My paper with Phil Magness on the costs of adjunct justice has caused quite a stir…with people who haven’t read it but who are inclined ex ante to deny the conclusions. Some of the comments on IHE yesterday were insightful, but many amounted to little more than gainsaying, or complaining that we hadn’t dealt with things we in fact dealt with on the first or second page of the paper. Some madjuncts are proudly declaring that they refuse to read the paper, though this doesn’t stop them from complaining it makes mistakes it doesn’t make. Perhaps the best line comes from Miranda Merklein, self-described “social arsonist, child of the tides, writer, warrior, adventurer, dedicated advocate of faculty & students”, who says it’s “funny how we try to reason and use data to defeat the wave of faculty organizing…” It’s clear she and her colleagues rise above reason and data.
Today, I’ll briefly argue that universities owe it to their students not to hire such people and to fire them if they can. The argument is simple:
1. Universities have a fiduciary duty to their students to hire competent instructors.
2. So far, most of the madjuncts’ criticisms of our paper have been so feeble or irrelevant that only people who A) lack basic reading comprehension skills, or B) lack basic reasoning skills, or C) are intellectually dishonest could have made them.
3. If someone exhibits A, B, or C, he is unlikely to be competent instructor.
4. Therefore, universities have a fiduciary duty to their students not to hire these madjuncts.
For example, Joe Fruscione, a former English madjunct and current activist, complains that when we say that adjuncts presumably prefer being adjuncts over whatever their next best option is, we thereby assume that academia is a level playing field. But of course we don’t assume that. Early in the paper, we say lots of things to the contrary. But, also this point holds even if academia is, as many adjuncts argue, a “lottery” or if jobs are distributed via some other mechanism. The point is just that the very fact that adjuncts stay adjuncts, despite the lousy conditions is–if we assume they are not irrational, misinformed, or stupid–evidence that this is what they consider their best option.
Others complain that we didn’t take into consideration administrative bloat, even though we talk at length about administrative bloat on the second page of the paper. (We say that even if you can generate revenue by eliminating administrators, the problems we discuss still arise.) Others complain that we ignore that adjuncts are exploited. But of course even a cursory reading of the paper shows that what we actually say is that even if adjuncts are exploited, these uncomfortable trade-offs arise. Etc. This is a rather basic, non-technical, and easy-to-read paper.
You know the quality of discourse on a topic is low when people not only fail to consider or think about opportunity cost, but get angry if you suggest they should. “Adjuncts are slaves! Give us more money.” Okay, I’ve freed up $20 billion. Why give it to you rather than poor students who can’t afford college? “RIGHTWINGCONSPIRACY!” Gotcha.
What’s really going on here is that in general, activists make bad academics. The reason is that activists are generally true believers, but academics generally need to have high degree of dispassionate detachment and willingness to question their premises and their conclusions. See Bas’s paper here: https://www.academia.edu/7734633/In_Defense_of_the_Ivory_Tower_Why_Philosophers_Should_Stay_Out_of_Politics
There is a good chance Phil and I will write an entire book on the “business ethics” of the modern university. One of the things we’ll explore is how first-year composition classes appear to be ineffective, and are little more than a jobs program for low quality intellectuals.