct research. Thus, it made sense then that the adjunct and TT workforces had little mechanical solidarity between them. But today, POPs only make up a fraction of the NTT workforce. The majority of NTT faculty have survived the demanding path required to receive a Ph.D., share in the blessings and hardships of teaching students, and, despite assumptions otherwise, are attempting to share in the task of research and advancing knowledge through publication. So why is there not greater organic solidarity between faculty of different classes? The simple answer is that though they are  expected to produce the same outcomes, the conditions in which TT and NTT faculty work are quite divergent. Both TT and NTT faculty  members are expected to hold office hours, but TT members are typically given a dedicated office, while NTT members, if offered space at all, are forced to share an office or work from a shared cubicle farm. Where both TT and NTT faculty do the task of teaching students, NTT faculty are often not allowed to contribute new courses to the catalogue and, even when they are permitted, NTT faculty make up small, often token membership on curriculum committees. On the research side, NTT faculty have less access to labs and internal funding to do their research and are often excluded from applying for grants or even institutional review board approval for research on human subjects—unless they are  partnering with a TT faculty member. The list could  go on, but the theme is obvious: The differences between TT and NTT faculty are almost entirely artificial and enforced by policies and practices, not a genuine division of labor.

In other words, we have arranged our faculty classes in such a way as to prevent the natural bonds of mechanical solidarity that lead to genuine community. As a consequence, we are left with an empty form of organic solidarity that instrumentalizes NTT faculty into labor-for-hire gig workers. However, because there is no genuine difference between the faculty classes, the reduction of professorial work down to instrumental value  has not been limited to the NTT side of the divide. When cheap NTT labor became a normalized  part of the faculty composition, it placed greater pressure on TT faculty to prove their own value to the institution. Today, tenure-line faculty fight for scarce resources, and departments contest over scant hiring lines by pointing to class enrollments, student evaluations, research citation rates, and external grant funding as the abstracted values of their worth to the university. Naturally, as with the industrial workers of Durkheim’s time, unions have begun to organize at many universities to demand better pay, benefits, and working conditions. The problem is that these unions have mirrored the divisions already sown within the university community. Of the 115 new bargaining units that were formed in the United States between 2013 and 2019, 88 (77%) were NTT-only unions, and 52 of these were only for part-time NTT faculty. Only three unions in the country included TT, full- time NTT, and part-time NTT in a single bargaining unit. Drawing bargaining units so small reduces any potential organic solidarity that might have emerged from the common struggle. Other bargaining units might be compelled by moral solidarity to support the efforts of any particular union. But moral solidarity is still a poor substitute for the genuine social bonds of mechanical solidarity. It may win some concessions on pay and benefits from the university, but it will not turn coworkers into colleagues.

But what if we embraced Keenan’s call to widen our circles of collegiality? What if we understood all faculty in terms of their obvious similarities rather than creating artificial lines of difference? I am not idealistic enough to suggest that just thinking about people as colleagues is enough to make meaningful change. But given what has been said about solidarity, what if, instead of TT faculty offering only moral solidarity to struggling NTT, they threw their fate together and formed all-faculty unions? Would an all-faculty union actually have greater leverage to create change because of its wider membership? There is evidence that this may be the case. I recently led an effort to collect data on faculty pay, benefits, and working conditions in the field of theology and religious studies. Our survey1 gathered over 2,000 responses, including both TT and NTT faculty. One question we asked was whether the survey taker’s institution had no union, an NTT union, or an all-faculty union. For both NTT and TT faculty, salaries and benefits were notably better at institutions with an all-faculty union. The survey also asked whether the institution had a faculty senate, and if that faculty senate had a committee dedicated to NTT affairs. Again, salaries and benefits across all faculty ranks and classes were highest at schools where the faculty senate was attentive to all faculty members.

Working to break down artificial barriers to mechanical solidarity does indeed lift all boats. And truly embracing this vision for the future of the American professorate would mean that current tenure-track faculty would have to give up their privileged place in the university hierarchy. It might mean that all faculty would have to share offices and each faculty member would have equal access to teach what and when they want to teach. But in exchange, would all faculty also regain a bit of their own dignity and self-worth? Might we recover through mechanical solidarity a community in which each member is valued not for their material contributions but for their humanity?

Looking more broadly, how might we work to create greater solidarity between staff and faculty? How might we make the contributions of staff toward the mission of the university more visible? Is it possible to stop prioritizing the convenience of some over the exclusion of others in the campus community, and move the university’s general maintenance tasks into the light of day? Moreover, where are the places faculty and staff are divided on campus? For example, are certain dining or other social facilities reserved only for faculty? What  would happen if the faculty dining room became the employee dining room? Conversely, is it possible to increase our mechanical solidarity on campus by learning to value the wisdom and experience of both faculty and staff?  What might be gained by broadening the invite  list for so many of our closed-door meetings? What wisdom might be elevated if the tenure-track faculty experience was not a prerequisite for so many of our administrative positions? Perhaps, if these things become common practice, the division between faculty and staff could fade into the background and allow for genuine organic solidarity built around a shared commitment to the mission of the university. What would happen if we took seriously the call to “expand our own circle of who deserves that meritorious title of colleague?” We might find ourselves in a college that is a bit more collegial, a university that is a bit more universal, and a campus community that is a bit more communal.

Matthew J. Gaudet is a lecturer of ethics in the School of Engineering at Santa Clara University. He also serves as an external fellow for the Grefenstette Center for Ethics in Science, Technology, and the Law at  Duquesne University and formerly co-chaired the Society of Christian Ethics Task force on Contingent Faculty, which conducted one of the largest studies of academic working conditions ever completed. Gaudet’s research lies at the intersection of ethics and the social sciences with a particular attention to the ethics of technology, warfare, disability, and the university. In addition to his own research, Gaudet has edited three special issues of the Journal of Moral Theology on Contingent Faculty (2019), University Ethics (2020), and Artificial Intelligence (2022).


1 “Intersociety Survey on Contingency in the Religious Disciplines” ( Survey Report.pdf )