Tuesday, March 22, 2016

On Brennan and Magness on Adjuncts

Via Inside Higher Ed, we learn that Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness have an article in Journal of Business Ethics about how any plan to treat adjuncts fairly "faces unpleasant constraints and trade-offs. ...At most, universities can provide justice for a minority of adjuncts at the expense of the majority, as well as at the expense of poor students. Universities may indeed be exploiting adjuncts, but they cannot rectify this mistake without significant moral costs."

A couple of things stood out to me as I read the IHE article and the paper itself. One was how weird it is that people are still making these arguments. For a second I thought I was reading an article by the union-busters from In Dubious Battle instead of a serious piece of academic scholarship.

I mean, it is obvious that it would cost a lot of money to convert each adjunct position to a non-exploitative job with fair compensation. That's obvious. That's the whole point of relying on adjunct- and other non-tenure-track instructors. And it's just as obvious that budgetary constraints play an important role in this. The funds that would be used to give your adjuncts a hefty raise would have to be acquired or re-allocated. But as real as this budgetary situation is, at a certain level it is contingent. It is not the necessary state of things. It is a contingent fact that is the product of decisions made by human beings, and there are things that human beings could do that would largely reverse it.

For one, states could restore public funding for higher education to pre-recession levels (though I realize this by itself would not be sufficient). Or, institutions of higher learning could divert money from unprofitable athletic programs to their academic counterparts (though this wouldn't be sufficient, either). Or, we could fire some mid-level administrators and get faculty more involved with this administrative work. Of course, this is just a very sketchy, hand-wavy, incomplete, and inadequate set of suggestions. Finding the money to institute what Brennan and Magness call "adjunct justice" is a hard problem, and there's no single thing that would work. But this is all totally obvious. It's totally obvious that instituting adjunct justice will be expensive. It's totally obvious that it is not clear where the money would come from. It's totally obvious that doing so in an environment in which resources are limited will require hard decisions and unpleasant trade-offs. It's totally obvious that instituting adjunct justice is a costly, difficult, and complicated task. That's why it's so disappointing to see Brennan and Magness limiting themselves to stating these totally obvious things.

Their contribution to this discussion would have been much more interesting and worthwhile if they had gone beyond the obvious point that the promotion of adjunct justice represents a series of difficult and expensive problems, and had instead done the hard work of proposing and working out the details of potential solutions to these admittedly and obviously difficult problems. Or done at least a little of it. Or gestured toward vague suggestions. Or anything.

Here's the kind of thing I mean. They write:
To pay for such a massive increase in wages and benefits, colleges must either raise additional revenue or reallocate their revenue from elsewhere. We take no position as to whether this might entail raising tuition fees, requesting additional public support, fundraising from private sources, cutting other university functions, or some combination. We only note that each of these options has many obstacles as well as a number of potential downsides for the parties they involve.  (p. 8)
This is just, like, a total cop-out. Of course you would need more money to pay adjuncts more money. Of course that money would have to have a source. What's the point even mentioning it if you're not going to make a suggestion about what that source could be, how we might access it, or even take a stand on whether we should?

(One might wonder whether their reluctance/refusal to take a stand on the issues of whether there is anything wrong with the way adjuncts are being treated, and whether anything should be done about it, and if so what, is a craven attempt to conceal the fact that they don't think there is anything wrong with it and don't think anything should be done. After all, one might suspect that if they did think there was something wrong with it they'd be willing to say so, and they might also be interested in trying to figure out what to do.)

Additionally, Brennan and Magness devote space to blaming adjuncts for their own exploitation:
Adjuncts might have unjust or unfair working conditions, but, nevertheless, they choose these working conditions over their other available alternatives. They prefer being adjuncts, with all the attendant awfulness, over being unemployed, getting training elsewhere, teaching high school, working in private industry, or whatnot. (p. 9)
Here Brennan and Magness point out that adjuncts have chosen to work in these unfavorable conditions, which means, as rational agents, they must prefer doing so to the alternatives that are available to them.
Beleaguered adjuncts have greater responsibility for their own condition than poor students who cannot afford college or who must take on massive debt to attend college. If an adjunct has a master's degree or a PhD, the adjunct is probably quite intelligent and thus most likely could have chosen to invest his or her skills in a more lucrative field with better chances of success. ...In contrast, poor students have done nothing imprudent... (p. 9)
Here Brennan and Magness use the language of responsibility and imprudence to characterize adjuncts' relationship with their situation.

Brennan also has a snarky (public) FB status about this issue:
Brennan and Magness: "We're assuming adjuncts are rational. If so, then adjuncting is their best option, and taking away that option harms them by delivering them a less preferred option." 
Adjuncts: "Don't say it's our best option! That's mean to us." 
Brennan and Magness: "You realize that the only way to deny that conclusion is to hold that adjuncts are stupid, irrational, or misinformed, right?"  (March 18 at 3:45pm)
Brennan and Magness seem not to understand exploitation. One of the most interesting things about exploitation is that it can be rational for a person to voluntarily agree to the exploitative arrangement. That's why it's exploitation instead of just really bad negotiating or whatever. The fact that the adjunct agreed to serve as an adjunct is compatible with the facts that the arrangement is exploitative and that she is being exploited and that the exploitation is morally wrong.

Here's one way to get a person to voluntarily agree to an unfairly exploitative employment arrangement. Get an application from a job candidate who has a strong desire to be employed in a certain industry, but who has a very weak negotiating position. Maybe that's because non-exploitative entry-level jobs are scarce, and competition even for the exploitative jobs is intense. Then, exploit this weak negotiating position in order to force the person to accept employment on very unfavorable terms. Maybe whisper sweet nothings like, "this is how you get your foot in the door," and "if something opens up, you'll be first in line," and "if you publish, you'll be able to get something better," and "persistence pays off," and "this is just how it is now, and if we were forced to pay people like you a fair wage then we might have to fire you, which would destroy your career, which you have worked very hard for."

If she didn't have any better offers, I think it would make perfect sense for that candidate to take that job in that situation--even if the job was exploitative and even if she knew it. But that doesn't mean that she's to blame for her own exploitation, or that she has done anything imprudent or wrong. Indeed, the fact that, given the background situation, taking the job was the rational and prudent thing to do is exactly what her employer has exploited in order to get her to accept the exploitative job.

I find this whole thing very disappointing. I think this is an extremely important topic, and I agree that it is important to be clear about what the costs of adjunct justice would be, and how difficult it will be to find sources of funding to pay them. These are hard problems and it will be hard to solve them. But it would be nice successful, influential scholars like Brennan and Magness would use their position of success and influence to help do this hard work, and help end this system of exploitation.

Instead, they choose to publish this kind of disingenuously counter-productive horseshit, in which they feign neutrality while they highlight a bunch of obstacles that stand in the way of treating adjuncts fairly, make no proposals as to how these obstacles might be overcome, highlight only downsides of those proposals they do mention, suggest that adjuncts can find justice only at the expense of economically disadvantaged students (pp. 8 - 9), and refuse to affirm or even acknowledge that the way adjuncts are treated is wrong. The net effect of this is the suggestion that the obstacles are insurmountable, which in turn suggests that the problem is insurmountable, but, they suggest, it doesn't really matter because the adjuncts are responsible for their own predicament and their predicament might not even be wrong or bad.

I just don't get this. Why would someone want to spend his time this way?

--Mr. Zero

114 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I just don't get this. Why would someone want to spend his time this way?"

Because he's a schmuck.

Mr. Zero said...

I feel like we're going to find out that a six-fingered adjunct killed his father.

zombie said...

Yeah, so, schools didn't used to be so dependent on adjunct labor, meaning we already know HOW to finance a FT TT professoriate that can make a living wage. A choice was made to adjunctify, and reallocate the money.

Anonymous said...

I second the schmuck theory. Brennan reminds me that there really are people who spent all of their lonely teenage years reading Ayn Rand novels who might end up actually getting a job. And then they will use that job...to be a schmuck.

Anonymous said...

The real problem is that administrators and the boards of trustees have complete control over allocation of resources. Predictably, they've responded by favouring themselves. If you look at charts showing growth in funding over years, spending on faculty has remained flat while spending on administration has risen steeply.

To put it simply, administrators are hiring adjuncts over permanent faculty in a move to divert resources from education to themselves. Having the faculty be increasingly contingent also gives non-faculty (i.e., administrators) a greater share of power. Actually, Brennan acknowledges all this (perhaps not in this article, which I didn't read, but on his blog he has multiple times).

You can't fight the problem without fighting its root cause. Administrators aren't going to suddenly start firing their friends, slash their salaries to hire more permanent faculty, and give up the power they've spent years building up. People fighting for justice for adjuncts aren't focusing on the root cause in my experience. In fact, although we all know what's going on, it's not being protested at all.

(Please don't respond by pointing out this one place where it was protested. I'm talking about what's true in general.)

Since this is also the root cause of rising tuition, students and faculty should unite together against our administrative overlords. Otherwise, nothing will change. In fact, it's going to get worse.

Anonymous said...

You complain that their arguments amount to stating the obvious, but that's not at all clear.

Yes - it's not hard for intelligent people to figure out that it will cost a lot of money to pay adjuncts better, and that it's going to have to come from cuts to other things or more taxes or higher tuition. But just read the comments by the adjuncts who were interviewed by Inside Higher Ed. They actually DON'T think this is "obvious" at all. They act as if there's simply a giant pot of money in administrator salaries that's just up for grabs - No harm, no foul. Easy solution, problem solved. Then JUSTICE!

It is hard to have a serious debate over how we find a difficult solution to a difficult problem when half of the people don't even think the trade-offs are worth worrying about because they can get all the money they need by raiding administration & that they're completely in the right to do so.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 2:30,

I'm sorry, but I don't agree with you. No one who was quoted in the IHE article even mentioned raiding administrator salaries. No one was quoted as claiming that doing so would be enough, or that it would be ok. No one was quoted as acting like administrator salaries are a giant pot of money that's up for grabs.

Anonymous said...

There are, as we all know, various ways that administrators try to hide the increasing reliance on adjuncts. For instance, it's common for tenure track faculty to be used for recruiting efforts, often giving students (and parents) the impression that they will be studying with such faculty throughout their college careers, where it's entirely possible for a student to study for 3-4 semesters before working with anyone on the tenure track. (At my university, for instance, students can easily spend their first 2 years taking courses with grad students and adjuncts.)

Faculty need to do a much better job of not allowing administrators to keep hiding their reliance on adjuncts. If more students and parents knew that their tuitions dollars are not paying for the education they think they are getting.

Anonymous said...

But actually, there is a large pot of money in administrator salaries and other educational incidentals that, if reallocated, could by itself go a long way to solving the problem. See my comment at 1:08. Brennan himself agrees. It's not up for grabs of course.

Jason Brennan said...

I agree that everything we say in that article is completely obvious, though it's worth mentioning we talk about not just how much it will cost, but how most proposals will involve firing most adjuncts in order to help the minority. But though everything we say is indeed obvious, exactly zero of the many articles I see week after week on this topic mention the obvious trade-offs. Instead, they just act like all that's in the way is administrator indifference. When we say the super obvious things in our article, we get mostly shrieking and angry responses, rather than people calmly admitting the trade-offs and then arguing why we should pick one over the other.

Of course I'm aware that it's often rational for people to submit to exploitation. Indeed, paradigmatically, that's the case.

As for why I'm interested in this, it's pretty simple. I blogged about it a bit because I found it offensive and silly that adjuncts would compare themselves to slaves and sweatshop workers. I then turned that into a published article because if I'm going to bother blog about something, I might as well turn it into a published paper. I picked JBE because it helps my university's FT ranking.

You might perhaps be pleased to know that Phil and I will most likely end up writing an entire book on the business ethics of universities, and a great deal of it will be spent criticizing administrators and others.

Derek Bowman said...

The following is a completely rational and coherent rank ordering of preferences over states of affairs:

1. Full-time academic employment for myself and other adjuncts
2. Full-time academic employment for myself but no academic employment for some other adjuncts.
3. No academic employment for myself and some others but full-time academic employment for all academically employed adjuncts.
4. Part-time academic employment for myself and other adjuncts.
5. No part-time academic employment for myself, and part-time academic employment for other adjuncts.

That preference ordering would lead me to accept a part-time adjunct contract if offered, while still leading me to rationally prefer a world in which no one was offered such contracts (even if it means unemployment or non-academic employment).

So in addition to offering an argument that implies any movement for higher wages or better working conditions for non-slave laborers is irrational and unjust, they are also guilty of offering a false dilemma based on an overly simplistic assessment of possible preference-sets.

But I guess we should be glad that Bernnan and Magness have the guts to stand up to the most powerful force in higher ed: adjuncts. Way to speak truth to power, guys.

Jason Brennan said...

By the way, if you'd actually read our paper, you'd see the the claim that adjuncts are replacing TT faculty is false. Using dept. of ed. data, we find that the ratio of full-time faculty to students has remained almost constant over the past 40 years. What's actually happened is that there has been an explosion of adjuncts at the same time, mostly at for-profit universities. However, while the full-time faculty: student ratio has remained constant, a higher percentage of full-time faculty are in long-term but non-tenure-track jobs now than in the past. That's a problem, I think, but it's not the same problem as adjunctification.

Derek, if you think people have to speak truth to power, you'll be delighted that any day now my paper, "When May We Kill Government Agents?: In Defense of Moral Parity" will appear in print.

Mr. Zero said...

When we say the super obvious things in our article, we get mostly shrieking and angry responses, rather than people calmly admitting the trade-offs and then arguing why we should pick one over the other.

That's easy to explain. These people are struggling, and they're being unjustly exploited, and they are frustrated and upset about it, and your paper is extremely unsympathetic. You don't acknowledge that there's anything wrong with this widespread reliance on adjunct labor. You blame them for being exploited, rather than blaming the people who employ coercive and exploitative hiring practices and labor policies. The paper does not read like you understand that it might be rational to submit to exploitation--rather, it, in conjunction with your Facebook status of March 18, reads like you think that adjuncts deserve to be exploited because they chose it. It reads like you think their exploitation is the result only of their own imprudence and/or irrationality. Or stupidity. The paper pits adjuncts against their students--economically disadvantaged students in particular--as if the only way adjuncts can hope to achieve something other than poverty for themselves is by fucking over the poorest of their students. After all, any funds that could be used to pay adjuncts what they deserve could also be used to reduce tuition for the poor. It's extremely easy to read the paper as an argument that their problems cannot be solved, except at the expense of people who deserve their misfortunes less than them, and so solving it would probably be morally wrong.

I find it very easy to understand how someone who was struggling under a system of unjust exploitation would respond to your unsympathetic and borderline hostile treatment of their predicament by becoming indignant, insulted, and possibly enraged--indeed, I think that would be a very reasonable response. Again, because of what you say in the paper and how you say it. The reason why you're not seeing calm responses to your paper from adjuncts and their partisans is that your paper does not invite calm responses. It invites anger and resentment and indignation.

Derek Bowman said...

Jay, I couldn't be less interested in the targets of your self-serving sophistry.

Anonymous said...

Brennan,

You should be ashamed of yourself. We are members of your profession, and we are being exploited. You don't have to help if you don't want to, but you are working against us. You are trying to make it harder for us to get what you seem to realize we deserve. You say you understand that our having agreed to employment on exploitive terms does not mean we are responsible for it or that we deserve it, but you still write that victim-blaming bullshit in your paper. Your claimed reasons for doing so are extremely petty and small. I don't know how you can live with yourself. What is wrong with you?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 6:07. You consistently make claims that are stronger than your reasons support. This is crystal clear from a pair of misleading claims you make in the introduction; claims which I know you put in the introduction because you want them to belong to the impression people take away from your article. On page 3 you say:

1. "Instead, our goal is to show that any attempt to help adjuncts faces unpleasant
trade-offs and serious opportunity costs."

You obviously don't show that ANY attempt faces these unpleasant trade-offs and serious opportunity costs. Give me a break.

2. "Due to budget constraints and other factors, many proposed solutions to the adjunct crisis are likely to harm rather than help most current adjuncts."

I suppose you think you fulfill this promise on pages 6-7. There you discuss three solutions. Two of them are simply made up by you, with no citations provided to anyone who has proposed them. Even if you claim that your proposals are conservative, you need some evidence for that. It seems obvious that you are wrong in your "presumptions" about what adjunct advocates want given the numerous criticisms of your solutions on just this point. The third solution is the SEIU 15k number; if you had read the articles you cite you would see it is NOT intended as a strict policy proposal but as "an aspirational goal" aimed at much the same target as your own paper: to "get people to wake up and start doing the math".

You say you wrote this piece to improve the quality of public discussion about adjuncts. I don't think such sloppy writing improves the quality of public discussion (not even getting into the weasel words you use to describe the exploitation of adjuncts on the first page). Whatever makes you sleep better at night, I guess.

Anonymous said...

This is an honest question. I feel like I'm losing my grip on what exploitation is. Can someone please explain to me how the paradigmatic adjunct is being exploited? Mr. Zero said: "If she didn't have any better offers, I think it would make perfect sense for that candidate to take that job in that situation--even if the job was exploitative and even if she knew it."

Isn't it sort of demeaning to the typical adjunct to say that this is her best option? I mean, the typical adjunct is scraping by on sub-minimum wage. Adjuncts themselves tell us that theirs is a terrible situation. Is that really, at present, the best they can do? I'd think that's insulting to believe. But if it isn't the best they can do--if they really do have better options--how is allowing them to sign the adjunct contracts exploitation? They're freely passing up better options for these adjuncting contracts.

But suppose adjuncting is their best option. Despite their impressive intellectual talents, they just can't get a job that pays at least minimum wage. Or they can, but they so highly value academic work that they'd prefer adjuncting for low wages to any of the many jobs that would pay a higher wage. And that's why they freely sign the adjuncting contracts. Still, I'm struggling to see how this is exploitation. There's no coercion going on here (not coercion via threat, and definitely not coercion-via-huge-reward), nor is there deception.

True, the compensation is low, due to the large supply of willing labor. But is that enough for it to be exploitation? I don't think so. (Compare: Oil prices have plummeted due to increased supply. Are we therefore exploiting oil companies when we fill up our tanks? I can't see how.) Maybe the idea is that their compensation is *lower than they deserve*. But help me understand how we determined how much they deserve. It's hard to make a living as a travel agent these days, due to competition with online services. Do travel agents deserve to be paid more than they are? I'm sorry to say I don't think they do deserve more. Their services deserve what customers in a free market are willing to pay, I'd think. But shouldn't the same go with adjuncts' labor, and labor generally?

Anonymous said...

Of course we don't exploit oil companies when we fill up our tanks. But what this shows is not that adjuncts aren't exploited, but that your analogy sucks, i.e., you don't understand what exploitation is.

Anonymous said...

The Adjuncts aren't making below "minimum wage." They're working the equivalent of a part time job per week and getting paid a very standard part time salary.

Sorry folks. I know you will claim it is, but teaching freshmen how to work through a textbook just isn't a very time intensive job. If you ever come down from your ivory towers and work a real 9 to 5 job you'll discover the hard way that you've been putting in only half the hours of the average working person.

Aeon Skoble said...

Not only are they not making "below minimum wage," they're making quite a bit more than minimum wage. You're taking a part-time wage as if it were a full time wage. Let's say Bob has 3 courses per semester at 3K a course. That's 18K. Assuming a 50-week work year and a 40 hour work week, that's $9.00 an hour, which is more than minimum in some states and less in others, but in either case, this is non-sequitur: Bob isn't expected to work 50 weeks for that 18K, but 28. That makes it $16.00 an hour if Bob is still assumed to be working 40 hours a week. But he's not! Bob's load in this example has him in class three hours per week. Triple that for office hours and grading time and it's a 9 hour week. Call it ten to make the math easier, and that's $65.00/hr. It takes a special kind of privilege to describe this as "below minimum wage" or even to refer to it as "exploitation" at all.

benjamin s. yost said...

I can't believe this 10 hour shit is getting bandied about again. I know Brennan started it all, but I didn't think anyone else actually believed it. It takes a special kind of idiocy to claim that it only takes 10 hours a week to effectively teach a 3-3 load.

Anonymous said...

"If you ever come down from your ivory towers and work a real 9 to 5 job you'll discover the hard way that you've been putting in only half the hours of the average working person."

You don't know what you're talking about. For two years after I defended, I got by on adjuncting. I usually taught 3 courses per semester at two different institutions. I never got $3,000 per course; I got less than $2,000. ($650 per credit hour.) If you only count time spent in the classroom, it added up to a part-time gig. But if you also count course prep, office hours, and grading, I was spending 50 hours per week on my jobs on average. At an hourly rate I was being paid more than minimum wage, but I was being paid a lot less than the full-time people for quite a bit more teaching in much less stable and more stressful circumstances. I had as many as 5 preps per semester and never less than 3. At one place I had an office I shared with 7 other people, at the other I held office hours at the campus Starbucks. I could never be sure how many classes I'd have from semester to semester. I once was offered a class on 3 days notice. I didn't get a paycheck if classes weren't in session. It was very hard to find time to write. And although both chairs repeatedly told me they were trying to find a full-time spot for me, none materialized. It was a very tough way to make a living, and I'm glad it's over.

As I said, I don't say I was making minimum wage. But I was definitely being exploited. I was being used as cheap expendable labor. They kept me around only because they didn't have to pay me anything close to whaat they'd pay a full-timer. Even though I was working more than a full-time load. And I put up with it only because I was just starting out, and I didn't have any bargaining power, and I wanted to maintain continuous academic employment, and I couldn't find anything better.

Anonymous said...

50 hours a week on only 3 classes? Were you doing a dress rehearsal of every single lecture?

Aeon Skoble said...

Benjamin, are you really prepping 7 hours a week? Unless you have 3 sections of different classes that are each 400-level classes that you've never taught before, I don't see how it would take 7 hours. More common is 2 or 3 sections of an intro-level class that you have taught before. No way that should take 7 hours a week. Obvs when you have final papers due, it can take more than 7 hours, but every week? Come on. In any case, say my math is off by half. That's still $32.50/hr.

publius said...

Aeon, I think you got yourself confused.

"Bob's load in this example has him in class three hours per week."

A 3/3 load has Bob in class three hours a week? I think it's nine hours. So you have to multiply all your labor numbers by three, and divide your per-hour rate by three. So at 4:16, when you finished, "That's still $32.50", you should change that to "That's still almost $11 an hour."

Anonymous said...

"50 hours a week on only 3 classes?"

No, 6. 3 classes each at 2 places.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:52 -

So you got $24,000 a year for working 50 hours/week for 28 weeks/year?

That's still significantly less work than a typical 9-5 job for 50 weeks/year, and depending on how long ago that was $2,000 a class may have gone a lot further than it does today. In any case, you're still well into part timer territory compared to the real world.

Anonymous said...

At $24,000 I had no health insurance and I could barely afford my apartment. Sometimes I had to choose between putting gas in my car and eating lunch. 50 hours per week is not part time. It's was more than full time for 16 weeks at a time, and then I was out of work for stretches of varying lengths, between terms. Sometimes it was 2 or 3 weeks, but sometimes it was 5 or 6. The term for it is 'underemployed.' Not 'part time.'

Anonymous said...

Being underemployed is different from being underpaid for the work that you had. How long ago was it? $24,000 in 1995 went a lot further than 2015.

Aeon Skoble said...

Publius- thanks for catching that, I did mess up. Glad I'm not a math prof! But what gets divided by 3 is the larger figure, so it's closer to $22.00/hr, which is still well above minimum wage.

Derek Bowman said...

Sounds like you're way overpaid, Aeon, given how easy your job is. You could probably add an extra couple sections of intro no sweat, given how little time it takes.

Anonymous said...

"Being underemployed is different from being underpaid for the work that you had."

What are you talking about? I didn't say they were the same.

"How long ago was it?"

2007 thru 9. Regardless of when it was, it didn't go far enough to live on.

Anonymous said...

You complained that you were underpaid. Then you started using evidence that you were underemployed to show it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous at 12:45PM. It's me, Anonymous at 11:14AM.

You said:
>>Of course we don't exploit oil companies when we fill up our tanks. But what this shows is not that adjuncts aren't exploited, but that your analogy sucks, i.e., you don't understand what exploitation is.>>

The bit about oil companies was not an analogy, and it definitely wasn't meant to prove that adjuncts aren't exploited. Let me explain the dialectic a bit more.

I was wondering why one might think adjuncts are exploited. I wondered whether it's because they're poorly compensated due to market forces. My point about low oil prices was meant to be a counterexample to that: oil prices are historically low, due to market forces, but we're not thereby exploiting oil companies when we fill our tanks.

You seem to agree. So, now that we've gotten the dialectic straight, I think we're on the same page. IF adjuncts are exploited, it's not simply because they're poorly compensated due to market forces. I take it we can agree on that.

But you also *seem* to think adjuncts are exploited. And you *seem* to take yourself to have a handle on what exploitation is. If so, great! You're just the person I'd like to talk to.

Why do you think the paradigmatic adjunct is exploited?

Anonymous said...

"You complained that you were underpaid. Then you started using evidence that you were underemployed to show it."

No, I complained that I was being exploited, and I used the facts that I was underpaid ad underemployed to show it.

Anonymous said...

The paradigmatic adjunct is being exploited because he is earning far more for the University than the lowest paid employees make for for-profit corporations.
Please stop inviting professors who do hardly any prep for their classes about hours in to think this settles the issue. A simple comparison between the lowest wages and those employees earnings at Disney, Hyundai, Firestone, Delta to the pay and profit from adjuncts is all that is needed.

Mr. Zero said...

But help me understand how we determined how much they deserve.

There's legitimate controversy about how much adjuncts deserve. But look. Being a college/university teacher is a high-status job that requires a great deal of specialized training and credentials. It takes a lot of time and effort and preparation to do it well. It's a little weird that a job like that wouldn't pay very well, especially when there are so many people who perform fundamentally similar duties and make vastly more. On a per-credit-hour basis, you take a pretty steep pay cut when you go from full-time to part-time, even controlling for service- and research requirements.

Or, look at it this way. Even Brennan and Magness acknowledge that the historical origin of adjunct positions is "to bring highly qualified expert practitioner into the classroom on a part-time basis, thereby augmenting the educational experience of the students. These adjuncts hold full-time jobs in closely related fields to their teaching subjects." (p. 11) They indicate that this remains the ideal. But that's not the prototypical adjunct. For a lot of adjuncts, that's their whole livelihood. They're career academics like 4:06, who adjunct indefinitely until they can find a full-time teaching position. These adjuncts are leveraged into part-time positions that are almost as much work as a full-time position for a fraction of the pay.

Their services deserve what customers in a free market are willing to pay, I'd think. But shouldn't the same go with adjuncts' labor, and labor generally?

I'm sorry, but I don't agree with you. I think there's a lot more to it than that. I think market forces left to themselves are very likely to result in exploitative employment arrangements.

Aeon Skoble said...

Derek, your snark misses the point. First if all, FT faculty at my institution are on a 4/4 not a 3/3, but the main thing is, non-adjuncts have duties adjuncts don't, such as committee work, advising, and an expectation of research. So my overall work week really is upwards of 40 hours - but I'd be happy to "admit" that it doesn't take me seven hours a week to prep for my intro class. BTW, according to the SEIU, adjuncts should get 15K/course. On that model, assuming I'm not _less_ entitled, I should be getting 180K/yr with no committee work, no advising duties, and no expectation of research. If I could find a job like that, I'd take it.

Anonymous said...

Let's think of this in terms of the economics from the student end.

If I'm a student, I'm paying full tuition, regardless of who is teaching me. The 3 credit class taught by Rockstar Specialist costs me exactly the same amount of money in tuition as the 3 credit class taught by an adjunct with an MA (or the grad student in the process of earning a degree). Obviously, the former likely has more experience, expertise, and (all things being equal) is poised to provide a much richer experience (especially when you consider that the former professor could well have institutional support denied to the latter professor).

Why on earth should I pay the same amount for both classes? It's like I'm deciding between a new luxury car and a used hatchback, and I'm told that both cars cost the same...and that regardless of what I buy, I'm paying the new SUV price.

Students need to understand that when they are charged tuition, they are charged for the cost of studying with Rockstar Specialist, regardless of what classes they actually take. Universities advertise the expertise of their Rockstars, and use those faculty (and those reputations) to recruit students.

If students knew that they were being charged for the new SUV while being sold the used hatchback, they just might revolt. We should help them to do this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous 6:58PM. This is the Anonymous person who keeps asking why adjuncts are exploited. Thanks for answering my question!

You said:
>>The paradigmatic adjunct is being exploited because he is earning far more for the University than the lowest paid employees make for for-profit corporations.>>

Well, that can't be the whole story. Any decent university president earns far more for his or her university than the lowest paid employees make for for-profit corporations. But we don't think university presidents are being exploited.

I suppose you'd be quick to add: "But adjuncts are not compensated accordingly!" As to whether adjuncts are getting a smaller cut of the value they add to the university than university presidents do, I just don't know. (Do you? I doubt it.) Regardless, it seems like your point is now: adjuncts are exploited because they're poorly compensated due to market forces. (After all, if adjuncts really are adding so much value to universities, why can't adjuncts charge more for their labor? The answer, I'd think, is the glut of willing adjuncts. So, that's why they're paid poorly: too much supply; market forces.)

But then we're back to my original suggestion as to why adjuncts are exploited, which I rejected. Simply being poorly compensated due to market forces is not sufficient for exploitation. Example: Oil companies are being poorly compensated right now due to the glut of crude oil on the market. But we don't think we're exploiting them when we fill up our tanks.

Have I misunderstood you? If so, please let me know. Or, if I have understood you well, would you care to try again? Why think adjuncts are exploited?

Anonymous said...

Adjuncts in Canada get between $6000 and $8000 per course...


Sure, conditions on the ground in Canada are somewhat different. We're not plagued by for-profit colleges and universities to the same extent, for one thing. And we don't have the same political funding crisis affecting our institutions, all of which are public (that is to say, all the reputable ones are). But somehow, magically, adjuncts get paid fairly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Zero. This is the Anonymous person who keeps asking why we should think adjuncts are exploited. Thanks for the reply.

I take it your answer is: adjuncts are exploited because they're being paid less than they deserve to be paid. While you admit it's tricky to figure out how much adjuncts deserve to be paid, you do say:

>>Being a college/university teacher is a high-status job that requires a great deal of specialized training and credentials. It takes a lot of time and effort and preparation to do it well. It's a little weird that a job like that wouldn't pay very well, especially when there are so many people who perform fundamentally similar duties and make vastly more.>>

Is that really strange to you that adjuncting doesn't pay very well? Don't you think the problem is too much supply, i.e. too many PhDs willing to adjunct? That seems fairly obvious to me, though I'd open to hearing some other explanations.

In any event, it seems like your argument is pretty similar to the ones I've considered above. You seem to reason like so:

1. In view of their (expensive, time-consuming) specialized training and credentials, adjuncts are poorly compensated, due to market forces.
2. Therefore, adjuncts are exploited.

But, again, I just can't see how that follows. I think oil companies still serve as a counterexample. Getting oil thousands of feet out of the Earth's crust, sometimes in the middle of the ocean, and then distributing it, refining it, etc., requires some very expensive, time-consuming, specialized training and credentials. But, due to a spike in supply, oil is (or at least until recently was) worth less than the barrel it was shipped in. Yet, even then, we weren't exploiting the oil companies when we purchased their products.

Here's another counterexample. I myself have spent many (too many) years developing specialized skills that have virtually no market value (some hobbies, let's say, like skateboarding, or surfing, or video gaming). I can't monetize these skills at all. Or, if I did, it would be for very little (due to market forces: too little demand, too much supply). If I tried to make a living with this hobby, and someone did consent to pay me a pittance to teach him this hobby, would he be exploiting me? (Keep in mind that some skaters/surfers/gamers make tons of money!) I can't see how that would be exploitation. But then why think it's exploitation when it happens to adjuncts?

So, did I misunderstand you? If so, please help set me straight. But if I did understand you (and 1-2 is how you're reasoning), perhaps you could explain why my objections don't work, or how the argument could be revised.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Aeon Skoble is saying that $2000 per course is a fair price for his services, and then he makes the rest of his salary in the form of advising, committee work, and editing a bunch of "philosophy and pop culture" books. Do I have that right?

Derek Bowman said...

Aeon,

Well since there aren't any numbers between $3k and $15k I guess that settles that.

By all means, let's subtract the adjunct rate for teaching 8 courses a year from your salary plus benefits and see how well you're able to convince the taxpayers of Massachusetts that your research and administrative duties are valuable enough to cover the difference.

I'm astonished how much confidence tenure-track faculty have that taxpayers and tuition-payers can tell the difference between the mere teaching that adjuncts do and the important jobs they have. Good luck arguing for future pay raises and department funding on the platform of "teaching is easy and doesn't really require much time or effort."

publius said...

Aeon,

"BTW, according to the SEIU, adjuncts should get 15K/course. On that model, assuming I'm not _less_ entitled, I should be getting 180K/yr with no committee work, no advising duties, and no expectation of research. If I could find a job like that, I'd take it."

Knowing how bad you are at arithmetic, doesn't it ever occur to you to double check before you post something like this?

Derek,

"I'm astonished how much confidence tenure-track faculty have that taxpayers and tuition-payers can tell the difference between the mere teaching that adjuncts do and the important jobs they have."

Because you think the taxpayers are stupid? Or that they aren't paying much attention to things like this? The latter is obviously true. But there is no particular reason they should, and there's no particular reason tenure track philosophers should care one way or the other. Deans and trustees and regents can't tell the difference.

Anonymous said...

People,

Jason Brennan is beneath response. Embrace this fact. You will be happier.

Aeon Skoble said...

Derek, I didn't say it was easy, look again and you'll see I never said that. Looks like you are incapable of engaging the substance of my remarks without resorting to distortion. What I said was that it doesn't take 7 hours a week to prep for intro. Prepping for upper-level classes does take more time than prepping for intro, and time for research and writing is baked into the FT salary because it's expected. That's why FT faculty aren't paid on the same scale as adjuncts. And I have to LOL at those (bravely anonymous) commenters who complain about not being TT but think that advising and committee work are negligible, and who scoff at the idea of publication. Every time it occurs to me wonder whether Magness and Brennan are overstating the case, I get into a thread like this and see that they're not.

Aeon Skoble said...

Publius, thanks again for catching my math error; I'll stop doing math now, except to note that even the correct 120K is considerably more than I make or am ever likely to make.
In any case, I'm not saying that adjuncts shouldn't get more money. I'm saying that Brennan and Magness are correct to note that if adjunct pay goes up so much that it causes layoffs, it's not obvious that that's the best outcome. Their article shows that people who are concerned about this issue need to realize that there's a real tradeoff involved.

Mr. Zero said...

Is that really strange to you that adjuncting doesn't pay very well?

Yeah, pretty much, for reasons I already mentioned. It's an important, high-status job that requires a lot of training and relevantly similar jobs pay much, much better.

Don't you think the problem is too much supply, i.e. too many PhDs willing to adjunct?

Yeah, I guess. I think that this greatly weakens the adjuncts' negotiating position, and that weakness is what the administrators exploit (ahem) in order to coerce the adjuncts into accepting such unfavorable terms. But I certainly don't think markets are inherently fair. As I already said, I think it's pretty obvious that markets are highly conducive to exploitation.

You seem to reason like so...

Pretty sure that's not my argument. That argument is patently invalid and if there's a general principle there it has a bunch of obviously false implications.

I myself have spent many (too many) years developing specialized skills that have virtually no market value (some hobbies...

Teaching philosophy at the college level is not a hobby. It's an important career. It's skilled, high-status, and generally speaking it pays very well--unless you're being exploited, of course. Obviously it doesn't pay well if you're being exploited.

...due to market forces: too little demand, too much supply...

Again: markets are not inherently fair. They're often exploitative. They're actually pretty terrible. Which is why I support such policies as the minimum wage, the 5-day work week, the 8-hour work day, the prohibition of child labor, the restroom break, the lunch break, the fire escape, various other safety regulations, OSHA, etc.

If I tried to make a living with this hobby, and someone did consent to pay me a pittance to teach him this hobby, would he be exploiting me?

I don't know. It depends on the details. I can think of some exploitative arrangements, and some non-exploitative ones. Your case is under-described.

Honestly, I thought I explained this pretty well in the OP. If not, I'm not sure I can do much better to help you understand. Maybe just think about what your services are worth. Do you think your services are worth $2,000 per 16-week course? Because I think my services are worth much more than that. What would it take for you to agree to provide your services for 1/2 or 1/4 of what you think your services are worth, when the same employer is willing to pay other people with comparable skills and credentials the full amount?

What would it take to get you to accept a job like the one 4:06 describes? A job that pays a non-guaranteed $12,000 a year for an erratic, inconsistent, non-guaranteed 3-3? That left you out of work for weeks at a time? Because I wouldn't take a job like that unless I was really desperate, and I'm guessing you wouldn't either. I suspect that if there was no desperation for the employer to take unfair advantage of, there's no way you'd be willing to agree to such unfavorable, exploitative terms. I certainly wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

"when the same employer is willing to pay other people with comparable skills and credentials the full amount?"

There's another part of the problem. Most adjuncts DON'T have comparable skills and credentials. Some do but the majority don't have a finished Ph.D. Why should that person get the same pay as an accomplished faculty member who has a Ph.D. and several books under her belt?

Anonymous said...

"Prepping for upper-level classes does take more time than prepping for intro, and time for research and writing is baked into the FT salary because it's expected. That's why FT faculty aren't paid on the same scale as adjuncts."

and

"Most adjuncts DON'T have comparable skills and credentials. Some do but the majority don't have a finished Ph.D. Why should that person get the same pay as an accomplished faculty member who has a Ph.D. and several books under her belt?"

Y'all're failing to distinguish between (merely) full-time and tenure-track contracts. Even if you think that the additional responsibilities, credentials, and professional accomplishments typical of tenure-track positions license a vastly higher pay scale, why is it ok that adjuncts aren't paid on the same scale as non-tenure-track full-timers, whose positions also usually don't have any expectation of service or research?

Anonymous said...

Most new TT hires start at about $50K.

Non TT full timers make on average about $47.5. Most non TT full timers also have a finished Ph.D. Most adjuncts do not. Why should they be paid the same?

See: http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/files/2013%20Salary%20Survey%20Tables%20and%20Figures/Table%20C.pdf

Anonymous said...

"Some do but the majority don't have a finished Ph.D. Why should that person get the same pay as an accomplished faculty member who has a Ph.D. and several books under her belt?"

1. A rising number of adjuncts do have PhDs.
2. This argument rarely holds at the time of being hired. The "accomplished faculty" member is not accomplished when she is hired. And if the person is hired right out of grad school (as still often happens), that person also does not have "several books under her belt." One reason why she can write those several books is because her comparatively light teaching load is supported by the adjuncts in the department, as well as the grad students who teach or serve as teaching assistants.

Comparing well-established tenure track faculty to long-serving adjuncts does not highlight the problem quite so much as comparing newly-hired tenure-track faculty to newly-hired adjuncts. Increasingly, they have relatively similar qualifications.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Zero. This is the Anonymous person who keeps asking why we should think adjuncts are exploited.

Thanks again for the reply. There's a lot one could say in response, but I'll try to keep it focused on the central issue: why think adjuncts are being exploited? I think you're giving an answer. Here are some suggestive remarks from you:

>>It's an important, high-status job that requires a lot of training and relevantly similar jobs pay much, much better.>>

>>Maybe just think about what your services are worth. Do you think your services are worth $2,000 per 16-week course? Because I think my services are worth much more than that. What would it take for you to agree to provide your services for 1/2 or 1/4 of what you think your services are worth, when the same employer is willing to pay other people with comparable skills and credentials the full amount?>>

Your answer is: desperation. "if there was no desperation for the employer to take unfair advantage of, there's no way you'd be willing to agree to such unfavorable, exploitative terms."

Alright, so let me try again to get clear on your reasoning.

1) In general, people with training and skills comparable to the paradigmatic adjunct are paid well.
2) Therefore, the paradigmatic adjunct deserves to be paid well.
3) Therefore, insofar as the paradigmatic adjunct contract pays poorly, it is exploitative.

(As you pointed out last time, this isn't *formally* valid. But of course an argument can be valid in virtue of content, even if not in virtue of form. Example: Mr. Zero is a human. Therefore, Mr. Zero is not a number. That's valid, but not formally.)

That "check the comps" approach to determining an adjunct's value seems to make good sense. That's primarily how realtors assess a home's value, for example.

But I think there are counterexamples to both inferences. Set aside adjuncts for a moment, and think about people who are grossly *overpaid*. Trivial pop stars, for example. Or perhaps some CEOs. From the fact that people with virtually equivalent training and skills are paid well, it hardly follows that trivial pop stars or CEOs *deserve* their huge paychecks. I think you'd agree, given what you say about the potential unfairness of the market. Some "fat cats" will get more than they deserve, on your view, even if the "comps" are also doing well. It's strange, when you think about it, for someone like you, who's skeptical of the market's power to set fair prices, to use this "check the comps" strategy to determine an adjunct's value. If the market can fail to correctly value adjuncts, as you believe, it can also fail to correctly value the "comps" that you're checking. That seems to be a pretty big problem for the move from (1) to (2).

(continued below)

Anonymous said...

(continued from above)

There are also problems for the move from (2) to (3). It's possible for someone to sell his labor (or property) for less than its value, even out of desperation, and not be exploited. Here are a couple examples: due to Saudi Arabia flooding the market, oil companies are currently (or at least they were recently) selling crude oil at a loss. A barrel of oil costs less than the barrel itself. They're desperate to cut their losses, and they're grateful to sell for whatever they can get. Are we thereby exploiting them when we buy their oil? I can't see how. Or, at least, not necessarily. And that's enough to refute the inference from (2) to (3).

Another example: suppose you're in the market for a house, and you find a very motivated buyer. He's desperate to sell quickly, and is willing to lower his price to below market value. He's grateful when you make an offer and eventually buy the house. Have you exploited him? Again, not necessarily. Spell out the case as you like to make it non-exploitative (maybe he's running from the law, or needs to sell to pay delinquent alimony, or...), while holding it fixed that he's selling his property for below its value (out of desperation). Since that's possible, we can see the inference from (2) to (3) is invalid.

I'd also question premise (1) in this revised argument. How do you know that the typical adjunct has training and skills comparable to the typical tenured or tenure-track faculty member? It's an empirical question, and I'd be grateful to see your data. I'm skeptical of (1), given my anecdotal but fairly large sample of adjuncts (including myself, when I was adjuncting) and tenured/tenure-track faculty.

Did I misunderstand your argument? If so, would you kindly let me know how it goes?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:10 -

#1 is simply not true. The majority of adjuncts simply do not have PhDs. This has been consistently the case for decades. If you have new data that shows otherwise, please cite it.

#2 is wrong. Full time hires usually go to candidates with published research - esp. when the job market is competitive (and it is). Hires straight out of grad school often have at least a couple articles if not a dissertation under contract to become a book. And even that modest research is more than most adjuncts have.

So I'll ask another way. Why should an adjunct with NO Ph.D. get paid the same rate as a new full time hire straight out of grad school who has a Ph.D. and at least a couple articles?

Anonymous said...

"Most adjuncts do not [have a phd or other relevant professional accomplishments]."

Why shouldn't the ones that do be paid accordingly?

Miranda Merklein said...

Thank you for writing this, Mr. Zero. Have you seen Jason's most recent blog post on "Bleeding Heart Libertarians" where he mansplains how how "first-year composition classes appear to be ineffective, and are little more than a jobs program for low quality intellectuals"?

Yeah.

http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/03/do-universities-have-a-fiduciary-duty-to-fire-madjuncts/


Anonymous said...

Well said. I spent years teaching as an adjunct because the teaching schedule was flexible to work with being a single parent with three children. I was qualified for and searched for better options but couldn't find any. I raised my family on $40,000 a year from teaching as an adjunct (7 - 3 hour classes during the year, 4 - 3 hour classes during the summer at two or more schools). That's an average of 48 hours of work a week for about $14 an hour after taxes. Add to this the stress of fluctuating employment and the mal treatment of the full time faculty and an administration that constantly enforced how fleeting an adjunct position could be. Ridiculous.

I am one of the lucky ones. I've made it out into the private sector of 'real jobs' where businesses actually understand that contingent labor needs to be paid MORE *GASP* than regular full time employees because of the contingent nature of the position. The difference in attitude is night and day compared to academia.

Anonymous said...

"Why shouldn't the ones that do be paid accordingly?"

Maybe they should. But there are far more adjuncts who don't have the credentials, and they're demanding higher pay too. It's not at all clear that those without credentials deserve the pay they demand.

Jason Brennan said...

Lots of indignation, but not a lot of counterarguments. People--even philosophers--are just unwilling to think about this issue critically.

One reason why we remained neutral on the question of whether adjuncts are exploited is because it makes no difference to our thesis. The point of our paper is to estimate what the monetary costs of providing justice for adjuncts would be, and, in particular, to note that many proposals would likely result in firing most adjuncts in order to help a minority. Whether we endorsed the claim that adjuncts are exploited or not makes no difference to that or our other main conclusions, so we remained neutral on it.

If any of you were actually up-to-date on the economic or philosophical literature on exploitation, you'd know that the problems we present in this paper are quite common among other plausible cases of exploitation. For example, with both sweatshops and prostitution, there's good reason to think that many attempts to ban these practices and even many attempts to improve them would unfortunately backfire, helping some but hurting the many. On both the left and right, authors who write about this acknowledge this issue and try to resolve it.

But here, on this blog, there's a bunch of simplistic table-pounding and little more.

Miranda Merklein said...

You are not remaining neutral, Mr. Brennan. I looked at some of your other "research" where you argue that no workers deserve wages in exchange for their labor. Your approach to social justice can only be described as psychopathic. You're basically a theoretical union-buster.

Miranda Merklein said...

Also, people have offered plenty of counterarguments to your and Magnesses' bully rhetoric. You refuse to acknowledge or consider anyone's ideas. (Not the mark of a philosopher, obviously, despite whatever title you give your Web page.) Basically, you're using the tactics of far right labor disrupters, like going to a teachers' rally and calling people obscenities until they get mad and yell back so you can get their reaction on video and make them look bad. The best thing for people to do is deny you further oxygen, but if you continue with your antics, I have no doubt that a bigger fish in your field will step in and provide you with a sufficient reality check. This will be a day of celebration for us all.

Anonymous said...

When your only tool is a labor union, every criticism you encounter looks like a union-busting cabal...

Miranda Merklein said...

Far from the only tool, but one of the most powerful, which is why the Libertrollians cited here are always gnashing their teeth.

Anonymous said...

At it again here - http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/03/did-administrative-bloat-cause-adjunctification/

Anonymous said...

@Brennan "If any of you were actually up-to-date on the economic or philosophical literature on exploitation, you'd know that the problems we present in this paper are quite common among other plausible cases of exploitation."

And yet it is totally unclear from your piece whether you are "up-to-date" on the economic literature relevant to the exploitation of labor or adjunct labor in particular. Out of a total 44 references in your article (if the , only 4 are from peer reviewed econ. journals. One of those is from 1984, another from 1973 (it is from "J of Political Economy," not exactly empirical econ., but I'll give you that one). And none of them are about adjunct labor. You do cite two microecon. textbooks, though I'm not sure what that is worth. And it isn't like there haven't been other analyses of this problem by labor economists (just spend 5 minutes on Google Scholar once). You should at least cite this stuff to signal that you have a passing knowledge of the topic of the paper.

Anonymous said...

If any of you were actually up-to-date on the economic or philosophical literature on exploitation, you'd know that the problems we present in this paper are quite common among other plausible cases of exploitation. ... On both the left and right, authors who write about this acknowledge this issue and try to resolve it.

Not Brennan and Magness, though. Brennan and Magness emphasize the problems without trying to resolve them. Brennan & Magness do not appear to have any practical or philosophical interest in solving the problems. Instead, Brennan & Magness confine their attention to raising obstacles for potential solutions, in the attempt to show that they cannot be solved. Because Brennan & Magness view "madjuncts" with poorly-disguised derision.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm just not smart enough to figure this out on my own, but why is it so difficult to pay adjuncts a living wage, but it's not difficult to pay tenure track faculty a living wage? Why is it still possible to pay administrators - especially executive administrators - salaries far above living wage? How can universities afford to pay a great many other employees properly, but not adjuncts?

How is this the straw that breaks the camel's back?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:00 - "J of Political Economy," not exactly empirical econ."

WTF? Apparently you don't realize the JPE is one of "big four" empirical journals in the entire discipline. An article there is often good enough on its own for tenure. Is there anything else you'd like to broadcast your ignorance about while you're at it?

Jason Brennan said...

Someone above asked us why we didn't cite any peer-reviewed journal articles on the economics of adjunctification. Here's the answer: As far as we could find, there aren't any. Maybe we're wrong about that. But we did a literature search and didn't find anything.

If you want to know about my motives, let me make it very clear: I spent my childhood reading Ayn Rand and Albert Camus novels. At age 18, Satan Himself paid me $1 million to punch down adjuncts and destroy labor unions. I have never had any friends ever and never will. Even my dog hates me. I am in fact a diagnosed psychopath. Frank Underwood is my hero. You've all correctly diagnosed me. Good work.

Now, that issue aside, do you have any *substantive* objections to the argument? One of the opportunity costs of helping adjuncts is that we could reduce tuition for poor students instead. (It's worth noting that adjuncts are disproportionately white.) Why pick one over the other, or over any other number of worthy things? One of the problems with the adjuncts' rights movement (AJM) is that it will lead to job gentrification, and thus displace some current adjuncts. How should we deal with that? One of the problems with the AJM is that replacing adjuncts with full-time workers would mean firing the majority to help the minority. By hypothesis--indeed, Mr. Zero himself has an argument to the effect above--that would mean delivering most adjuncts a less preferred option, and the fewer exit options they have, the worse this would be. So, how should we deal with that? Let's stipulate that adjuncts are indeed exploited. Does that answer these questions for us?

Anonymous said...

"The point of our paper is to estimate what the monetary costs of providing justice for adjuncts would be," i.e., doing the right thing may be inconvenient; "and, in particular, to note that many proposals would likely result in firing most adjuncts in order to help a minority" i.e., the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So the point of your paper is to defend two platitudes?

"One of the opportunity costs of helping adjuncts is that we could reduce tuition for poor students instead. (It's worth noting that adjuncts are disproportionately white.) Why pick one over the other, or over any other number of worthy things?"

So the point of the paper is to set up a false dilemma?

"One of the problems with the [adjuncts' rights movement] is that replacing adjuncts with full-time workers would mean firing the majority to help the minority. By hypothesis... that would mean delivering most adjuncts a less preferred option, and the fewer exit options they have, the worse this would be. So, how should we deal with that? Let's stipulate that adjuncts are indeed exploited. Does that answer these questions for us?"

What it demonstrates is that adjuncts have a prima facie claim to a decent wage, and hand-wringing about potential trade-offs is merely a way of trying to snow those who might otherwise be receptive to the fact that they seek to assert their legitimate claims. From the perspective of Pareto efficiency there will always be trade-offs. Merely pointing out that there may be trade-offs doesn't answer these questions either, nor does it adequately identify what the actual trade-offs are.

Derek Bowman said...

Jay,

I initially presented an argument that you and Magnus are guilty of employing a false dilemma. But you're obviously more interested in grandstanding, so instead you used my initial comment as an occasion to advertise a forthcoming paper. Like the sophists of old, you're very good at bluster, and you're very good at provoking your opponents into making the claims you can reinterpret as those you have arguments about. But you're not very good at prompting constructive dialogue, educating your interlocutors, or learning from them. Good teachers are dismayed when their audience is unable to understand or respond constructively to the information and arguments they've presented, not smug and proud.

Aeon,
In conversation with you I'm attempting ridicule through exaggeration. I admit I may not be very good at it, since it isn't my usual style, but it's not the same as distortion.

If you'd like to engage in actual dialogue, here or privately, I'd be happy to try to be a more constructive interlocutor. For starters I'd like to know how much you think your teaching is worth and whether you really think 3k x 6 = $18k/year - or even 3k x 12 = $36k/year (for someone doubling the workload) is a reasonable salary for professional university teachers in New England.

Anonymous said...

I'd actually like to see the papers on "exploitation" that Brennan is suggesting are so similar to his own (so their theses must be: payment is costly. There are trade-offs!). Do they also refuse to do any type of financial analysis of alternatives, and refuse to invoke the methods (and findings- since higher pay has been associated with better product for about 100 years) of labor economics?
Maybe they are as terrible as the Brennan business ethics. Maybe they fill the business ethics journals.

But they will not be as dishonest because Brennan and his friend (sometimes) pretend to be interested in promoting the good of adjuncts by saying they should be paid less than any any corporation would pay employees contributing as much. They post cat lady jokes about them. So unless the authors of the other terrible approaches to an issue that requires data including an actual budget, earnings, prospects, and a labor economist are also deeply invested in mocking factory workers and prostitutes, then it just isn't the same.

Anonymous said...

@Brennan "Someone above asked us why we didn't cite any peer-reviewed journal articles on the economics of adjunctification. Here's the answer: As far as we could find, there aren't any."

It took me literally two minutes on google scholar to find a Peer-reviewed econ citation relevant to part-time contingent faculty pay (so "adjuncts" as they are often called).

James Monks. "The Relative Earnings of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education." Journal of Labor Research July 2007, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 487-501. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12122-007-9002-5

There is tons of econ research out there about the decline of TT jobs, the rise of adjunct faculty, and its importance. You just have to do a careful lit. review.

Anonymous said...

All this really confirms for me is that academia is hopelessly morally corrupt and self-serving, and, basically, it is perhaps a good thing that "the market" is rapidly destroying it.

A college at which I used to work recently fired almost all their (tenured) philosophy department. I expect this to happen more and more frequently - this is the new frontier of adjunctification, firing TT faculty and hiring adjuncts instead. I wonder what Brennan will say if it happens to him?

Anonymous said...

"Part-time and full-time non-tenure track faculty currently represent almost half of all faculty in U.S. higher education, yet little is known about their earnings relative to tradition tenure-track faculty. This paper finds that full-time non-tenure track faculty earn approximately 26 percent less per hour from their academic institution and 18 percent less in total earnings from all sources per hour than comparable tenure track assistant professors. Part-time non-tenure track faculty earn 64 percent less per hour from their institution, but only 1 percent less in total earnings per hour than tenure track assistant professors."

Wow. That's some really mindblowing research ya got there.

Anonymous said...

This just keeps getting better.

"Efforts to address the employment and compensation concerns of contingent faculty should be cautious in suggesting policies that treat all part-time employees equally. My results suggest that a significant percentage of part-time employees are willing to forego higher compensation outside of academia in order to work in higher education."

(James Monks. "The Relative Earnings of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education." Journal of Labor Research July 2007, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 487-501. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12122-007-9002-5)

So yeah, you found a study that stated something obvious that nobody disputed...that adjuncts are paid less than everybody else...and then concluded that they still choose do it anyway despite the low compensation. Your vaunted "labor economics" sure brought out the exploitation angle!

Mr. Zero said...

Now, that issue aside, do you have any *substantive* objections to the argument?

Yes: the argument of your paper is a rehash of an argument that opponents of workers' rights have been making since the dawn of the labor movement and it's been worthless this entire time.

One of the opportunity costs of helping adjuncts is that we could reduce tuition for poor students instead.

Creating a class of underpaid and over-worked instructors who are trapped in unstable and unreliable semester-at-a-time contracts with no job security and no hope of promotion or advancement is obviously a poor way make college affordable for economically disadvantaged students. (Just think of it: those disadvantaged students will one day include the children of the instructors themselves.)

Why pick one over the other, or over any other number of worthy things?

Indeed. There's lots of room for improvement. But that's obviously not a good argument for refusing to improve any of the things that need improvement; it's an argument for improving any number of things.

One of the problems with the adjuncts' rights movement (AJM) is that it will lead to job gentrification, and thus displace some current adjuncts. How should we deal with that?

Some adjuncts will likely be pushed out of the profession. The ones that remain will have non-exploitative jobs. The ones that get pushed out will have to find other work. Hopefully that work will be non-exploitative and satisfying. I guess I just don't see what the problem is supposed to be.

One of the problems with the AJM is that replacing adjuncts with full-time workers would mean firing the majority to help the minority. By hypothesis--indeed, Mr. Zero himself has an argument to the effect above--that would mean delivering most adjuncts a less preferred option, and the fewer exit options they have, the worse this would be.

I don't know what will happen. I'm not Columbo. But I know that the fact that a person has agreed to an exploitative employment arrangement does not entail that this exploitative arrangement is really her most preferred option. The exploiter is not helping the person by exploiting her, and the fact that she agreed to the exploitative arrangement is not a good argument in favor of continuing to exploit her.

I'm sorry, but I don't think these arguments are very good.

Anonymous said...

"Wow. That's some really mindblowing research ya got there."

I just took the first paper of many that I found when I searched "contingent faculty" or something similar in google scholar. There were lots of other studies that also popped up; some were probably inane like this one and others are likely not. I just find it really implausible that Brennan couldn't find any real research on this topic if he did a careful lit. review.; he just didn't bother, and for some reason none of the reviewers were bothered by the fact that his paper seems to have almost no connection to the relevant labor econ. lit.

Anonymous said...

Alternative theory: He actually did look for other articles that asked these questions about adjuncts but only found a clutter of irrelevant and inane articles like the one you found that were irrelevant to his article. There's no point in exhaustive reviews of a bunch of irrelevant and inane articles so he obviously didn't cite them.

My point: if you're gonna accuse somebody of missing something important in the lit review, you need to be able to give a real example of what they missed and why it was important to their topic. Not just some bullshit result from the first google hit you find searching "adjunct."

Anonymous said...

"Alternative theory: He actually did look for other articles that asked these questions about adjuncts but only found a clutter of irrelevant and inane articles like the one you found that were irrelevant to his article. There's no point in exhaustive reviews of a bunch of irrelevant and inane articles so he obviously didn't cite them."

One problem with your alternative theory is that Brennan himself has repudiated it in this very thread.

Jason Brennan said...

Phil and I are getting attacked as if we're part of a vast right-wing conspiracy against labor, but in fact we're the only ones who publicly advocate the leftist position on this issue. In the article, we're neutral about what to do--we just articulate the trade-offs. But since you angry trolls aren't going to let it go, I'll tell you why you should advocate one trade-off rather than another.

Suppose for the sake of argument--as you already believe--that adjuncts are exploited. There are two ways to stop exploiting them. One is to not hire them. The other is to pay them non-exploitative wages, which would cost a huge amount of money.

Now, that money has a big opportunity cost. It could be used to reduce tuition or costs for poor students, or to provide scholarships and the like for disadvantaged students. This isn't some arbitrary comparison--these students are as much a stakeholder in the university system as the adjunct labor force. (It's worth noting that the adjuncts are overwhelmingly and disproportionately white males from privileged backgrounds, too.) Helping poor students furthers universities' social justice mission more than providing jobs for privileged white dudes. Finally, as we document in our article, the ratio of full-time faculty to students has remained constant over 40 years. It's just that there has been an explosion of adjuncts and administrators.

Accordingly, from a social justice-oriented point of view, it's far far better to A) stop hiring adjuncts (and thus stop exploiting them) and instead use that money or any other new money to help poor students than B) to pay adjuncts better wages (and thus stop exploiting them) rather than using that money to help poor students.

That's one reason why all your angry rants don't sting. Despite the leftist rhetoric and leftist activist tactics, the adjunct right's movement is quite literally a movement trying to put money in the pockets of white dudes from privileged backgrounds, when the proper left-wing thing to do is get rid of adjuncts* and instead help poor students.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

*One exception: Moonlighting professionals who teach classes on the side. Hardly anyone thinks they're being exploited. But they make up only 26% of the adjunct workforce.

Anonymous said...

"My point: if you're gonna accuse somebody of missing something important in the lit review, you need to be able to give a real example of what they missed and why it was important to their topic. Not just some bullshit result from the first google hit you find searching "adjunct.""

I listed a few articles below that seem pertinent to the question of why part-time faculty stay in the profession and whether the heavy use of adjunct faculty actually saves universities money/graduate (given that it may decrease both retention and graduate rates). I spent about 8 minutes going around on google scholar; just do it yourself -- there is lots there to be found. I'm not going to spend more time, because I'm not the one doing research on this topic.

It is on the face of it implausible that someone can't find ANY peer-reviewed research about a topic that has received so much attention for so long (the issue of using contingent faculty has been widely discussed since the '70s). There are tons of social science PhDs out there doing research on just about everything, and so usually when you don't find any relevant research on a social scientific topic, you are just doing something wrong in your search. We don't accept bullshit excuses like that from students ("I couldn't find any references! So I just wrote some stuff."), so why should we accept it from tenured professors? A very large proportion of Brennan's citations are news stories and other non-academic sources. His labor econ. sources are largely 30 years old or undergrad textbooks. I believe him when he says that he really just wanted to turn his blog posts into a journal article (that appears to be mostly what he has done). It has made for a very superficial analysis (what you might expect from a blog post).

Again, here are some things that look interesting and relevant. If you hate these papers, just do some poking around and you will find a lot of other stuff. Better yet, read some of the articles and follow the citation trail. That is what researchers do when they are rounding out their understanding of a topic.

"Understanding Non-Tenure Track Faculty: New Assumptions and Theories for Conceptualizing Behavior." Adrianna Kezar, American Behavioral Scientist July 18, 2011

"Examining Retention and Contingent Faculty use in a State System of Public Higher Education." Audrey J. Jaeger. Educational Policy June 13, 2010

Daniel Jacoby. "Effects of Part-Time Faculty Employment on Community College Graduation Rates" The Journal of Higher Education
Volume 77, Number 6, November/December 2006 pp. 1081-1103



Mr. Zero said...

Phil and I are getting attacked as if we're part of a vast right-wing conspiracy against labor...

If the shoe fits, I guess.

Now, that money has a big opportunity cost. It could be used to reduce tuition or costs for poor students, or to provide scholarships and the like for disadvantaged students.

You already said that, and I already explained why it doesn't support your conclusion.

Helping poor students furthers universities' social justice mission more than providing jobs for privileged white dudes.

And, as I already explained, exploiting their instructors is a poor way to provide aid to disadvantaged students. And, as others have explained, this is a false dilemma. We don't have to choose one or the other.

This is all very sophistical and dumb, Jason.

Accordingly, from a social justice-oriented point of view, it's far far better to A) stop hiring adjuncts (and thus stop exploiting them)...

With your footnoted exception, I don't disagree, When colleges and universities hire career academics, they should hire them to full-time contracts. Of course, a huge number of courses are presently taught by adjuncts. So you'd have to hire a lot of full-timers to cover those courses. (And, of course, we should also be doing more to help disadvantaged students. And to make tuition affordable across the board. Again, the idea that we must pick only one of these worthy projects is sophistical and dumb.)

For somebody who's always complaining that people won't engage with his arguments, this wasn't a very engaging response, Jason.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

You first.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:17 -

It's still not at all clear how *any* of the articles you cite are relevent to the lit review of the questions he specifically raised in this article.

Brennan didn't set out to write an article on "Everything we know about adjunct pay rates, adjunct self-perception of assumptions about conceptualized behavior, contingent faculty use at public universities, and the effects of adjuncts on community college student graduation rates."

He set out to write an article on "what are the trade-offs of adjunct justice proposals."

None of the examples you've given are even remotely relevant to the questions he asked. You're literally just googling any academic article you can find with the word "adjunct" or "contingent" in the title. Now, if you want to claim that this article botched the lit review, answer me this:

Can you name a specific study that is directly relevant to the questions being asked and alters or challenges its conclusion?

Anonymous said...

"Helping poor students furthers universities' social justice mission more than providing jobs for privileged white dudes."

And apparently, according to some education research given a couple posts above, using more part-time staff decreases retention and graduation rates, so this further muddies the waters. It is entirely possible that paying the extra money, and converting more adjuncts to full-time faculty, helps students overall.

Anonymous said...

"Can you name a specific study that is directly relevant to the questions being asked and alters or challenges its conclusion?"

The last two citations are relevant to student outcomes. If the use of part-time faculty harms graduation rates (which it seems to), then this is a problem for Brennan's "social justice for students" argument. It might be that the best possible use of university money (if the university is interested in student outcomes) is to convert more part-time faculty to full-time faculty, thus improving student outcomes. This is research that Brennan should at least discuss.

Anonymous said...

It's really unbelievable that Brennan has chosen to double down on this false dilemma about helping poor students or exploiting adjuncts. Perhaps it's no wonder he's never managed to secure a TT job in a philosophy department.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm pretty stupid - and following this thread may be evidence of that - but why is the trade-off for paying adjuncts a living wage sacrificing opportunities for students?

It almost sounds like, despite the exploitation of adjuncts, the assumption is that universities are doing a fine job of distributing their resources. I doubt anyone in this thread really believes that, but it would appear to be an assumption that some (including Brennan and his ilk) make.

If we assume that universities have an obligation to social justice (something we like like to be true, but in the history of American university life never has been), then we have to accept that from a financial standpoint, universities are failing miserably in that regard.

I know that people like to point to "administrative bloat" as a problem, in in some cases it is. But it's not that simple. Over the past 40 years, many universities have added offices devoted to new and improved technology, increased medical services (including mental health services), offices devoted to addressing a variety of social concerns, and centers for the advancement of teaching excellence. These offices need to be staffed by trained professionals who, just like teaching faculty, should be properly certified and compensated. This is a necessary part of the administrative bloat people shake their fists at, and in many cases addresses universities' commitment to social justice.

That said, the sky-rocketing pay for executive administrators in no way contributes to any social justice - or even educational - function the university serves. Similarly, many universities pay faculty in certain fields much higher salaries than they do in other fields (look at the national averages for STEM faculty compared to arts faculty, for instance), while charging students the same money in tuition for classes in those fields. (Personally, I would like to see the cost of staffing a course reflected in the cost to the student to take that course. If Course A costs twice as much to staff - whatever the reason - then it should cost twice as much to enroll into. But I know that will never happen.)

Universities do a terrible job of managing their resources. Terrible. The exploitation of adjuncts is merely one aspect of this. We cannot fix this one aspect until we address the whole system.

Anonymous said...

Brennan has totally convinced me that we should no longer put money in the pockets of white dudes from privileged backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

Anon Says: "It might be that the best possible use of university money (if the university is interested in student outcomes) is to convert more part-time faculty to full-time faculty, thus improving student outcomes. This is research that Brennan should at least discuss."

Nope, no discussion of that at all...

"This is not to say that current adjunct conditions are suitable to effective instruction. Common adjunct complaints such as the lack of access to offices, computers, and other classroom support likely diminish the educational experiences of students (although we also note some tension between these circumstances and the equally common claim that adjuncts invest significantly more time and effort in the classroom than faculty who operate under the protections of tenure and, reputedly, neglect their teaching).8"


"8. The literature on this subject is divided between studies that suggest teaching effectiveness is harmed by adjunct conditions, and studies that suggest contingent and/or adjunct faculty receive classroom evaluations that are comparable to or more favorable than their tenured colleagues. See in particular (Figlio et al. 2013; Wachtel 1998; Scheutz 2002, pp. 39–46; Bettinger and Long 2005; Ehrenberg 2005)."

Anonymous said...

"It's still not at all clear how *any* of the articles you cite are relevent to the lit review of the questions he specifically raised in this article."

I'm not the person who mentioned those articles, but I think you're missing that person's point.

Brennan said above, "Someone above asked us why we didn't cite any peer-reviewed journal articles on the economics of adjunctification. Here's the answer: As far as we could find, there aren't any. Maybe we're wrong about that. But we did a literature search and didn't find anything."

Someone then pointed out that such literature seems to exist, citing one presumably random example. Another commentator (you?) then ridiculed that example and its "mindblowing" research. But that is beside the point. Brennan didn't say, "We found some literature on this topic, but it wasn't sufficiently mindblowing for discussion in our paper." He said there wasn't any such literature. And he didn't say, "We found some literature on the economics of adjunctification, but absolutely none of it was on questions relevant to our paper." He said they found no literature on the economics of adjunctification at all. Given the apparent examples to the contrary, one has to wonder how hard they looked.

Anonymous said...

You keep using that phrase "false dilemma." I do not think it means what you think it means.

There is certainly a trade-off between investing in adjuncts and spending money on other things in the university, one of which is tuition reductions. We may also rank all of those different things in order from most just to least just. Do you disagree with the statement that students have a more just claim to tuition relief than adjuncts do to more pay?

If so, that does not mean you have created a "false dilemma" between the two. It means you recognize that one deserves priority over the other. And since there isn't enough money to pay everybody everything that they want you will have to pick a priority or some combination of priorities. It also means that if you want to pick a solution that prioritizes adjuncts you also need to be able to explain why that is more "just" than a solution that prioritizes students. Because otherwise you are in fact advocating something that helps privileged old white dudes while, at best, ignoring students who are worse off than them.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of how you prioritize those two aims, there is no necessary conflict between them. There may be policies that realize them both in preference to other arrangements. Suppose there is a trade-off between treating heart attacks and treating headaches, and treating heart attacks takes priority over treating headaches. It is no argument against a marginal increase in funding for the treatment of headaches to claim, falsely, that it can only come at the expense of treating heart attacks. Or do you think that because treating heart attacks takes priority over treating headaches that we should never permit a marginal increase in funding for the treatment of headaches, even if that funding is reallocated from sources not related to the treatment of heart attacks?

The options that the argument stipulates we must choose between are not the only ones available. Hence, it's a false dilemma.

Anonymous said...

Your analogy is a stupid one that doesn't even describe the situation.

Heart attacks and headaches are both treated at the time of the occurrence, and usually paid for by the recipient of the treatment. There is no general budget that encompasses all heart attacks and headaches. Also the amount of headache treatment available does not diminish with each heart attack that occurs. Therefore there is no actual trade-off to be made in allocating heart attack and headache treatments. The only thing that exists is a time prioritization of which gets treated first when they both happen simultaneously, and that is usually based on its severity.

University budgets on the other hand are finite and encompassing of all university activities. There are tangible dollar amounts associated with each and choosing how much to spend on each category involves a trade-off. If you choose to give all students tuition relief, less money is now available to give adjuncts raises. Or to build a new library. Or to hire a new sports coach. Or anything else universities do. To do any one of those things you must also forego spending on the others. Or to do part of some of those things, you must forego spending on some of the others. That means you must also prioritize what you want to spend. That's the definition of a trade-off, after all - you can't get all of everything so you must choose how much of some things must be given up in order to get other things.

I'll charitably assume that you do in fact agree that trade-offs of this type exist in the university system, since a dominant theme of this discussion has been the claim that an article asserting their existence is simply stating something "obvious" that we all agree upon.

So (a) since you agree that trade-offs are real in university budgeting and (b) since the existence of trade-offs means by definition that you must prioritize some things over other things (or some combination of things over other combinations of things), and (c) some things are also more just to spend money on than other things, then the following question needs to be answered: why is a solution that prioritizes adjuncts more "just" than a solution that prioritizes students?

Anonymous said...

Surely if social justice is the main concern, we shouldn't be providing scholarships or students, right? Because even the poorest American student is relatively economically privileged compared to many of those living in developing nations. The university could use it's scholarship money to provide foreign aid. So surely by Jason's own lights, the suggestion that universities spend money on scholarships instead of adjunct wages is just as blind to social justice concerns as the suggestion that adjuncts be paid decent wages supposedly is?

We can run this argument again and again, right? Go back to the days where women teaches were being paid less than men were for doing precisely the same job. You might think that justice requires that we start paying women the same as the men. But no, I guess justice requires that we keep paying women a lower wage in order to spend that money on social welfare or something more worthy. Go back to the days of slavery. You might think that justice requires not forcing people to work for free. But if plantation owners didn't own slaves, they would have to pay someone to do the work. And that money could be spent on something else, right?

Anonymous said...

I don't believe Brennan took a position on what the most just expenditure happens to be. In fact, the owner of this blog attacked him for failing to do so.

But I do know this:

1. You failed to demonstrate that the budget trade-off being discussed was in fact a "false dilemma," and are now pivoting into a new line of argument.

2. That new line of argument involves its own fallacy by taking a specific observation about a common and real university budgeting decision and chasing it to absurd unrelated extremes about slavery & the sort.

3. You still haven't answered my question: why is a solution that prioritizes adjuncts more "just" than a solution that prioritizes students?

4. This is also deeply ironic considering that it signifies your own unwillingness to actually propose or discuss a solution to the "obvious" budget trade-off that exists, which is again another complaint that the owner of this blog has been trumpeting.

Mr. Zero said...

You keep using that phrase "false dilemma." I do not think it means what you think it means.

While I appreciate the Princess Bride reference, I think I do know what it means. While the standard case of a false dilemma is where there's a third alternative that the person has overlooked, I think it applies equally well in the case where you don't have to choose because the choices are compatible and you can do both. (And Brennan's is a false dilemma in the standard sense, too. That money could be used to give the custodial staff a raise; or upgrade the A/V equipment; etc.) Whatever. I'm not wedded to the term.

Do you disagree with the statement that students have a more just claim to tuition relief than adjuncts do to more pay?

I don't know. I guess not. I don't think it matters much for the purposes of this discussion.

It also means that if you want to pick a solution that prioritizes adjuncts you also need to be able to explain why that is more "just" than a solution that prioritizes students.

What does that mean? What does it mean to "give priority" to tuition relief for disadvantaged students over non-exploitation of adjuncts? Does it mean that every dollar of new funding should be allocated to tuition relief until that problem has been satisfactorily dealt with, and then we can turn attention to the adjuncts?Because that's a ridiculous way of thinking about the budget. I think that for every dollar of new funding, some of it should be allocated to aid for disadvantaged students, some should be allocated to paying adjuncts a fair wage, etc. I don't have firm views about what the proportions should be. But I do have a firm view that this idea that we can't do both is sophistical and dumb.

Anonymous said...

"Heart attacks and headaches are both treated at the time of the occurrence, and usually paid for by the recipient of the treatment. There is no general budget that encompasses all heart attacks and headaches. Also the amount of headache treatment available does not diminish with each heart attack that occurs."

Even if this were generally true, which it is not, this is not relevant to the analogy.

"there is no actual trade-off to be made in allocating heart attack and headache treatments."

I assume, by this response, that you are not in the discipline of philosophy. Or you don't work in any of the normative fields.

"That's the definition of a trade-off, after all - you can't get all of everything so you must choose how much of some things must be given up in order to get other things."

Only in a colloquial sense. But from the perspective of Pareto efficiency a trade-off is just the rate of replacement between one good and another. The existence of trade-offs does not entail anything about suboptimal outcomes.

"why is a solution that prioritizes adjuncts more "just" than a solution that prioritizes students?"

It doesn't matter whether one is more just than the other for the purposes of this discussion, because we are not forced to choose between the two. It is not the case that all universities face one of only two policy options: to reduce tuition for poor students or to increase adjunct wages. In fact, for many universities, the first suggestion isn't even on the table. This is mere bluster on your part.

Anonymous said...

"I think it applies equally well in the case where you don't have to choose because the choices are compatible and you can do both."

If you believe that, then surely you can - you know - propose a solution that does both. I expect that it will be a solution that operates within the current scope of university budgets. It should also be realistic and feasible, so "just shut down NCAA football!" is of little help to this discussion. And it should be satisfactory to the adjuncts as well, so giving 1/4th of them tenure lines but laying off the other 3/4ths isn't going to get us very far either.

For purposes of prioritization, let's just go with an assumption that, since students are more deserving of relief than adjuncts, the solution should devote more resources to providing a "fair" rate of tuition to students than a "living wage" to adjuncts. You can interpret that however you like, whether minimally such as simply spending .51 cents for every dollar on students or something more substantive such as a per capita student relief package that exceeds the per capita adjunct expenditure. And since the average public college tuition in the U.S. is about $24,000/year that conveniently puts us right in the range of an adjunct's salary, so the direct dollar amount comparison shouldn't be too hard.

So let's hear it. What dilemma-free solution are you proposing?

Anonymous said...

"I think mass incarceration is a serious problem."

"Are you saying you want ISIS to win?"

"No, I'm just saying I think it's important that we deal with mass incarceration, too."

"Every moment we spend dealing with mass incarceration is a moment we don't spend defeating ISIS."

"I think there's room in the schedule to deal with both."

"There's only 24 hours in a day. Let's see your breakdown. What percentage of the time should we spend letting ISIS win?"

Anonymous said...

"It doesn't matter whether one is more just than the other for the purposes of this discussion, because we are not forced to choose between the two. It is not the case that all universities face one of only two policy options: to reduce tuition for poor students or to increase adjunct wages. In fact, for many universities, the first suggestion isn't even on the table. This is mere bluster on your part."

Reading comprehension must not be your strong suit. Let me assist in directing you to the relevant statement where you will find that it was NOT referring to a two-policy option:

There are tangible dollar amounts associated with each and choosing how much to spend on each category involves a trade-off. If you choose to give all students tuition relief, less money is now available to give adjuncts raises. Or to build a new library. Or to hire a new sports coach. Or anything else universities do. To do any one of those things you must also forego spending on the others. Or to do part of some of those things, you must forego spending on some of the others. That means you must also prioritize what you want to spend.

Now I'll ask again: why is a solution that prioritizes adjuncts more "just" than a solution that prioritizes students? Or one that prioritizes anything else that the universities spend money on?

Anonymous said...

Another false analogy. Mass incarceration and defeating ISIS are not both competing for resources from the same narrow, constrained, and well-defined university budget.

Even the adjunct activists realize this when they say they want to raid administrator salaries to pay themselves. Why are administrator salaries in competition with attaining adjunct justice, but student tuition, somehow, is not?

Anonymous said...

"Mass incarceration and defeating ISIS are not both competing for resources from the same narrow, constrained, and well-defined university budget."

No, they're not. Instead, they're competing for resources from the United States, which is a much bigger, but still constrained and well-defined pool of resources. Now I want to see your breakdown. How much time should we spend letting ISIS win? Or, is it possible to effectively devote resources to two distinct projects, even if one is a bigger priority?

Anonymous said...

"Reading comprehension must not be your strong suit."

Philosophy must not be your strong suit.

"To do any one of those things you must also forego spending on the others. Or to do part of some of those things, you must forego spending on some of the others."

It doesn't follow that spending on adjuncts must come at the expense of poor students.

"why is a solution that prioritizes adjuncts more "just" than a solution that prioritizes students?"

The answer to this question does not settle the matter.

"Or one that prioritizes anything else that the universities spend money on?"

Brennan and Magness' argument would be trivial and pointless if they had merely claimed that equity for adjuncts requires resources. Resources, by definition, may be used in a myriad of ways. The rhetorical force of their argument turns on pitting the interests of adjuncts against the interests of poor students. This is nothing but a red herring.

Anonymous said...

Oh right, because a university on a fixed budget of a couple hundred million and a narrowly defined educational mission is JUST like the multi-trillion dollar deficit spending U.S. government!

You used a stupid analogy that didn't hold up, and now you're still unwilling to answer even a simple question about which adjunct proposal you prefer. In other words, you've shown that you're not interested in a serious solution to the adjunct problem - just posturing about the alleged "exploitation" of privileged white people who expect to be paid $75,000 a year to write shitty poetry.

Mr. Zero said...

If you believe that, then surely you can - you know - propose a solution that does both. I expect that it will be a solution that operates within the current scope of university budgets.

I don't know what that means. I think it's obvious that no solution to either problem is available given the current budgetary situation at public institutions. Any viable solution to either problem is going to require a great deal of additional funding at the state and Federal levels. These ideas--that I have to know exactly how much additional funding it would take, or that I need to have a worked-out view about what percentage of the funding should go for raises for adjuncts and what percentage should go for tuition relief for the underprivileged or else I'm not serious about it--are stupid.

Anonymous said...

Why does it matter whether adjuncts are privileged and/or white? Can white people not be exploited? And how ever much they want to be paid, they want to be paid for teaching. They're willing to write shitty poetry on their own time like the rest of us.

Anonymous said...


"Their contribution to this discussion would have been much more interesting and worthwhile if they had gone beyond the obvious point that the promotion of adjunct justice represents a series of difficult and expensive problems, and had instead done the hard work of proposing and working out the details of potential solutions to these admittedly and obviously difficult problems."

"I think it's obvious that no solution to either problem is available given the current budgetary situation at public institutions. Any viable solution to either problem is going to require a great deal of additional funding at the state and Federal levels. These ideas--that I have to know exactly how much additional funding it would take, or that I need to have a worked-out view about what percentage of the funding should go for raises for adjuncts and what percentage should go for tuition relief for the underprivileged or else I'm not serious about it--are stupid."

Whelp...it looks like we've come full circle!

A charitable interpretation might hold that you have arrived at the position that prompted Brennan to stop short of offering a solution. A less-charitable interpretation would suggest that you were never serious about your demand for a solution in the first place. Or at least not sufficiently serious about it that you would consider offering one yourself.

Mr. Zero said...

Whelp...it looks like we've come full circle!

I guess I walked right into that one.

Mr. Zero said...

But seriously, folks. If you want to show that two projects are mutually exclusive and so you can't do both, you need to do more than point out the trivial fact that if you spend money on one thing you thereby don't spend it on something else. And if the plan is to make college affordable for the disadvantaged without paying adjunct instructors a fair wage--something that approaches what a similarly-credentialed full-time instructor would make on a per-course basis--and that we should be satisfied that we've got our higher-education system all sorted out, I think that's psychotic and dumb. The United States is one of the riches countries to have ever existed. The idea that we can't pay the part-time instructors that teach almost half of all college courses a fair wage while also providing tuition relief to the disadvantaged is pure sophistry.

Anonymous said...

@March 26, 2016 at 12:07 PM

"Nope, no discussion of that at all...

"This is not to say that current adjunct conditions are suitable to effective instruction. Common adjunct complaints such as the lack of access to offices, computers, and other classroom support likely diminish the educational experiences of students (although we also note some tension between these circumstances and the equally common claim that adjuncts invest significantly more time and effort in the classroom than faculty who operate under the protections of tenure and, reputedly, neglect their teaching).8"


"8. The literature on this subject is divided between studies that suggest teaching effectiveness is harmed by adjunct conditions, and studies that suggest contingent and/or adjunct faculty receive classroom evaluations that are comparable to or more favorable than their tenured colleagues. See in particular (Figlio et al. 2013; Wachtel 1998; Scheutz 2002, pp. 39–46; Bettinger and Long 2005; Ehrenberg 2005)."
"

Did you notice that this inadvertently points to a significant theoretical sloppiness on their part? The literature they mention (at least how it is described in note 8) isn't divided at all. It is entirely possible that teaching effectiveness is diminished and student evaluations are higher. In fact, there are a number of well known studies showing that student teaching evaluations often track factors unrelated to any educational value of a class. Classes in which students have to work hard and consequently learn a lot apparently get systematically worse evaluations.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:12:

Current lit says adjunct status doesn't really matter that much on effectiveness.

"Differences in commonly observed instructor traits, such as rank, faculty status,
and salary, have virtually no effect on student outcomes. There are no average
differences in students’ dropout, subsequent grade, and course selection outcomes by
instructor tenure or tenure-track status, full-time or part-time lecturer status, and salary status (whether an instructor earns more than CDN$100,000 in the year taught). The
findings are similar to Bettinger and Long (2004), who find small and often insignificant
effects on subsequent course interest from taking a first year class with an adjunct or
graduate student instructor."

http://www.economics.ubc.ca/files/2013/05/pdf_paper_florian-hoffman-professor-qualities.pdf