Exploitation, Book/Article Reviews

These Two Bumptious, Malicious White Dudes Say Adjuncts Aren’t Exploited

Just look at these smug privileged white dudes:

While trillions of adjuncts have no access to peer-reviewed journals, these pilgarlics continue to assert their publishing privilege. Just recently, the soi-dissant Journal of Business Ethics (isn’t that an oxymoron?) accepted yet another paper by them on adjuncts, this one with the dubious title, “Are Adjuncts Exploited?: Some Grounds for Skepticism.” Oh, some grounds, huh? I wonder how much the Koch Brothers paid them to write their newest bit of union-busting blather. Georgetown and George Mason should be ashamed. Libertarians, rein these dudes in! They’re embarrassing you.

You might recall these self-important bastards wrote “Estimating the Costs of Adjunct Justice: A Case Study in University Business Ethics,” which showed (using data and evidence, which we all know are white supremacist social constructions) that most proposals to deliver “justice” to adjuncts are prohibitively expensive, would lead to job gentrification, and have high opportunity costs (such as coming at the expense of poor minority students). Well, after they published that, we activists did the right thing, which of course wasn’t to challenge their actual argument, but instead to call them names, write blogposts in which we fantasize about assaulting them, and, of course, pound the table and assert over and over that adjuncts are exploited.

Well, just like white colonialists, they now want to steal our table. Their new paper looks at six arguments on behalf of the claim that adjuncts are exploited. It develops these arguments more rigorously than any other academics have so far. But, then, in an audacious move that has me wondering about their sanity, they claim these arguments fail. These arguments include the following:

  1. Adjuncts are analogous to sweatshop workers’.
  2. Adjuncts are overworked and underpaid compared to full-time faculty.
  3. They are not paid a living wage.
  4. They are treated like second-class members of the academy.
  5. They are or were misinformed about the academic employment prospects for masters or PhD holders.
  6. Universities profit enormously from adjunct labor and yet pay adjuncts little.

So what do these cisgendered patriarchs have to say in response to 1-6? Well, get your vomit bucket ready, ’cause I’m gonna tell you. Against 1, they say that adjuncts are not analogous to sweatshop workers, because unlike sweatshop workers, they are A) generally responsible for being in their predicaments, and B) have exit options. They even go so far as to insult us by providing data and citing studies showing that pretty much everyone who gives up on becoming college faculty gets a good full-time job doing something else. Against 2, they use Department of Ed data, look at effective hourly wages, and then claim that when we do an apples to apples comparison, i.e., compare a qualified adjunct with the nearest counterpart among full-time faculty, that such adjuncts get paid pretty close to what their counterparts in full-time faculty at teaching-intensive colleges make. Full-time faculty get paid more overall because they do more overall. Against 3, they use thought experiments to show that someone can get paid less than living wage and yet not be exploited, or more than the living wage and yet be exploited. So, they conclude that the living wage issue is a separate issue. Further, they show that adjuncts get living wages (per hour) but not living salaries (per year) simply because almost all adjuncts are part-time workers who work far less than others. Against 4, they show that this is a distinct issue from whether they are exploited, and we could only count it as constituting exploitation if we already had an independent argument proving they are exploited. Against 5, they say pretty much the same thing. Against 6, they claim that people making such claims are guilty of elementary accounting errors, of mistakes people learn not to make in accounting 101:

Even fixing this minor mistake, Hazo’s numbers still wildly exaggerate the university’s degree of profit. Hazo does not take seriously and does not properly account for the substantial costs the university carries to offer its courses, including facilities expenses, scheduling, registration, marketing, admissions, policing, accreditation review, federal regulatory compliance, and the like. The marginal cost to the university of adding another class might be tiny, as Hazo thinks, but the average cost is high. Properly accounting for the cost per class means taking into account all reasonable costs associated with maintaining the university on a per class basis.

Hazo commits an elementary accounting mistake. To illustrate, imagine a movie theater has traditionally closed at 9 pm. The owner considers staying open for another three hours. In doing so, he incurs only slight marginal labor and other costs, since the building, the films, etc., have already been paid for. Suppose his late showings are equally well attended as his earlier showings. He might conclude, “Wow, my late showings making tremendous profit, but my early showings lose money!”

But that is an elementary fallacy. He is correct to conclude that, with most of his costs already sunk, it is smart to add additional screenings. The marginal revenues for these screenings will greatly exceed his marginal costs. But that doesn’t mean that the new show times are for that reason especially profitable when compared to the previous show times. Instead, while it’s true that adding the new show times was a profitable move, the proper way to account for the value of each showing (assuming a constant level of attendance) is to average the costs across show times. Otherwise, this generates the silly illusion that the movie theater loses money in the morning and makes money in the evening, or loses money in January but makes money in December. This is Accounting 101, which Hazo must have skipped in favor of music classes.

Sounds like something a business professor would say. And we all know business professors, with their white BMWs and silk ties, are fascists.

Further, they end that section with this vile and repugnant tirade:


But now consider: Instead of teaching for the university at such a low rate, the typical adjunct instructor could, quite easily, advertise to students that he is willing to teach them the same materials in a private space, such as his living room or in a privately rented room. He could publicize his CV so that students could check his credentials. He could charge students, say, half or a third of Duquesne’s per-class tuition. Students would get a bargain and he would earn more money. (Suppose he charges the 30 students $1000 each, and has to pay $5000 to rent a meeting space over the semester; he then nets $25,000.) Unlike Marx’s poor proletarians who don’t own capital goods, the adjunct controls his own human capital, and can easily rent space for teaching. (Indeed, he might be able to rent space from the university itself, just as MCAT and LSAT prep companies do.) But the instructor would not be able to offer Duquesne credit hours for his class, even though he covers the same materials and administers the same tests.

Now ask: If the instructor did offer to teach this class for one-third the price, but could not offer credit hours, how many students would take the class? The answer is probably few or none. Ask instead: Suppose the university secretly offered each student the following deal: “We, the university, will claim that you received an A in this course, even though you never took the class, in exchange for $3000 of your tuition dollars.” How many students would take that deal? The answer is probably many.

This unhappy thought experiment partly explains why universities can pay adjuncts so little. As we noted, adjunct instructors could just offer to teach students the same materials on their own, outside the university. If the instructors really were producing immense value (to students) in the classroom by imparting their knowledge, they should have plenty of customers. But they would probably have few or none. The reason is that students are for the most part not buying instruction or knowledge, but instead buying credit hours and credentials. The university, not the instructor, provides these to the students. The reason the university can capture as much tuition revenue as it does is in part because the university, not its instructors, provides the thing its customers want to buy. Furthermore, a substantial part of this value derives from the university’s own brand, its public reputation, and its maintenance of accreditation status to issue degrees that employers will recognize and accept.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the evil contained within this wretched paper. They have data on what percent of adjuncts are moonlighting professionals and semi-retired professors vs. “freeway-flyer or career adjuncts” (they say the later constitute less than 1/20th of all adjuncts), on how surveys show that even adjuncts who teach 8 classes a year still work less than the average professor and the average full-time worker in any other industry. They show that at least 70% of adjuncts lack the minimal qualifications needed to get a tenure-track job. Using “Department of Education” data (sounds like neoliberal think tank to me), they claim that the ratio of students to full-time faculty has remained constant over the past 40 years, and that adjuncts are supplementing rather than replacing full-time instructors. They even have the audacity to end their paper by citing studies showing that most adjuncts are happy with their work.

Obviously, Brennan and Magness are hatemongers just trying to rationalize their own privilege. It’s not hyperbolic or offensive at all to call adjuncts–90% of whom are white–“America’s modern slaves” or “sharecroppers” or “indentured servants“. I sure hope that the Philosophy Smoker people (since none of them will ever get full-time professorships) will help us give Brennan and Magness the beatings they deserve.

I hope they die soon and in pain.

  • I’ve not read the paper, but what about an argument from something close to what Cohen calls the principle of community? We have a community of scholars engaged in a joint activity, but some live comfortably and some are on food stamps. It doesn’t take extreme anti-individualism to see some force in that sort of claim.

  • dino

    I swear, just one more post about adjuncts and we’ll be at peak liberty bro. I can feel it in my bones! Just one more adjunct post and…freedom!

    • Jason Brennan

      If it makes you feel better, it appears the average adjunct activist is a Stalinist. So there’s that.

  • Julius Cesar

    Is the fact that they’re white so relevant it needs to be included in the title? This smells like pandering to me.


    Hold the phone. People don’t typically spend tens of thousands of dollars for university with the intent of learning, but to credential their résumé as occupation prospects?

    Do you have data on adjuncts as tending to be Stalinists, because that would make me feel better about my prospects; you’d have to be almost irrational to want to call yourself a Stalinist. I don’t want to be, or to be associated with Stalinisism/Trotskyism given its proximity to irrationality. IF I am not like that, I’ll fare better than most, ceteris paribus?

  • j r

    Just look at these smug privileged white dudes

    Don’t know about privileged, but this post certainly meets the definition of smug.

    • Jason Brennan

      You think?

      • Libertymike

        Je sais!

        BTW, thank you for “pilgarlic”. There is nothing like expanding one’s lexicon. I like the secondary definition of the word more – it is, inter alia, more etymologically correct – although it neither applies to you or thankfully, owing to my Celtic mop, me.

  • martinbrock

    The straw man thing doesn’t entertain me. Adjuncts aren’t exploited in my way of thinking, but if you want to address the controversy, find someone with respectable credentials on the other side of the question and have a genuine debate. Anyone can put moronic statements into the mouth of a fictitious adversary. You might as well hire a dumb blond to say these things on youtube.

    • Jason Brennan

      I’m parodying how the Madjuncts have responded to us. On Twitter, they revealed that they think the post above is a reasonable criticism of us. It passed the ideological Turing Test for them.

      • King Goat

        “I’m parodying how the Madjuncts have responded to us.”

        I’d say just ignore such puerile responses and don’t lower yourself to the same, you’ve got some rather ‘killer’ points there (the numbers on ‘career adjuncts’ and 70% lacking qualification for tenure are especially powerful imo), let them speak to those who are willing to listen and seriously engage rather than engaging the worst critics in their level of foolishness. This is more likely to turn off those who would have to concede many of the points you make if they took the time to get to those points, while you’re never going to convince those that are engaging at only a self-interested and superficial level. It also makes it look like they are ‘getting under your skin.’

        On a more substantive level, your hypothetical about the instructor renting space on the college campus but students preferring to pay for three credits doesn’t seem to do much work for me, because I imagine a similar number of students would be happy to make the same choice if a full time, tenured professor were teaching. It doesn’t show that students value adjuncts less and therefore they don’t warrant higher pay relative to tenure track faculty, it shows they value signaling in college more than any actual content being taught by anyone, whether it be by a poorly paid adjunct or relatively more comfortably paid tenured prof. A supporter of an ‘exploitation’ based view will just say, ‘of course the institution has the resources, both physical and intellectual (libraries, computer labs, and brand goodwill for example, all of which are necessary in establishing accreditation) and thus can strike bargains favorable to it, especially so for those who are not protected by counter-market traditions in the sector like tenure.’

        • Phil Magness

          The madjuncts have yet to offer any response that isn’t puerile.

  • Wait a minute. Adjuncts have every Right to unionize (without any state protection or free rents), and negotiate the terms of their contracts. But the study authors’ position sounds correct in that, everyone has an Exit Option from universities. They can go study and/or work somewhere else. Of course, it’s an absolute truth that universities and colleges in American society get all sorts of subsidies, tax breaks, preferential treatment, protections and institutional favoritism, even from eminent domain. But such corruption is an argument Against associating with them, not asking to join them. That’s a main tenet of the whole homeschooling movement and internet business revolution, that people and startups can maneuver around institutional statism and find better, more economic and more enlightened products, business and commerce. It sounds like these striking adjuncts are just overgrown children. Instead of walking away from corrupt, evil institutions, they’re demanding to share in the war spoils and plunder of the NYU’s and Columbia’s. It’s like saying, “the u.S. military is so evil and steals so much foreign resources, but it would make us feel a lot better about the situation if we got our fair share of the Iraqi oil revenues and Central African rare earths”. You unrighteous cry babies!

  • Artuwoc

    I don’t know how to emphasize this because it gets repeated every time and endlessly in response to this line that adjuncts add only (whatever they are paid) in value. I will try all-caps? IT IS FALSE TO SUGGEST THAT WE CANNOT CALCULATE THE CONTRIBUTION INDIVIDUAL EMPLOYEES MAKE TO OVERALL PRODUCTIVITY. SEE MACROECONOMICS, INDUSTRIAL ORGANIZATION, LABOR AND TRADE ECONOMICS. IT IS RIDICULOUS TO SUGGEST ALL COSTS ARE NOT FACTORED INTO THIS ANALYSIS.

    • Jason Brennan

      Perhaps you’re misunderstanding those fields.

      It’s true that a factory worker outside the factory and inside the factory have different productivity, and of course we can measure that.

      But the argument to which we are responding says that the instructor is creating all the value but can’t capture much of it due to lack of ownership. Our thought experiment illustrates that it’s more likely that she’s not creating much value, because she could *start* her own competitor but wouldn’t make any money unless she could offer the same kinds of credits. So it tells us the credits,not the instruction, are what’s valuable.

      • Artuwoc

        Where is the citation to the person arguing that the instructor is creating all the “value”?
        Why would anyone use a thought experiment that points away to decades of work in economics on how to measure productivity? What possible function other than gross misdirection and miseducation does that provide?
        Your thought experiment illustrates you are not an economist, do not engage with them, and seem to have no idea what they do. That is what it illustrates.
        Why wouldn’t you want any of this vetted by an economist?

        • Phil Magness

          “Then we can see what page everyone is on.”

          Well…I’m absolutely certain that you do not even know what page you are on, because you keep attacking claims that we did not make with criticisms that you cannot intelligibly articulate.

    • Phil Magness

      There’s a curious pattern in posts of these types. They scream (sometimes literally) “YOU’RE WRONG AND TERRIBLE PEOPLE! SEE WHAT LABOR/INDUSTRIAL ORG/MACRO/TRADE ECONOMICS SAYS ABOUT ADJUNCTS!”

      They never bother to specify though either (1) what exactly those subfields have to say that contradicts anything we’ve said or (2) what published literature in those subfields addresses the issues entailed in adjuncting.

      It’s the equivalent of shouting “YOU’RE WRONG! SEE THE DICTIONARY!” but never bothering to specify what word is in contention, or what dictionary is being used.

      • Artuwoc

        I wouldn’t begin to know how to teach someone a field exists, called economics, where methods of measuring employee productivity have been developed over decades, earning Nobel Prizes and the like. It’s like reading someone talking about curing cancer through two simple steps, as if the field of medicine does not exist, and you tell them it does and they say then explain medicine to me. That is the position you’ve put all readers in.

        Would you please read a paper, any paper you can find when you google or searh for “individual inputs to productivity” and then try to explain why economic methods are worth ignoring and you can safely “make up” a way to assess the value of an adjunct. I think the burden is on someone who has no awareness of how productivity is measured. It’s just preposterous. Or start by talking to just one single person trained in economics (you know no one? No economist will read your paper?) and ask them to explain how productivity is measured. Or google that. Or just read on your own if they won’t talk to you. Here, dive in: http://home.uchicago.edu/syverson/productivitysurvey.pdf

        • Phil Magness

          Your grievance is becoming increasingly difficult to follow. Despite the fervor with which you assert it, you’ve yet to make any *specific* or salient criticism of our argument as it was presented.

          Instead you come here railing about “productivity” claims that we did not in fact make in the first place, and that you do not even appear to understand yourself (hence your linking to a lit review piece on TFP in sector specific growth modeling…which has next to no relevance to the specific claims we have made about the glutted adjunct job market, about empirical patterns in average adjunct working hours, or the larger question of whether or not adjuncts are exploited). It’s all a very strange exercise but also, unfortunately, one that has exceeded a reasonable amount of patience.

          • Artuwoc

            You can’t just make up what kind of value an adjunct adds. The higher ed situation is an easy one for economists who do much more difficult work. It’s not unique or out of bounds, you will have no trouble having “how to measure the productivity of adjuncts” explained to you. Just tell us where to begin.

          • Phil Magness

            What are you even referring to? We did not attempt to estimate the “value” that an adjunct supposedly adds to a university, and we make no general claim about measuring the “productivity” of adjuncts as a group. I suppose you find those questions interesting for reasons you have not articulated, but it’s more than a bit odd to make irrelevant criticisms of another’s paper for not addressing an off-topic question that it never purported to address and that, by all indications, you simple seem to be pulling out of your ass.

          • Artuwoc

            Oh give it a break. Why don’t you want to know how economists do what you have, in the entire last section quoted above. Where you make things up.
            Like this: “a substantial part of this value derives from the university’s own brand, its public reputation, and its maintenance of accreditation status to issue degrees that employers will recognize and accept.”

          • Artuwoc

            This whopper is a favorite: “This unhappy thought experiment partly explains why universities can pay adjuncts so little.”

          • Phil Magness

            You do realize that your comments are borderline incoherent.

            You’ve basically shown up here to (1) attack a claim that we did not make with (2) a criticism that you cannot even intelligibly articulate.

            Sadly, that’s also par for the course from the madjunct crowd.

          • Artuwoc

            You didn’t claim to figure out the value of adjuncts to both students and Universities? It’s a matter of Accounting 101 you wrote. You two have figured it out with no math, no data set, nothin’. It’s amazing. Amazing. What do we need economists for anyway?

          • Phil Magness

            As in assigning a dollar amount to the “value” they create? No. We didn’t, and we don’t make any claim to have done so.

            Your ongoing struggle with reading comprehension is also evident in your reference to the “Accounting 101” principle, which was noted in reference to a madjunct op-ed, which made an unsubstantiated claim in contradiction of that principle.

          • Jason Brennan

            Actually, we have all sorts of data and the like. This is a blog post. Wait until you see the actual article.

            I do love having non-experts come in and tell me elementary shit. Dude, I’m smarter than the people who taught you to use the big words.

          • Phil Magness

            What’s made up about that passage? It’s actually a strong and empirically attested feature of the peer reviewed literature on the economics of higher ed (including some of which I’ve also written, long before I turned to the adjunct question). Specifically:

            1. University brands carry a strong premium on the employment market (hence a degree from Harvard being worth more than a degree from University of Phoenix). This is also empirically attested in starting salary differentials between graduates of different institutions.

            2. University accreditation must be maintained to sustain the value of a degree, as both an access point to most sources of state and federal funding and, in many states, as a legal requirement for a degree to even be considered valid for employment purposes.

          • Artuwoc

            Yes, I get it. How does that replace the need to use economic methodology, rather than a thought experiment (one that would show nearly every employee has no “value”) to determine the value of adjuncts to any university? That is always the criticism you two get, and I’ve never seen someone be alerted to the proper methodology and keep trying to replace it, ignore it, deny it’s relevance, etc.

          • Phil Magness

            You’ve mistaken the point of the thought experiment, confused it for some largely unrelated claim that exists only in your imagination, then proceeded to attack that claim with a criticism that you cannot intelligibly articulate. So no, obviously you don’t get it.

          • Artuwoc

            How can anyone miss the point of that thought experiment?
            How is it not clear enough to say: economists will not agree with your methods. ANY economist.

          • Phil Magness

            “How can anyone miss the point of that thought experiment?”

            I’d say the evidence is in your own mirror, seeing as you persist in (1) missing its point and (2) criticizing it nonetheless, and in ways that you cannot intelligibly articulate at any level beyond shouting “ask an economist!” and posting generic links to lit reviews that are unrelated to the claims we made.

          • Artuwoc

            It’s great advice. Why won’t you talk to an economist about how to calculate the value of an employee?

          • Artuwoc

            And by the way, it looks like Brennan knows that economists do and can measure the value of individual inputs, so I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time before the thought experiment of “what if you adjuncts set up shop?” for determining the contribution of an employee seems hackneyed to you, too. And if you are interested in how an economist would measure the value of an added adjunct to a university, I, again, am happy to return and answer *any single question* you’d have about that.

          • Phil Magness

            If I ever desire to write an article on measuring the value of adjunct labor or productivity, I will gladly solicit relevant input from experts in that subject who can coherently explain their argument. Sadly, you fall far short in both areas.

            Since you do seem strangely confident in your unintelligible position though, here’s a better idea: why not write a response article in which you spell out whatever point it is that you think you are making? If you’re right, it should be an easy placement for you in a respectable scholarly journal.

          • Artuwoc

            Your article is about the “value” of adjuncts. You are using the term in an economic way, don’t deny it, but ignoring all of economics’ methods to do so.

            Can you tell me what in my position is unintelligible? Is it so hard to miss this point: you are demonstrating that you have no idea how an economist would approach the issue of the value of an adjunct with your thought experiments, and in doing this you are keeping any readers from actual understanding. I keep asking you to talk to an economist, because I wouldn’t know how to begin to explain how the value of employees is determined- I could list the steps involved (determining outputs for a university is one), but you’d need a lot of background, just like in medicine. And no one but an expert will be able to *perform* the analysis. So why you would do something instead— like using “all we do with adjuncts is keep the theatre open” INSTEAD of citing economists or even the accountants you mention- it’s just pure bullshit. It’s really terrible to do to people, even to readers of business ethics journals (who might be used to leaving economists out of things).

            And I have to ask- a response in a paper? Where I would explain there is a field and there are economists who calculate the contributions of employees? I cannot imagine such a stupid audience. Only you two seem to deny this.* Who would possibly benefit from a paper that obvious? Maybe that is the problem, you are imaging such a stupid audience.

            Imagine economists, all the time, when you write on their topics. Have them read your papers and be honest. Try to direct people to the correct answers, the ones that are practiced and honest and yes, sometimes more complicated than thought experiments.

            *And if a response from a major economist helps to make my points more coherent, I’ve had a few look this post over as I’ve been griping about it. Maybe you’ll get one here. It’s hard to take up their time. But I wish, again, you’d just ask a friend what your thought experiments are covering up that we already know better.

          • Artuwoc

            “If the instructors really were producing immense value (to students) in the classroom by imparting their knowledge, they should have plenty of customers” is the attempt to cure cancer while denying the medical field has any skill in that regard, using the terms doctors use to confuse the issue.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    Extra points for using the word Pilgarlic

    • Libertymike

      Les, see my post above.