Economics, Current Events

Is the Adjuncts’ Rights Movement Anti-Adjunct?

Consider the following:

1. Tenure-track (or other long-term, full benefits) faculty jobs are expensive, while contingent and adjunct faculty are cheap. Georgetown pays adjuncts a much better rate than most universities do, but paying an adjunct to teach 3 courses costs Georgetown about 1/10th what it costs them to hire a tenure-track assistant professor in the business school. Even if universities were to stop using adjuncts, but instead double the total amount of money they dedicate to faculty salary and benefits, they would not be able to hire all the adjunct faculty as permanent, high-pay, full-benefit faculty. Instead, a minority of professional adjuncts would get cushier jobs, and the majority would get kicked out of academia permanently.

2. Most professional adjuncts are highly skilled people, with very high IQs, with impressive resumes. They could get good jobs with benefits and good pay in some other sector of the economy. They could easily learn other skills that would be of great value to employers. (Social justice warriors: note the use of the word, “most”.) But, they  chose “academia out of a love of scholarship and teaching”. This indicates that they prefer B) working as contingent faculty with few benefits and low pay, and participating in an exploitative and corrupt system, to C) getting a different kind of job with better pay and better benefits in a less corrupt sector of the economy. Of course they’d each prefer A) having a permanent, TT or equivalent job with good pay and benefits in the academy.

This means that if the Adjuncts’ Rights Movement succeeds, it will tend to undermine the revealed preferences of most professional adjuncts. They prefer A to B to C. If the Adjuncts’ Rights Movement succeeds, it will deliver the most-preferred option A to a small minority of adjuncts, but leave the majority with their least-preferred option C.

  • Brenton Yeates

    I remember Will Wilkinson having something to say on this issue, but I can’t remember exactly what.

  • Paul Gowder

    If we want to take the revealed preferences thing seriously then we have to count the (apparent?) fact that adjuncts participate in the movement. If they do so at high rates, then they would seem to prefer a larger chance of winning the tenure-track lottery to a near-certainty of adjuncting. Not so implausible.

    • bladedoc

      You are forgetting the option that PassTheHemlock mentions below which is “Option D” — make the argument that education is “different” and get the government to at the bare minimum subsidize all adjuncts at a “living wage” or optimally mandate that every position be tenure track and have max class sizes so no one gets fired.

  • PassTheHemlock

    “Tenure-track (or other long-term, full benefits) faculty jobs are
    expensive, while contingent and adjunct faculty are cheap. Georgetown
    pays adjuncts a much better rate than most universities do, but paying
    an adjunct to teach 3 courses costs Georgetown about 1/10th what it
    costs them to hire a tenure-track assistant professor in the business
    school. Even if universities were to stop using adjuncts, but instead
    double the total amount of money they dedicate to faculty salary and
    benefits, they would not be able to hire all the adjunct faculty as
    permanent, high-pay, full-benefit faculty. Instead, a minority
    of professional adjuncts would get cushier jobs, and the majority would
    get kicked out of academia permanently.”

    I don’t care if economic equilibrium makes sense. Fuck economic equilibrium. I want shit to cost nothing, and to get what I want when I want. Fuck scarcity too.

    1. Match supply of kickass tenured academic positions with demand for said kickass jobs ad infinitum.

    2. Subsidize the difference, or something.

    3. Profit!

  • Anon

    “…I want shit to cost nothing, and to get what I want when I want. Fuck scarcity too.”

    Sounds like my cat– doesn’t understand that there’s not infinite wet food, that my time is not infinite so I cannot pay attention to her constantly, or that someone has to clean up after her when she makes a mess. She too wants everything right meow. I’d say it sounds like a baby, but a baby has a chance to grow up.

  • I’m sympathetic to this line of reasoning, but the very big problem with your analysis, Jason, is that you’re assuming that the distributive shares are fixed. But it’s not the case that there’s a pre-determined amount of money with which to pay adjuncts, such that if adjuncts get paid more, fewer adjuncts can get paid at all. The size of the adjunct bucket is not fixed, and neither are size of the administrative or TT buckets. It’s possible to raise adjunct wages by making the administration smaller, reducing administrative wages, paying TT faculty less, closing TT lines, opening fewer new TT lines, raising tuition, etc. Who gets what is to a great extent a function of bargaining power. Adjunct bargaining power is extremely weak because supply exceeds demand and adjuncts accept low wages. It seems perverse, however, to criticize adjuncts for trying to increase their bargaining power and organizing to get a bigger piece of the pie. Insofar as that’s what “adjunct’s rights” people see themselves as doing, you’re just begging the question by asserting that the size of the slices is fixed.

    Imagine adjuncts organize and manage to triple the average per-course rate. Well, you’re right, that money has to come from somewhere. It’s also true that TT university faculty are notorious hypocrites, pretending to care about equality while rabidly protecting their massively larger shares against the incursions of contingent faculty who are, in many case, equally or more qualified. And we all know administrators are a predatory class plundering the American university due to, for the most part, the disorganized complacency of TT faculties. So that doesn’t look good for the adjuncts. But suppose they do triple their per-course rate. There are *many* margins that can adjust. If your argument is that the attempt to get a bigger piece of the pie is bound to fail, because all of the margins that could adjust, other than hiring fewer adjuncts, are too well-defended, you need to make that argument. This argument is bad and is emblematic of shitty libertarian habits of mind about collective bargaining. It’s shitty to tell people in a weak bargaining position to shut up and take what they’re getting, or else get a job at Geico. Why not help them organize, improve their bargaining position, and negotiate better terms, preferably out of the hide of administrators?

    Now, some universities are already moving somewhat away from adjuncts toward full-time non-TT lecturers or “clinical” professors on renewable contracts. Raising adjunct wages would probably accelerate this move toward creating a better-compensated, less precarious tier of non-TT instructors who are more fully integrated into the faculty and the governance of the university. This would both reduce the number of adjunct positions and the palpable injustice in the distribution of burdens and benefits among university teachers. Your “revealed preference” argument is glib about the psychology at work here. Adjunct positions often give people a false sense of hope of rising into a better position. And moving toward a system that largely eliminates adjuncts in favor of decently-paid contract-based non-TT faculty is I think what most adjuncts really want, even if that means that some people who are now adjuncting will get bounced from academia. Don’t forget to think about dynamic effects. A lot of grad students think, “if worse comes to worse, I can always adjunct.” But if that becomes untenable, and the worst you can do in academia is a stable untentured lectureship or clinical professorship, much harder to come by than a string of shitty adjunct gigs, it will become clearer to a lot of people a lot earlier that academia isn’t in the cards for them, and get a gig at Geico or whatever before they’ve wasted five or ten years of their lives on a pipe dream. This will reduce future labor market supply, shoring up the bargaining power of new grads and the contingent faculty who already made it over the new, higher bar. Which is to say, a version of the scenario you’re laying out as anti-adjunct is I think what I lot of adjuncts want. They see it not so much as anti-adjunct as anti-exploitation. If there’s both fewer adjuncts and less exploitation, I think a lot of these folks would be happy with that.

    Of course, there’s a ton of people who are just idiots and want the world to cater to their sense of entitlement and give them ponies ponies ponies, but the principle of charity requires us not to simply assume that that’s all “adjunct rights” amounts to.

    • michael4321

      It seems like the analysis of this issue should move past J.S. Mill and Marx and enter the 20th century at least, if not the 21st century.

      • Yes. One should adopt a public-choice analysis of competitive rent-seeking within political institutions such as universities.

        • stevenjohnson2

          If you can’t sell it or get a loan using it as collateral; if it can’t be bought and it doesn’t get assessed by tax collectors; if you don’t have a deed to it and you can’t dispose of it in your will, in what sense is it a “rent?”

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            because you can purchase things with it.

          • stevenjohnson2

            I can purchase things with the loose change from my couch. My sofa’s a rent seeker?

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            it might be, does it get government subsidies ?

        • michael4321

          I would agree with that. The first relevant concepts come from Stigler 1971. Peltzman’s several contributions towards deregulating despite transitional gains are important here as well.

        • j_m_h

          We could probably gain some additional insights applying that approach to corporate decision-making (compensation policy, retained earnings…) and corporate functioning in generally. To some extent it’s been looked at in the principle-agent context and in the separation of ownership-control (a version of the P-A model).

    • Phil Magness

      “It’s possible to raise adjunct wages by making the administration smaller, reducing administrative wages, paying TT faculty less, closing TT lines, opening fewer new TT lines, raising tuition, etc.”

      Will – I’m sympathetic to this argument, and particularly its promise as a possible solution to the issues being raised. Shift any or all of those things around, and the money to pay adjuncts more is indeed fungible. The problems appear when we realize that each of these aforementioned “buckets” of funding are closely guarded by entrenched interests of their own – by budget-maximizing administrative bureaucrats, by departments that want their TT lines and existing TT faculty who would resist a pay cut, by the political unpopularity of raising tuition etc. Not all of these are insurmountable, BUT they are substantial obstacles for adjuncts – even collectively organized ones – to overcome.

      The result is Mancur Olson 101, and no matter how you cut it the adjuncts end up as the diffuse, non-homogenous, and free-rider prone interest group. Among all the different facets of the university, adjuncts are among the least cohesive and most diverse in (1) skill sets and degree specializations, (2) reasons for adjuncting, (3) alternative sources of income and employment, and (4) general wants from academic employment. As a result, the only real way to get even a slight collective bargaining operation into place with enough influence to make – at best – peripheral chips at all the other aforementioned entrenched buckets of university budget allocation is to create a closed-shop scenario of forced adjunct unionization, and all the harm that entails.

      So yes – there are scenarios in the abstract where adjuncts could increase their wages by allocating funds from elsewhere. They’re also highly constricted by a combination of interest entrenchment behind them and severe collective action barriers to the adjuncts, sans a closed shop with at best marginal collective gains against still-entrenched buckets of funding elsewhere. While these abstract reallocations might alter the scenario facing the adjunct instructor if indeed they were freely fungible, the reality is that they are not and we have little reason to believe that could be substantively changed by any of the means proposed by the “adjunct plight” crowd. Jason’s argument, when considered in the present reality of university allocations and the absence of viable sweeping overhauls by the means suggested, therefore holds.

      • I agree that it’s hard to adjust on many of the margins that might be adjusted because they are too well-defended. I said that if that’s Jason’s argument, he ought to make it, because it’s better than the one he made. Since Jason agrees that the system is corrupt, I think he’d agree that the entrenched interests preventing reform are a part of that corruption. But then he also seem *very* blase about doing anything about it, and this fatalism seems to me precisely how corruption and injustice persist in institutions. His smug rhetoric suggests that adjuncts are just getting what they deserve, but seems to me of a piece with the corruption that stands in the way of fairer distribution.

        • Phil Magness

          I’ll let Jason speak for himself, but I’ve never known him to be one who is particularly fond of Associate Vice Presidents of Parking, Diversity, and Student Life Rock Concerts. Nor has he shied away from calling out the corruption at the middle of the academic employment market (see the original quote that started all of this – he names it directly). Instead, I’m inclined to read the post above as a very direct statement about the reality of academic employment as it currently stands, including some needed tough-love to those who think all the problems with adjuncting can be solved by simply forming a union and pressing for higher pay.

        • Jason Brennan

          Among other things, I’ve used my time, effort, and influence to help create post-docs positions, fill those positions with overlooked but qualified people who otherwise would adjunct, and then help get those people permanent jobs. So, despite my “smugness” here (I think I’m often smug, but I’m just being frank in these posts), one thing I’ve done, that the SJWs who are writing me haven’t done, is actually help a few people. So far despite all my tough love I’ve down more for their cause than they have.

          • That’s great! But seriously, why not just support adjuncts in their effort to organize? It’s not any harder or any less productive than writing blog posts about why they shouldn’t bother, and it won’t stop you from continuing to help people getting post-docs, etc. Be more helpful all around. It’s okay to try! Forget about their revealed preferences, since you really believe a lot of them would be better of at GEICO. So do I! Don’t you think it would be better if fewer adjuncts got paid significantly more? So why not help them make that happen?

          • michael4321

            Don’t support Adjuncts in their efforts to organize, because what they do by organizing isn’t relevant to the mission of a university. The university is not purposed by a employment opportunity for adjunct faculty.

            Sure the current university has many problems, but Will’s argument seems to be: People I like don’t have permanent positions, and the university is already screwed up, so why not screw it up a little more to make it more favorable to people I like.

            I would be more trusting of this idea if Will thought that there were any good reasons that faculty get on tenure-track, It seems he thinks that the university is entirely non-merit based at this point.

            So, I have to wonder, if the university is so broken, e.g. no merit conditions for advancement, why do we want to make more job opportunities there? Jason is right, there are other jobs for anyone skilled enough to be an instructor adjunct or otherwise. Why is the solution to the sclerotic university just more layers of political decision making.

            I don’t hear will saying: A then B. — I will make the decisions of the university more open to collective bargaining so that decisions get made which increase the efficiency of …. What exactly is gained by allowing people to indulge their irrational preferences in collective decision making where their own jobs are the rents being sought?

            It seems like the goal would be to push back on an already irrational system and try to find some principles of reform that would return the university to its original purpose, not carve out greater and greater rents for the least productive members of the community.

          • Right.

          • N1Academy

            Here’s where I think we can find agreement: unlike Visiting Profs and most Fellowships, adjuncts are not contracted for the entirety of their work. Let’s drop the tenure track argument for a moment and focus on the three areas of teaching:

            prep
            classroom
            assessment

            We don’t even need to discuss office space, health care, professional development, and all the other union or non-union problems to get to the heart of this matter which is the unspoken expectation for adjuncts to donate their work.

            Prep — Zero pay
            Classroom — 3 “credit hours”
            Assessment — Zero pay

            At every single institution I studied, taught, or served, all three areas were contracted.

            Why not do the same for adjuncts?

            I’ll tell you why. Because if we calculated the actual cost of hiring an adjunct the budget drain would be MORE intense than the tenure track claims Prof. Brennan has made here and elsewhere.

            Even with automation, I was working minimum 9hrs per section of my online course. Why? I’ll tell you why. The intense cognitive, social, and remedial needs of students increase (spiked!) in the 00s. This means, they need more attention for both CONTENT and FORMAT mastery. 2004-2011 in New Hampshire, across private and public campuses, my prep and assessment time also spiked as more and more students flocked to online courses only to find out they needed to do as much if not more work.

            More work for them; more work for me.

            9-11hrs minimum just to keep up with the increased enrollment expectations as well as the sociological factors just mentioned.

            My point is simple: let’s agree that teaching happens in a variety of locations (I’m a very strong and vocal advocate for competency-based higher education) and teachers, especially contractors, need to be compensated for their work. All of it.

      • Irfan Khawaja

        Just to clarify: adjuncts (or really, long-term adjuncts) are a diffuse and non-homogeneous group with respect to their reasons for being adjuncts, but their diffusion and non-homogeneity become uniformity with respect to their culpability for being adjuncts. Correct?

        You say that adjuncts are free rider-prone (presumably in a sense distinctive to them). Who are they free riding on?

        I’m literally and non-sarcastically asking for clarification here; I’m not disputing anything you’ve said.

        • Phil Magness

          When adjuncts unionize, they are seeking a collective good (higher pay, bargaining power, whatever). That means if the union delivers, all adjuncts gain access to the good whether they contributed to the unionization or not.

          Since I can get that good without personally unionizing, the incentive is for me to free ride on the union effort. Therefore the union is inclined to try to curtail my free-riding by forcing a closed shop.

          And I’d add to that the following: those who do not free ride but rather lead the union effort usually do so because they have a closer stake in the game, i.e. by positioning themselves as union leaders they attain greater job security.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            Well, that answers my second question, but not my first.

            On the second question: I wasn’t aware that there were “closed shops” in the US. Do you mean a union shop or an agency shop?

            Anyway, terminology aside, I get what you’re saying now: your real objection isn’t to free riding per se but to the probable union response to it. Actually, what seems obvious is that your real objection is to unionization as such, since the phenomenon you’re describing isn’t distinctive to adjuncts or to the adjunct movement. Free riding followed by mechanisms for minimizing it is a ubiquitous phenomenon. The most obvious and pertinent example of it is that faculty member who doesn’t want to attend faculty self-governance meetings, makes an excuse not to go, and then benefits from the decisions made there. Or the faculty member who’d rather not be bothered by administrative responsibilities because his research is too important to waste on stuff like that, then benefits from the faculty members who take up the slack left by people like him. Etc.

            That’s why I raised my first question. I take it that you’re defending Brennan’s view, and Brennan has attributed culpability to long-term adjuncts. But the free riding you’re describing isn’t obviously culpable, and neither is the move to creating an agency or union shop. (Or if it is culpable, we have yet to be told why.) Brennan insists that there’s widespread culpability among long term adjuncts, but you’re saying that there’s heterogeneity of motivations of a sort that makes collective bargaining difficult.

            They’re not obviously consistent claims. Culpability is a mental state. Attribution of culpability to a cohort of people presupposes a univocal concept of culpability. But the more heterogeneous the mental states of a diverse population–the more diverse their reasons–the harder it is to attribute a single mental state to them. How is it that adjuncts are so diverse in their reasons for being adjuncts that they can’t effectively engage in collective bargaining, but they’re so similar to one another that all of those diverse reasons turn out to be culpable? They can’t be culpable because they want more goods than they have. They can’t be culpable for free riding. But they can’t be culpable for wanting to minimize free riding, either. So what is it they’re culpable of?

    • Phil Magness

      I’d also add that while higher adjunct pay – the “collective good” desired in this scenario might make adjuncting more comfortable and more attractive to a number of highly qualified and capable practitioners, its effects would also extend to a number of crappy practitioners presently in the field.

      Ask yourself: Is a middle-aged English PhD who specializes only in obscurantist deconstructionism of Amazonian poetry, teaches only English Composition 101, hasn’t published anything substantive in the past 20 years, and has a number of personal eccentricities that would make him/her a lunch tax as a full time colleague actually worth more than $3K/class?

      Is such a person even worth $3K/class? Would such a person be employable at all outside of adjuncting? I ask, because many of the loudest crusaders for collective organization among adjuncts have CVs that are far closer to what I describe here than an underplaced academic who simply got the short end of an unfair and inefficient job market.

      • stevenjohnson2

        You seem to be phrasing this sort of thing as something the adjuncts do wrong, when to my eyes it clearly is something the colleges do wrong. And being able to pass off an adjunct as the same as TT faculty for the minor purpose of education seems an inescapable part of the adjunct system.

        That said, why would twenty years’ experience teaching English 101 be worthless?

        • Phil Magness

          Never said it was worthless. I did say that $3K/class is probably about right for an adjunct faculty with no substantive publications in 20 years, a niche and largely useless personal research focus, and a number of personal eccentricities that make his/her colleagues reluctant to make a full time hire.

          Do you dispute this? And if so, why should such a person be paid more when the academic labor market is such that they could easily hire somebody else to teach English 101 who has a more productive research output?

          • stevenjohnson2

            “Never said it was worthless.” You questioned whether it was even worth $3K/class! You dismiss the value of experience in teaching English 101, rating clubbability (at High Table with the other dons?) above that. You don’t consider teaching English 101 productive in any meaningful sense. So to you it’s a matter of course than an experienced English 101 teacher can be replaced by any productive professor.

            But the thing is, colleges are a form of joint production, of basic education as well as novel research. Possibly I’m out of date or was never properly informed. But I don’t know that the kind of marginal analysis the debate is being conducted has ever succeeded in handling joint production. Whatever the scientific validity may turn out to be, I think that renders any analysis the presupposes it a fallacious appeal to the authority of economic science.

          • Phil Magness

            “You questioned whether it was even worth $3K/class!”

            Yes. Which means it very well be worth somewhere between $1 and $2,999, which last time I checked isn’t worthless.

            Also frequency of teaching English 101 does not = experience of value. Somebody could be teaching English 101 for 20+ years and doing a crappy job at it every time. That person should absolutely be outcompeted by a more productive scholar.

          • stevenjohnson2

            If the adjunct system produces incompetents who nevertheless teach for twenty years, it needs to be scrapped, not defended.

          • Phil Magness

            You’d be hard pressed to find an example of the workforce in general where incompetents persist, for various reasons, well beyond what their performance warrants. Would you advocate scrapping the entire labor system as well?

          • stevenjohnson2

            “I’d also add that while higher adjunct pay – the ‘collective good’ desired in this scenario might make adjuncting more comfortable and more attractive to a number of highly qualified and capable practitioners, its effects would also extend to a number of crappy practitioners presently in the field.” The low quality of adjuncts (for research and communal dining, if not teaching,) here is a significant enough problem to justify low adjunct pay.

            “You’d [not] be hard pressed to find an example of the workforce in general where incompetents persist, for various reasons, well beyond what their performance warrants.” The incompetence problem is not notably different from the workforce in general.

            I don’t think you can hold both position at once. If you really are arguing that adjuncts have a serious competency problem and raising compensation would foster more incompetence? I believe the usual explanation is that the compensation is too low to attract the best candidates, not too high as defense of the current system implies. The problem there wouldn’t be the adjuncts but the colleges foisting off inferior instruction for the extra money saved on delivering full quality instruction.

            If you’re not really arguing this? I can only think your posts are merely inflammatory, not substantive.

          • Phil Magness

            You seem to be exhibiting difficulty in grasping the concept of differentiation among compensation levels. A more meritocratic system (that is what you’re arguing for, right?) would pay better performing adjuncts in high demand fields more, and incompetent adjuncts in low demand fields less (if it hires them at all). Would it not?

          • stevenjohnson2

            No, I’m not arguing for a more meritocratic system here, because of the difficulties in the notion of meritocracy. My basic approach is that substituting temps for full time workers is not about improving the quality of education, and the practice should be changed for the benefit of adjuncts and students.

            As to your other question, merit pay for teaching is like McDonald’s calculating marginal revenue productivity for different jobs. I’ve toyed with the idea of piece rates for teachers. A sliding scale for grading for example, maybe $0.10 for a multiple choice or true/false assignment. Maybe $0.25 for a short answer question. And $0.50 for marginal notes!
            $2.00 for every calculation of student average? $5.00 for verbal reports on student progress? And don’t forget the $100.00 for every test written!

            Why on reflection you’ve convinced me with your brilliant arguments! I surrender and lapse into silence.

          • j_m_h

            Have you worked in any large corporation? There’s a reason why the Peter Principle was coined.

          • Daniel Boone Proudun

            More false statements as many of these so called career losers have a different skill: teaching remedial and entry level courses. In Minnesota many of my colleagues with highly specialized degrees simply cannot meet the needs of general education students. It is also important to note, Mr. Marketeer, that LEARNING and REMEDIATION are part of the increased “demand” — not my research interests in medieval and 19th century philosophy. So. I, like my graduate students, are teaching more than researching and I have a tenured position.

        • Steven, can’t it be both? That’s my been position all along. Bad colleges *and* bad choices among adjuncts.

      • Daniel Boone Proudun

        This is false. The adjunct CVs I have reviewed most recently as a week ago are extremely impressive in terms of degree, research programme, experience, etc.

        Have you, Phil Magness, ever wondered or put a moment of analyitcal thought to the question: what professional development and internal support mechanisms are in place that support X research programme over Y?

        • Phil Magness

          “The adjunct CVs I have reviewed most recently as a week ago are extremely impressive in terms of degree, research programme, experience, etc.”

          Translation: “Here’s my anecdote that contradicts your general observation. But I have no further specification that would show my anecdote is even true, much less generalizable, so you’re going to have to take my word onit.”

    • Will, I don’t think you and I fundamentally disagree. We’re just debating the degree, not the principle.

    • pierre menard

      “Imagine adjuncts organize and manage to triple the average per-course rate. Well, you’re right, that money has to come from somewhere. …But suppose they do triple their per-course rate. There are *many* margins that can adjust.”

      Yes, there are many margins than *can* adjust. The question is what margins *will* adjust in the real world.

      One does not need to go to 21st century economics to obtain the insight that if the price of X increases, less of X will be bought. It holds for apples and oranges and it holds for adjuncts. It is therefore, a fact, that the success of the adjunct rights movement will decrease the number of adjuncts that will be hired.

      The only question is how much.

      JB makes a guess and says that if adjuncts were brought to TT levels of pay and job security, only a “small minority” would be hired. You never seem to dispute that explicitly.

      Rather, to rephrase your main point in the language of economics, the exact drop in the number of adjuncts will depend on the elasticities of the various items, i.e., we need an analysis of the how the demand and supply of adjuncts, TT faculty, student life coordinators and other administrators, various as a function of price. We also need this analysis not for a competitive, rational university but for a real university where some classes (e.g., administration) have captured the decision-making apparatus.

      But given the huge gap between adjunct and TT salaries, the point of JB seems hard to dispute. To wit: if the price of apples was multiplied by 10 via government fiat, is it all that unreasonable to conclude that only a “small minority” of the apples currently on the market will be bought? Isn’t it downright silly to demand a more precise analysis, or to suggest that maybe not, maybe people will keep on consuming a lot of apples, there are a lot of other margins that can be adjusted, i.e., the price of the house you live in, the car you own, and so forth?

      • reason60

        “One does not need to go to 21st century economics to obtain the insight that if the price of X increases, less of X will be bought.”

        Is “less will be bought” the only possible result of a price increase?

        If the price of a Toyota increases next year, will they sell fewer cars?

        • pierre menard

          “If the price of a Toyota increases next year, will they sell fewer cars?”

          **Other things being equal**, yes.

    • Jennifer Baker

      I’m so grateful to Will for making these points, the issues around the idea that pay is based in merit have bugged me for a while. Satisfying, Will. And to Michael and Steven below –(adjunct pay is a way to “cheat on the delivery of instruction”) thank you so much, very helpful, I hope I can read more of your thoughts. And thanks of course to Jason for raising this issue. (Typing this on phone, so bear with me.)

      I was in a situation similar to one I’d face more often if I were an adjunct because I was going to be paid very little per student for summer teaching. I checked with the person in charge of operations (incl. employee pay) for one of the world’s largest companies (a nice friend to have) to see what he would tell me to do. He said to complain (I did) and get a better deal (I did). But the reason he said to complain was that the original deal was “patently unfair given the implied hourly wage for the instructor versus the total earnings of the school on the students.”

      OK- so was I wrong to negotiate? If I wasn’t, why are adjuncts?

      I also brought up Michael and Steven’s kind of points to my school. They were effective. My school knows they are not paying what students and parents expect them to for teaching.

      My teaching over the summer (for whatever amount) couldn’t make me more culpable in anything– I teach for my school already — so if the original suggestion is that we/ adjuncts somehow become “wrong” for taking low paying gigs, how does it work in my case? It seems to run up against Irfan’s points. I’ll still be complaining about the pay, too, so I am just like the adjuncts in another respect. Yet my case shows that adjuncts don’t even have to be involved for universities to offer the deals they do. The interesting issue isn’t are some people losers or not. Like the other commentators wrote: the interesting issue is what the universities are doing, the deals they are offering.

      Finally, academic positions are just one small career among very many, and if we started counting up winners in terms of salaries, academics don’t end up winning. So unless we invite all sorts of better paid people to explain to us why we are losers due to our low salaries (and I assume the writers here wouldn’t like that?), it seems hypocritical to employ this type of language. I guess that’s one way to put my concern. 🙂

      Thanks again.

      • Thanks, Jen! Really helpful points. It just seems obvious to me that if somebody tries to give you a shitty deal for doing something you’d like to do, assuming the terms are fair, you should go ahead and try to get a better deal–try to negotiate fair terms. Sometimes whole classes of people are offered a shitty deal, and its more effective for them to negotiate fair terms if the whole class does it at as a class.

        The argument I’m seeing here that people ought to just walk away rather than even try to get a better deal is mystifying to me. The “don’t bother because it won’t work” argument may be right, but it’s not obvious that it is. People succeed in negotiating better terms all the time. The teaching fellows in my department negotiated better terms for ALL the grad student TAs in the school of liberal arts by sitting-in at the president’s office and making a stink for a week. A WEEK! That’s all it took. There have been zero perverse or unintended consequences for us, except that the department has done better in recruiting top students because it now can offer better-paying TF-ships.

    • Kevin_Carson

      This. And to repeat, adjunctification was a process with a beginning. Was the actual effect of that process mainly to increase the overall size of faculties relative to enrollment, or to reduce total pay so the money previously spent on faculty could be diverted elsewhere? If the latter, then average faculty pay can be increased without reducing numbers, by taking that money back — preferably, as you suggest, out of the administrators’ hides.

    • This seems like exactly the right response to make to @jason_brennan:disqus’s argument. Unless I’ve missed it, though, he hasn’t responded to it yet. Has he?

      • Jason Brennan

        I said something on Facebook. I don’t think Will and I really disagree about the principle. We’re just disagreeing about the degree.

  • stevenjohnson2

    Revealed preferences (a form of public opinion) in a given situation change with the situation. The assumption that they are causally prior is contradicted by general experience. I think the whole line of thinking here is metaphysical, in the pejorative sense.

    More specifically, I disagree with premise two. The fact that most adjuncts do not change to reasonably compensated jobs in the private sector is most likely due to the lack of such jobs for “most” adjuncts. I think the assumption that “most” could is a dubious counterfactual, and the onus is on the OP to at least make an argument for it. I believe the implication adjuncts positively value corruption is indefensible, particularly since it relies on an idiosyncratic meaning for “corruption.”

    I also disagree with the speculation in premise one, even relying on simplistic economics. Yes, reasonable compensation for adjuncts (and possible tenure) for the people who actually teach most of the students would most likely either result in sharp rise in total salary in the college budget. But, the subsequent rise in tuition even in a simplistic analysis would be a superior signal to students of the real costs of their professional training. The superior signal would lead them away from fields of specialization with poor prospects. And obviously if colleges merely limited the number of students to the number they actually paid professors to teach, the difficulties in obtaining placements serves the same function. Further, to economize on the real labor costs, colleges would use their tenured professors more efficiently. I think the logic is simplistic but it is free market ideology, which is reputedly popular around here.

    Actually, as near as I can tell, despite the invidious use of the term “corruption,” the use of adjuncts is effectively a way for colleges to cheat on the delivery of instruction. They have professors who are supposed to possess a certain expertise, of such value that they are compensated with tenure and higher salary. But in practice, much of the actual instruction is delivered by adjuncts. It’s a kind of bait and switch. I think deespite insinuations about corruption, it’s the OP that’s defending a kind of corruption.

    • Michael Zenz

      “Actually, as near as I can tell, despite the invidious use of the term “corruption,” the use of adjuncts is effectively a way for colleges to cheat on the delivery of instruction. They have professors who are supposed to possess a certain expertise, of such value that they are compensated with tenure and higher salary. But in practice, much of the actual instruction is delivered by adjuncts. It’s a kind of bait and switch. I think despite insinuations about corruption, it’s the OP that’s defending a kind of corruption.”

      That is another interesting aspect to this. Most students (and their parents!) assume that all of their “professors” are well compensated permanent employees. I wonder what would happen to enrollments if universities publicized the percentage of courses taught by adjuncts on their “quick facts” page…

  • Michael Zenz

    “This means that if the Adjuncts’ Rights Movement succeeds, it will tend to undermine the revealed preferences of most professional adjuncts.”

    Saying that adjuncts have a “revealed preference” to work in a extremely low paying job with no benefits (but still do philosophy) is sort of like saying that the players in a prisoner’s dilemma prefer their 3rd most preferred option to their 2nd most preferred option. That is what you get by reading their preferences from their actions, but (of course) you really can’t understand the preferences that underlie their actions without first knowing what game they are playing. Adjuncts aren’t playing a prisoner’s dilemma, but they are probably in some sort of game-theoretic situation. Collective action may allow them to move to an outcome that is preferred by most of them.

    “If the Adjuncts’ Rights Movement succeeds, it will deliver the most-preferred option A to a small minority of adjuncts, but leave the majority with their least-preferred option C.”

    This is actually unclear to me. Introducing more constraints on the university-adjunct relationship (or collective bargaining) will likely disrupt certain equilibria in the University, but it is unclear who will be harmed by this. Certain things are more likely to be held fixed; for instance, the number of classes that need instruction. But other things are free to change. Maybe the University will need to devote more overall funds to instruction, cutting some amenities (or being more efficient in how they are provided). TT faculty may also have cuts made to their research/travel money, and faculty retention funds might be reduced. Who knows, but only the simplest of analysis makes it obvious that universities will respond to the provision of more money to adjuncts by simply reducing the number of adjuncts it hires (by a significant amount).

    • You might be right, and this is a good point. But my reason for thinking it’s not a PD is that there is a low exit cost. They’re stuck in a collective action problem that makes it more likely they get option B than A, but they could each stop playing the game, and get option C > B.

  • TheBrett

    There may be some “loss aversion” at work. By the time they become adjuncts, they’ve been in academia so long that it’s all they know, and they’re afraid of going to outside jobs (I’m talking about the one-third of adjuncts who want tenure track positions, and not the two-thirds who are fine with it). Expanding the tenure-track faculty while kicking many of them out might be a good thing – it will force them to make that choice right after they finish their doctorates, rather than limping along in Adjunct Land for years before giving up when times become too desperate.

  • Jason Brennan

    Like GEICO. Christ, how many times do I have to bring up GEICO before one of you applies for a job there? I don’t understand why people think I’m joking about that. I actually mean it: If you think your adjunct job sucks, and you can’t afford to feed your family, the responsible thing to do is get a job at GEICO.

    • HelloFeds

      “One of you”? I’m not an adjunct. Do I have to be an adjunct to feel sorry for them? if I’m a Bleeding Heart Libertarian, does that mean I have to be a dick?

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  • Kevin_Carson

    At one point barely a generation ago, a much larger proportion of faculty were well-paid permanent staff. Did large-scale adjunctification significantly increase the total size of the faculty relative to student enrollment, or did it instead result in a net decrease in production labor costs that instead went to mushrooming administrative salaries and wasteful expenditures on new capital projects? If the latter, then retaining roughly similar-sized faculties with good salaries and job security might be funded by reducing the numbers and pay of administrators to 1980 levels and being a little more sensible about construction projects.

  • Michael Rectenwald

    The only question I have after reading a few of Jason Brennan’s blog posts and responses to posters is this; how did he ever get a tenure-track job? I’m very skeptical of his rigor and analytical abilities. I think he may be beating down on adjuncts largely because he knows that he’s really no more qualified than they are and is trying to rationalize his own success. I’m also guessing that his career in philosophy will not be a distinguished one.

    • Daniel Boone Proudun

      Dear Michael Rectenwald — First it must be said that your entry into this discussion is very significant to me, dear sir. I have been a follower and friend to your CLG mission after my student Robert Baum forwarded me a series of editorials denouncing Barack Obama as nothing but a neoliberal war monger. Thank you. Second, it seems that Dr. Baum’s comments have been deleted from at least three separate comment boards. Third, it msy be helpful to know that Professor Brennan is a former corporatist turned free market evangelist now working (at least) his second tenure track position as Brown University was I believe, his first. It is like he keeps hitting the reset button on the Angry Birds to up his chances of getting all three stars to sustain what strikes me as the perfect institute CV, not university professor. Many continued successes and victorious battles to you, dear Dr. Rectenwald.

      • Michael Rectenwald

        Thank you, sir!

      • Michael Rectenwald

        By the way, his profile on Academia.edu betrays the paucity of publications and other accomplishments that I had expected.

        • Jason Brennan

          Michael, this is an absurd comment. i don’t maintain my profile there. I joined it to download some other people’s stuff, and it automatically posted a tiny fraction of my papers there.

          Here’s a close to up-to-date CV:
          http://www.jasonfbrennan.com/cv.pdf

          As you can see, I have eight books published or under contract with the top presses (OUP, PUP, CUP, Routledge), a bunch of articles with top journals, etc. I’m also going to be promoted at the end of this academic term.

          • Michael Rectenwald

            Everything about your academic profile reeks “fraud.”

          • Michael Rectenwald

            Your books are the equivalents of longish op-eds.

    • Jason Brennan

      The opinions of English Ph.D.s on questions of philosophical rigor are of no more interest than the opinions of creationists on biological science.

      But since you’re under the impression I’m just trying to rationalize good luck, look at my CV here: http://www.jasonfbrennan.com/cv.pdf

      Perhaps, by the end of your career, if you try really really hard, you’ll be as accomplished as I am now.

      • Michael Rectenwald

        All of your books are the equivalent of advocacy pamphlets. There isn’t a rigorous philosophical disquisition among them. Oxford University Press sounds prestigious, but most of their books are facile. Your writing sounds like something I’d read in a magazine; it’s journalism. Again, how did you ever get a tenure-track job?