Our paper on adjuncts is making a big splash. So far, no one has really disputed the argument. Instead, they focus on our character, about what it says about us that we would write a paper like that. For example, see this post here, or this one here. The argument is that the fact that we focus on this issue must show we’re mean-spirited, nasty, angry, and don’t really care about social justice. It shows that I’m not a bleeding heart libertarian, but just one of those stereotypical mean-spirited right libertarians who hate poor people.
On the contrary, this is a big social justice issue fit for this blog. On the contrary, Phil Magness and I are, so far, the only people advocating the left-wing, social-justice oriented position on this topic. Kevin Carson, Precaricorps, the Madjuncts, Derek Bowman, and Mr. Zero advocate the right-wing, anti-social justice position.
This isn’t trolling. It’s actually rather obvious when you think about it.
Suppose for the sake of argument that adjuncts are indeed exploited. There are two ways to stop exploiting them: 1) Don’t hire them. 2) Hire them with non-exploitative wages and conditions. The imperative to stop exploiting adjuncts doesn’t tell us which to pick.
Now, as we point out in our paper, one major opportunity cost of 2 is that the money (and any new money) could instead be spent on helping poor, disadvantaged, and minority students, or on student debt relief. This isn’t some artificial trade-off–it’s not like saying universities could spend the money on buying malaria nets, or donating it to GiveDirectly.org, or building infrastructure in disaster regions. Rather, these students are a direct stakeholder group, whose welfare universities have as least as much reason to care about as potential employees. Most universities have mission statements that commit them to expanding and providing real opportunities for poor and disadvantaged students.
Add to this that, statistically, adjuncts are disproportionately white when compared to the faculty labor force as a whole. Add to this that the ratio of full-time faculty to students has remained constant over 40 years–s0 adjuncts do not appear to be necessary to maintain the traditional faculty-student ratio.
Accordingly, from a left-wing, social justice-oriented point of view, it’s far better to A) stop hiring adjuncts (and thus stop exploiting them) and instead use the money to help poor students than to B) pay adjuncts more instead of helping poor students.
Quite literally, the adjuncts’ rights movement is a movement against social justice. This isn’t trolling. It’s quite literally a movement trying to put money in the hands of white dudes from privileged backgrounds rather than focusing on something that’s obviously more important from a social justice-oriented point of view. So, if adjuncts are exploited, the right thing to do is to advocate that universities stop hiring them and instead re-direct that money to reducing tuition and the debt burden of poor students, or to fund programs that ensure poor and disadvantaged students can graduate.
Now, you might say that universities should also reduce waste in other areas and spend money on poor students. I agree! Lots of people working for universities engage in self-interested rent-seeking. The adjuncts’ rights moment, though, is unusual because it has the audacity to say it aims at achieving social justice, when in fact it’s trying to undermine it.
Phil and I advocate the left-wing, social justice-oriented position on this debate. Everyone else advocates the right-wing, anti-social justice position. The reason Phil and I find university business ethics fascinating is because universities are filled with left-wing, social justice-oriented people, but tend to fall far short of their and their employees’ professed moral values.
Adjuncts, look, I get it. You want more money. You want to be paid to do your passion. I do too. But, unlike you, I don’t moralize my selfish demands. If you look at this from above, from a moral point of view, the right thing to do is to not re-hire you next semester. That genuinely sucks for you, as I explain in the paper. But it’s still the right thing to do.
Here’s the Coalition on the Academic Workforce on the disproportionate whiteness of adjuncts.