Current Events

Why the Adjuncts’ Rights Movement is Anti-Social Justice

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, 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.

Adjuncts White

  • Stewart Dompe

    I bet this is how Will Wilkinson felt when he wrote that piece advocating the Libertarian case for Bernie Sanders. ;-p

  • martinbrock

    No one cares about adjunct rights outside of an incredibly inbred academic subculture.

    • Sean II

      Right you are. The list of “issues more important than this” is long.

      One thing on that list, many times higher up than adjunct pay, is the shockingly poor quality of academia’s product – in both silos, teaching and research. Surely that’s something worth talking about.

      The evidence against teaching is already in, and heavy. Students don’t learn much. Expanding undergraduate education from the top 5-10% of the bell curve to the top 40% has not, in fact, made anyone smarter. It has however made everyone poorer, to the tune of (whatever we’ve spent on college instruction) x (whatever percentage of college is actually just signaling). That’s a monstrously huge number, so the failure here is obvious.

      Research is more a mixed bag. Some of it is excellent, and world-changing. Some of it is good, but maybe not good enough to cover its cost. But substantial portions of the academy’s intellectual output is worthless, or worse. This category includes lots of ideology driven madness, lots of mere frivolity, along with who knows who much sincerely undertaken but poorly done research of the kind that’s made “replication crisis” such a familiar phrase. Here the failure is clear enough to be seen by most everyone but ideologues and other vested interests – and even so, the latter usually admit the general point, if you give their field a present-company-excepted pass.

      • Jason Brennan

        Bryan Caplan’s got the market cornered on what to do about this.

        • Sean II

          Indeed he does! And I hope you’ll give that same point a nice tap in the “recommendations” chapter of your book on university business ethics.

      • King Goat

        This is largely overblown, partisan, lazy clap trap. If you myopically focus on sensationalized stories about academe in the US from conservative sources with axes to grind or media which is attracted to controversy/scandal rather than the day-to-day work going on there you miss the fact that overall US universities dominate lists of the most highly reputed such institutions in the world. They’re the envy of students, faculty and researchers pretty much everywhere.

        • martinbrock

          American institutions are very wealthy, and all of this wealth buys something. Declining graduation rates and the declining quality of graduates have less to do with students and faculty like about American higher education than with the increasing college attendance rates, by Americans, and a corresponding decline in the aptitude of attendees.

          Foreign students are a highly select sample of foreign people generally while American college students are increasingly a broad cross-section of American high school graduates, many of whom don’t need higher education any more than they’re likely to excel at it. Replacing much higher education with apprenticeships could better serve all parties concerned.

        • M S

          I’m not sure that you can refute the claim that “academia is bad” by saying that “the US version of academia is better than the rest.”

          I’m also not sure you can refute the claim that “the vast majority of what a college tuition pays for is useless signaling” with the claim “But the US university system has such a good reputation!”

          • King Goat

            The only thing more incredible than the idea that, to use the words of Illya Somin, “most employers are simply too stupid or too tradition-minded to hire workers based on [credentials alternative to college]” is that idea that employers from the myriad cultures of the world share in the stupidity or tradition.

          • Rob Gressis

            The only thing more incredible than the idea that, to paraphrase the words of Illya Somin, “most NFL teams are simply too stupid or too tradition-minded to regularly run on 4th down” is that idea that other sports franchises from the myriad cultures of the world share in the stupidity or tradition of ignoring the findings of advanced analytics when applied to sports.

          • M S

            Right. Plus, anyone who’s seen Moneyball remembers that about half of that movie involves Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill looking at spreadsheets filled with stats and analytics. They had a wealth of data at their disposal and still could only make marginal improvements to their roster. The idea that every employer could easily do the same with the average 18 year old just with a high school report card and whatever summer or after school jobs are listed on the resume, and that it’s worth it for them to do so, is kind of ridiculous.

          • King Goat

            This line of thought always makes me think of the Scripture: “He did not perform many miracles there because of their unbelief.”

          • M S

            A couple of things:

            1. If its true that most of what a college provided was signaling, that certainly wouldn’t mean that employers would be irrational to base their hiring decisions on it. It can be true that the average 21 year old college grad will be a better employee than the average 21 year old who didn’t go to college without it being true that the college education is wholly or mostly responsible for that difference. Employers care about the employee quality; they don’t care about what caused the employee to be good.

            2. I read the Somin post you quoted (available here for anyone else who wants to read it: Most of Somin’s point is “if most education expenditures are primarily about signaling, it should be possible to find other, cheaper ways to signal these desirable traits to employers” and since these don’t exist, there must be more to education than signaling. Which is not far removed from the old economist joke “There can’t be a $20 bill lying there on the floor; if there was, someone would have picked it up already.”

            The other problem with the argument is that it’s too loose with the word “cheap.” College credentials are expensive to students, but incredibly cheap to employers. All an employer has to do is look at the college student’s resume, figure out where they went to school, look up the school on US News’s rankings list (which is determined almost entirely by a combination of money plus reputation among other schools), and they have a rough idea of the quality of the student. So, again, even if college was mostly about signaling, it would hardly be stupidity or tradition driving reliance on college credentials.

          • King Goat

            Employers pay a premium for college employees, and within that set a premium from more elite colleges. I like your joke but I think I can use it better: $20 indeed doesn’t lay around long where people can reach it, but what the ‘social signalling’ proponents are proposing is that businesses are analogously walking by not picking up the money. As hard as that is to buy it’s even harder if we assume that it’s because of some cultural mindset shared by all the cultures in the world.

          • M S

            What signaling proponents are saying is that employers are paying for someone else to do the work of employee sorting for them. Which is rational if its hard (read: expensive) to do that work yourself effectively, which it is.

            Also, do employers actually pay a premium for college grads? Is there evidence out there that says that, as the proportion of college grads increases, there is a commensurate increase in the average wage of the workforce? My understanding is that, in the US at least, wages have been pretty stagnant as the percentage of people with a degree has increased. Obviously college grads make more on average, but that’s just as consistent with the idea that a degree is a ticket into a higher-paying bracket of jobs as it is with the idea that an employer will pay a college grad more than a non-college grad for the same job.

          • Rob Gressis

            As I understand King Goat, his/her point is this:

            If college education is really only about signaling (as opposed to increasing human capital), then a much cheaper, equally adequate alternative should arise.
            But there is no much cheaper, equally adequate alternative.
            Therefore, college education is not only about signaling.

            Some responses:

            1. I, personally, don’t think college is only about *only* about signaling, but I do think it is primarily about signaling. I suspect that you would disagree with this, too.
            2. I think there are lots of barriers to cheaper, equally adequate alternatives arising, or our noticing them if they did arise:
            2a. Most important is the fact that the vast majority of people–students, parents, the government, and employers–think that college makes a big, positive difference to your human capital. Consequently, students and parents feel like they have to go to college to make themselves employable, and employers feel like students have to go to college to be employable. Even if you give people lots of evidence that this is the case, they’ll be resistant to it, because it goes against everything they’ve been led to believe.
            2b. Even if an employer looked at the data and concluded that college is primarily about signaling, it’s still probably true that the people who don’t go to college are, by and large, unable to sit still for four years. So, they’re not going to hire those people.
            2c. Even if a student looked at the data and concluded that college is primarily about signaling, they’ll still go to college, because they know that employers think it’s about instilling human capital, and so the students want to signal that they have a lot of human capital too.
            2d. Even if a business looked at the data and concluded that college is primarily about signaling, and so tried to devise a test that gave the same signal, but much more cheaply, the vast majority of good students wouldn’t go there, and the vast majority of employers wouldn’t accept this business’s certification.
            2e. It could also be that it’s actually not very cheap to signal a student’s abilities. Perhaps graduating four years of college is indeed the best test we have come up with for signaling a student’s employability.

          • M S

            Yeah, I agree with pretty much all of 2, especially c, d, and e. As for 1, frankly, I would hesitate to even say that college is *primarily* about signaling. I think it plays a big role, but I have no idea whether it accounts for a majority, or even plurality, of the cost. But I certainly don’t think that the recent (say, past 20 years) increases in college tuition have been accompanied with similar increases in the quality of education.

            I think my other point of disagreement is that King Goat seems to think of signaling as something irrational, and so for the vast majority of employers and employees to buy into it, we would need to assume some kind of coordinated stupidity on everyone’s part. But, given the current system, I don’t see any individual actors behaving irrationally. Employers get to rely on a cheap (to them) method of sorting generally good candidates from generally bad ones instead of having to spend additional money risking that a particular non-grad might be a diamond in the rough. Employees have to spend a lot of money, but in exchange get their foot in the door in jobs that otherwise wouldn’t look at them (literally, in the case of jobs requiring professional certification, like doctors and lawyers). The only actor potentially behaving irrationally is the government, which almost certainly isn’t getting back in productivity gains what it spends on subsidizing tuition. But that only assumes that the government’s goal is the productivity gain; if the government’s goal is to level the field so that a student who could otherwise get a college degree isn’t held back by his family’s lack of income, then it’s behaving rationally as well.

            It’s not a great system, and if you were designing it from scratch, you could probably get an equally qualified workforce for a lot less. But the fact that the system’s incentives lead to an inefficient outcome doesn’t mean that any single actor, or category of actors, is acting irrationally.

          • M S

            Also, just to tie it back to Sean II’s original comment, to the extent the university system looked at the above set of incentives, and decided to take advantage by extracting more money without delivering more value, it deserves reprimand. Not that other actors are blameless here, but forcing students to take on more and more debt to receive the same product, and thus place them in a more and more financially precarious position, is definitely a dick move.

          • King Goat

            But are they not delivering more value? Sure, tuition has shot up, but hasn’t the gap between the average income of the college grad and the average non-grad? Even if a college education is the equivalent of purchasing a hat that says “I’m great, hire me” and there’s just a stubbornly rooted norm among employers to buy into that, if the value of that hat is increasing it makes sense to charge more for it….

          • M S

            I should have been clearer. More “educational” value. And sure, it “makes sense” to keep raising prices for something that’s going up in demand, if you are a profit-seeking firm. But universities aren’t supposed to be income-maximizing enterprises, and certainly don’t advertise themselves as such (or pay taxes as such). Obviously, if universities want to turn themselves into profit-seeking firms, they should be free to do so. But if universities want to claim that they are wholly dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and the education of our youth, they should act like it. And if they violate those principles, especially if they do so at the expense of the students they claim to serve, they should be criticized for it.

          • Sean II

            See my reply to Griess above. Caplan has already anticipated and answered the key objection being debated in this sub-thread.

          • King Goat

            “Employers get to rely on a cheap (to them) method of sorting generally good candidates from generally bad ones instead of having to spend additional money risking that a particular non-grad might be a diamond in the rough. ”

            Again, I have to scratch my head at this. You have two applicants and one has a college degree and the other doesn’t. Maybe you think college is a waste of time (the guy leaves with about what he came in with or would have at any other setting), OK. But if you offer the first guy the same offer as the second guy, he’ll walk and find someone who disagrees with you about the value of college who will pay him more. Now, if college is a waste of time then you’re not out anything to hire the second guy, in fact, you should in general outdo whoever is hiring the first guy because you’re getting at least an equivalent workforce for much cheaper. If you’re right, in the long run employers like you outdo the others and replace them, the other employer is paying a price indeed. But that’s not what’s happening.

          • M S

            Right, because the second guy is (probably) not as good as the first guy. I can think that college didn’t add much to Guy No. 1’s value as an employee, while also believing that Guy No. 1’s degree is a good indication that he’ll be a better employee than Guy No. 2. There’s no inconsistency there.

            You seem to be assuming that signals or signaling indicates some kind of irrationality at play. It doesn’t, especially if the signal is halfway decent at communicating the values the potential employee wants to demonstrate. And a college degree is probably at least halfway decent at accurately communicating those values.

          • King Goat

            It’s your 2a (and really 2c abd 2d are just parts of it I think) that really invokes for me the Bible verse I mentioned above about “he could work no miracles there because of their disbelief.” It’s as if one is saying “everybody thinks X is so valuable, but I and a few others see through that and that it’s not, but because they can’t/refuse to see through it I and the few others can’t demonstrate how wrong they really are!”

            As to 2e I have to ask: then what’s the problem? It really is valuable then it seems…

          • Sean II

            Bryan Caplan answers that objection – “it can’t be signaling or else someone would have found a cheaper way” – and he answers it very convincingly.

          • King Goat

            “Bryan Caplan answers that objection”

            And Somin (among others), who I referred to, has answered Caplan on that.

          • King Goat

            “but that’s just as consistent with the idea that a degree is a ticket into a higher-paying bracket of jobs as it is with the idea that an employer will pay a college grad more than a non-college grad for the same job.”

            Can you rephrase that? I might be reading the idiom you’re using differently than you but the distinction isn’t apparent.

          • M S

            Sure. If college grads earn more than non-college grads, it seems like there are (at least) two world-states that are consistent with that fact:

            1. There is some fixed proportion of “higher paying jobs” in the economy, which is not affected by the proportion of college grads in the population. A person without a college degree will not be considered for one of these positions unless there are no college grads applying. But whoever takes the position (college grad or not) will be paid the same as anyone else.

            2. Employers make an individualized evaluation of an employee’s value when hiring each employee and determining his salary. Today an employer that hired a college grad for $60,000 a year might tomorrow hire a non-college grad for the same position and pay him $45,000.

            Only in the second world are employers “paying a premium” for college grads. In the first, the employer is paying the same amount for whoever ultimately fills the position, regardless of whether he has a college degree. So I can’t tell, based simply on the fact that college students generally make more money, whether we are in “paying a premium” world or not.

          • King Goat

            OK, thanks, that’s much clearer to me.

            Let’s take this situation: I own a factory in 1950’s Texas. Business is good. I’ve got about 10 upper level positions and about 100 lower level positions. I don’t take college much into account for the upper positions and not at all for the lower.

            Now lets fast forward a few decades. The world has become a more competitive place and technology and diversity play a much bigger role in my business. So now I prefer to have college educated people in the upper positions. But your business across the street does too. I might fill an upper position with a non-college person, but it’s not desirable, and I’d prefer to hire your college guys away from you. I’ll offer them more than you do, you’ll feel the same way and offer them back. Etc. That’s a premium imo. Now, the lower level positions, that I can increasingly either ship across the border for far less labor costs or use technology to do more with less. I’m actually paying these guys less than usual.

            That’d still be consistent with stagnant overall wages but a premium for college hires, correct? From what I understand it’s what’s going on too…

          • M S

            Sure, that’s entirely possible. Although it would suggest there’s some kind of wage competition for college grads, which would suggest a shortage of them in the workforce, which doesn’t mesh with my own (limited) knowledge of the economy.

            The main reason for my initial request for data (which was sincere, by the way; not an attempt to snarkily prove a point. Unfortunately I still don’t know how to effectively convey that over text) was I don’t think that armchair empiricism by either of us is going to resolve the issue; only actual data.

          • King Goat

            It didn’t come off as snarky to me at all, I’ve enjoyed the discussion, you’ve been courteous and thought provoking throughout. I agree that our arm chair empiricism won’t solve much and I’d like to see some hard data approaches to the issue. One thought comes to mine, though I’m not sure if such data is available, but one could see if college graduates are being offered more money and/or are hired over military veterans (if that’s not something that should signal commitment, conformity, etc., I’m not sure what would be!).

          • Sean II

            Yep, it’s a fallacy of roughly this form:

            “How can you argue that Con Edison is inefficient? Like, everyone in New York gets power from them! And New York is way popular as a place to live. What, are all those people supposed to be stupid or something?”

  • TheBrett

    You’re letting them pull you into the weeds of whether adjuncts “deserve it” or not. The question should be moot – it doesn’t matter if they deserve it or not if no one is willing to pay for it. Just keep pointing out the budgetary cost, how it doesn’t work even if you cancelled the sports programs entirely, how they’d have to decide which actual services they want to cut if they want to reduce administrative bloat, and demand to know if they think raising tuition or firing two-thirds of adjuncts to raise the pay of the one-third is worth it.

    • martinbrock

      If no one is willing to pay for it, they don’t deserve it, but I already pay taxes and other rents inflating a bloated, educational-industrial complex. That adjuncts want a bigger piece of the inflating pie is hardly surprising. That Brennan sees a mote in the eye of the adjunct across the hall but is blind to the beam in his own eye is even less surprising.

  • John A.

    I have been an adjunct teaching philosophy since 1987. Until 2001, I was also employed full-time in the Foundry industry for over 35 years. It would be nice to see more academics working outside of the college and university and trying to put their beliefs into actual practice. Might give a person a new perspective. It is easy to be a Libertarian, or Marxist, or whatever, when one is full-time employed in academia; in a sense that is what you are hired to be. Try out your philosophies while in business where it might actually matter to those you are associated with when you have to decide the fate of the business and its affect on the world while interacting with people who do not share your social/political views.

    My advise to adjuncts is to not make being an adjunct your only source of income. No one is forcing me, or you, to accept the jobs that are available. I would also suggest that tenure-track and tenured professors have a right to be concerned about how academia is relying more on adjuncts then hiring full-time people. It seems to me similar to businesses that move to cheaper labor-markets. A paradox,is it not?

  • It seems you’re missing a big piece here, though; if universities stopped hiring adjuncts tomorrow, and rather than spending the funds on hiring full-time faculty to cover the classes spent it on nebulous programs to help the achievement of disadvantaged students, there’d be a massive shortfall of class seats available, meaning far fewer students would be educated by universities overall.

    Even if universities and colleges did spend the money on full-time faculty, and upped their load from the “minimally good” threshold of 3-3 to 4-4 (common at undergraduate-only regional state universities and small private colleges and universities, even on the tenure track) or 5-5 (common at two-year institutions and for non-TT faculty at regional universities and colleges) at $50k pre-benefits (a salary above what many community college and 4-year faculty make early in their careers), replacing some of the class seats lost from getting rid of part-time faculty, you’d still have thousands of students who couldn’t complete their classes because there’d be a lack of available seats. That would seem to present some serious social justice issues of its own.

    • Phil Magness

      “there’d be a massive shortfall of class seats available”

      Don’t be so sure about that. The ratio of full time faculty to students today is exactly where it was in 1970 before the adjunct boom. If you fired all the adjuncts tomorrow you’d get stuck with larger class sizes and fewer sections being offered (which we do readily concede would be harmful in other ways for students). But there’s no evidence that adjuncts are propping up the teaching structure of the entire university system or that the remainder would be unable to absorb the teaching load – they’re just being used to reduce average class size & increase sections offered.

  • King Goat

    Couldn’t this kind of argument be made against many (most?) a position advocating devoting more resources to a group that is seen as being treated ‘unfairly’ by markets, that there’s another group even worse off that ‘deserves’ the resources even more?

    It seems to me that the best argument that can be made re: the ‘exploitation’ of adjuncts is: teaching is undervalued compared to research and therefore employees that are mostly teachers become the poorly paid adjuncts and those good at research become the much better paid tenured faculty. I think Brennan realizes this is at the heart of it in some way as I seem to recall a recent post of his about how that’s justified since research is really hard and few people can do it but teaching it not as hard and many can do it. The answer from the other side would be, I imagine, to ask are these institutions teaching institutions or research institutions (the definition of a college or university stresses that they are ‘educational’ institutions focusing on higher or advanced ‘learning’; also, for the public ones, when they go with their hand out to the legislature how do they sell themselves would be nice to know), and what better serves the students that Brennan expresses sympathy for?

    Either way, I think Brennan and Magness’ work here is really important in showing there’s a considerable trade off that has to come from somewhere, that it’s not obvious ‘justice’ demands the trade off should be made in favor of adjuncts, and that the proliferation of adjuncts has *not* come from raising the student to full time faculty ratio.

    • Jason Brennan

      We’re not just making the point that any money universities raise or free up to help adjuncts could be used to, say, help starving children in the poorest parts of the world. Rather, we’re talking about direct stakeholder groups.

      • Joshua Preiss

        Could the same argument apply to CEO pay and laid off (or potentially hired but not actually hired) workers? I know that few CEOs claim that their pay furthers social justice – though I’m sure some probably do (in a supply side sense) and many certainly claim that their pay is just and fair. By some estimates, CEO pay has grown 80-90 times faster than median work compensation over the past four decades. The implication of your argument is that if adjuncts successfully convince other university stakeholders to substantially raise their pay, they will have convinced them to hinder social justice. By the same reasoning, have CEOs obviously convinced other business stakeholders to hinder social justice?

        • Jason Brennan

          Maybe. I don’t have any stake in whether CEOs are overpaid or not. There are some econ papers saying they are getting paid their marginal product, and the reason that CEO pay is higher now is that their marginal product is higher. There are others saying CEO pay is a principal-agent problem. I’m not sure what the truth is.

          • Joshua Preiss

            I don’t think you have a stake in whether or not CEOs are overpaid, I’m just trying to tease out some of the implications of your argument here. You write above,”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.”

            Of course, CEOs are overwhelmingly privileged white dudes – white dudes who are among the wealthiest people in the world. Their companies, and their subsidiaries, often employ workers very low wages, and could pay them a good deal more, or employ a great many more people at existing rates, if they put some of the resources they increasingly spend on CEOs to other ends. Why is the standard for adjunct justice whether or not the resources could alternatively be spent on a comparatively worse-off or more vulnerable population, whereas the standard for CEO justice whether or not their compensation reflects the magical product of their labor?

          • Joshua Preiss

            Any case it isn’t clear: “magical” is typo/autocorrect for marginal. I leave it to others to editorialize about whether the typo is somehow fitting. I still wonder, however, about why two very different standards of justice apply in these two cases.Why is the standard for adjunct justice whether or not the resources could alternatively be spent on a comparatively worse-off or more vulnerable population, whereas the standard for CEO justice whether or not their compensation reflects the marginal product of their labor?

          • martinbrock

            If adjunct rent seeking succeeds, at the expense of low income students or whatever, and adjunct pay rises, they’ll be getting their marginal product too, just as you’re getting your marginal product now. We can only say in prospect that rent seeking increases income above marginal product. It’s never true in retrospect.

  • Michael Metcalf

    I might buy that full-time faculty to student ratio has stayed constant if you don’t account for the proportion of time full-time faculty are teaching, though I would still like to see the data source there, but If you consider how many courses the average faculty taught during that time frame and the time, both by job description and by actual working hours, spent on teaching, research, and administrative tasks you may get an entirely different story.

    I’m not sure I buy the zero sum game math you must use to say the money has to come from somewhere, but I will buy that if it was profitable to employ adjuncts more fully without funky intervention, then at least some universities would be doing so to the competitive advantage over other universities, so at least some of the money would have to come from somewhere.

    Note I don’t claim that this undermines the main point of the paper or discussion, just some things that need to be considered. Also note I have not yet read the actual paper, so I am basing this off of the description here and in your other post:

    P.S. as a current PhD candidate whose major ambitions include becoming an adjunct faculty and working on other profitable projects as my primary source of income, I suggest that we actually create a formal distinction between adjuncts for whom teaching is not the primary source of income, and part-time lecturers for whom it is. This way they can fight for their lecturer rights and leave us traditional adjuncts out of it.
    P.P.S I am not married to the adjunct title if they want to keep it I think we can call ourselves something else, but I think the adjunct versus lecturer distinction works well. The problem of course is that there are full time non-tenure lecturer positions that have benefits and some job security and they probably don’t want your “madjunct” people associated with themselves either.

    • Phil Magness

      There isn’t much in the way of time series data on hours spent teaching, especially going back that far. But there is quite a bit of recent research on that topic of faculty time allocation today. It shows that the average full time faculty member spends a little over 40% of his/her time, give or take, on teaching.

      This site has a good synopsis of some of the more recent data.

      The USDOE also did a study in 2003 that put teaching at 43.5% for full time faculty at research universities (and significantly higher for community colleges & liberal arts colleges that tend to emphasize teaching over research). In both the USDOE and more recent data, the full time faculty work week topped 50 hours (and the more recent data puts it at 60). So if we take a lowball estimate of 50 hrs/week, the average full time faculty at a research university spends about 22 hours/week on teaching. If you go to full time faculty at liberal arts colleges where more than 1/2 of the time is spent teaching, this obviously increases substantially.

      USDOE data for adjuncts shows that they seldom top 20 hours/week total per-university regardless of institution type, almost all of it on teaching (and less than 1/4 of all adjuncts teach at more than one university, so this is in fat the norm). About 80% of adjuncts in the USDOE study teach <8 hours a week, in fact. But what it basically means is that the typical adjunct spends significantly less time teaching than the even the typical faculty member at an R1 institution.