Professor: Notre Dame Manufacturing in China Violates Catholic Social Teaching

Professor: Notre Dame Manufacturing in China Violates Catholic Social Teaching

November 30, 20157 | By Alexandra DeSanctis | Cardinal Newman Society

The University of Notre Dame announced last month that it would begin a pilot program to manufacture University-licensed products in two Chinese factories, a move criticized as a violation of Catholic social teaching by a Notre Dame theology professor.
“The new policy violates Catholic social teaching,” wrote Associate Professor of Theology Todd Whitmore, who opposed the new program in a letter to the editor published in the November 5 issue of The Observer, Notre Dame’s official campus newspaper.
Whitmore, who has taught Catholic social teaching at Notre Dame every semester for the last 25 years, argued the policy specifically breaches “’the principle of cooperation with evil.’ In this case, the evil of denying workers their rights.”
University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, revealed the pilot program in an October 28 message to students, faculty and staff. Included in the email was a detailed philosophical justification of the move, as he argued that it was, in fact, in line with Catholic social teaching.
The new program, which was recommended to Fr. Jenkins by a University body called the Worker Participation Committee (WPC), was put in place “to see if [the factories] can meet and sustain worker treatment standards in keeping with Catholic social teaching.”
In his email, Fr. Jenkins prefaced the WPC recommendations by explaining the Catholic social teaching origins of the University’s Licensing Code of Conduct, which stems from a view of work as “a fundamental right and good for mankind.”
As a result of this view,Catholic social teaching maintains that workers are entitled to a just wage, reasonable work hours and rest, safe and healthy working conditions, and pensions, as well as the right to form labor and trade unions to promote social justice.
When Notre Dame instituted its code of conduct, factories in 11 countries — including China — were precluded from producing University-licensed goods. Fr. Jenkins called the implementation of this code “bold, principled, and widely applauded,” but conceded that since 2001, “no other universities have adopted similar policies,and Notre Dame’s action has had no discernable influence on the practices of nations that deny freedom of association.”
“[T]he hope was that the policy would be emulated by other universities and bring about change in China,” University spokesman Dennis Brown told the Irish Rover, Notre Dame’s independent student publication. “The reality is that no others followed our lead and our actions had no impact at all on Chinese practices.”
As a result of this, Brown said, the WPC was formed “to assess factories that our licensees believe have the potential to operate in a manner consistent with Notre Dame’s values — despite Chinese law. The pilot project will help us determine if this is a workable approach.”
Fr. Jenkins concluded his email with several paragraphs explaining his philosophical reasoning that prompted the decision to accept the WPC recommendations.
In his letter, Whitmore provided several refutations of Fr.Jenkins’ application of the principle of cooperation with evil. One such critique was that the president’s email implied Notre Dame has no option but to change its policy toward China.
“The fact of the matter is that the policy against production in China had been in place for fifteen years, and Notre Dame has successfully been making products elsewhere,” Whitmore said.
“There are any number of university practices that do not fit with Catholic teaching,” Whitmore later noted. “More troubling is the use of Catholic teaching to justify practices that contravene that teaching.
“I understand the symbolic cost involved, but it would have been more direct simply to state that the University has decided not to abide by Catholic teaching on the issue,” he concluded.
Daniel Graff, professor of history, who also serves as director of the Higgins Labor Studies Program at Notre Dame, said he is opposed to the pilot program on two levels: principle and timing.
“[I]t does represent a violation of [Notre Dame’s] pioneering code of conduct that has affirmed the centrality, even necessity, of workers’ freedom of association to form independent unions of their own choosing,” Graff said to the Rover.
Along the lines of Whitmore’s argument, Graff agreed that the University’s code of conduct is rooted deeply in Catholic social tradition, and therefore its principles should not be altered.
“I believe the university should stand by its policy and work to strengthen protections for workers’ rights in the places where licensed goods are currently being produced, rather than compromising to extend production to a country where workers are forbidden from forming their own independent organizations,” Graff said.
“If it is legitimate to apply the principle [of cooperation with evil] in the way that Jenkins does to freedom of association, then it is also legitimate to apply it to situations where there is compulsory overtime, unsafe working conditions, or forced labor, because, the reasoning would go, Notre Dame does not create those conditions, we only make products in them,” Whitmore added, pointing out the possibility of a slippery slope within the president’s reasoning.
Graff added that, as a result of his conversations with labor experts on China and the global supply chain, he believes this is particularly poor timing for such a program.
“After a half-decade or more of Chinese workers successfully pushing for greater pay, safer conditions, and general improvements at the workplace, it now appears the current Chinese government is pushing back hard in order to rollback the gains and make sure Chinese workers do not enjoy greater participation at the workplace,” he said.
“In general, I don’t think that outside auditors can really gauge workplace freedoms and workers’ interests (as opposed to workplace conditions),” Graff concluded. “It takes workers on the ground to enforce their own interests, and this is not allowed under Chinese law. Thus, there are limits to what companies like Verité can measure in terms of ‘worker participation.’”
Notre Dame’s potential partnership with Zhejiang University in China, proposed nearly a year ago, remains under consideration, according to Brown. “But there is no connection between that and the licensing pilot project,” Brown added.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She serves as executive editor of the Irish Rover independent student newspaper.

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2 comments on “Professor: Notre Dame Manufacturing in China Violates Catholic Social Teaching

  1. I wonder if the actual motive here is to recruit more Chinese nationals as students. After all, everyone looks to China for market share.

    • [Not necessarily:]

      Notre Dame considers opening satellite campus – in Communist China


      Officials quiet about status of discussion after several scholars voice concern

      Officials at the University of Notre Dame are contemplating opening a satellite campus in China, but the discussion has prompted concern among some faculty who say the notion runs afoul of the school’s Catholic identity and, if approved, would appear to condone some of the communist country’s anti-Catholic policies.

      The partnership under consideration would be a joint residential liberal arts college with Zhejiang University at the school’s new international campus in Haining, China.

      The college would open for the 2017-18 academic year and is projected to admit 1,000 undergraduate students, 70 percent Chinese and 30 percent international, according to Notre Dame officials. The college would operate autonomously, directed by a governing council, comprised of members from Zhejiang University and Notre Dame and chaired by the presidents of both universities.

      A white paper on the subject was authored by J. Nicholas Entrikin, Notre Dame’s vice president and associate provost for internationalization, and Jonathan Noble, the university’s assistant provost for Asia. Circulated to Notre Dame faculty in October, it states that the international campus “will be composed of six colleges and institutes, each developed in joint partnership with North American and European university partners … This past summer Notre Dame and [Zhejiang University] signed an agreement to hold bilateral discussions about the feasibility of this joint venture.”

      In January, the Irish Rover—Notre Dame’s independent campus newspaper—reported on a Dec. 5 faculty town hall discussion on the possible joint venture. At the forum, moderated by Associate Provost Entrikin, several faculty members voiced reservations about the potential partnership.

      Fr. Bill Miscamble, professor of history, argued that it was wrong for Notre Dame as a Catholic university to pursue the discussion any further. Citing the Chinese government’s persecution of the underground Catholic Church in China, as well as the state-sponsored People’s Church, he argued that Notre Dame’s involvement might “indicate that somehow or other, Catholics in America are tolerant of vast human rights abuses.”

      John Cavadini, professor of theology and director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life, posed questions about the possible restrictions that could be placed on Notre Dame in China.

      “I wonder if we’ll be able to be ourselves in China,” Cavadini said at the December meeting. “Can we have a chapel there in which Mass is celebrated and in which there are no restrictions on who can come to Mass? Or are we going to censor ourselves and the Holy Mass? I wonder if Catholic theology will be taught and will be available and open to all students.”

      And Fr. Bill Dailey, a law lecturer, said that in the last three years, at least one-third of all those seeking asylum in the United States were from China. He noted that there is a list of countries with which Notre Dame would never consider such a proposal, noting in particular those led by Kim Jong-un or Bashar al-Assad.

      “What is the concrete evidence that China should not be on that list?” Fr. Dailey asked. “There seems to be reams of concrete evidence that they belong on that list, that they belong on that list emphatically.”

      But John McGreevy, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said at the conclusion of the forum, “I tend to think of it more as opportunities for our faculty to become globalized than what we’re going to do for liberal arts education in China, but that might be significant too.”

      While acknowledging the importance of questions about academic and religious freedom, McGreevy said, “I think engagement is a much wiser long-term strategy for Notre Dame than what I might call a puritan strategy, that is, we can’t engage in China in any serious way.”

      When contacted by The College Fix for an update on the status of the China campus discussion, Entrikin’s office directed the reporter to university spokesman Dennis Brown. Brown also declined to comment.

      There are unconfirmed reports that Notre Dame may send a delegation to Zhejiang University for further deliberation sometime in the near future.

      College Fix reporter Alexandra DeSanctis is a student at the University of Notre Dame and managing editor of the Irish Rover, the “alternative” student newspaper.

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