Cost of Justice for Adjunct Professors

business_ethics_highlights_2What would it take, in dollars, for universities to treat its least-advantaged instructors more fairly? That’s the question posed by the article linked below, by scholars Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness. This article is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it looks at a business ethics issue in a non-traditional business, namely the university. Second, it is grounded in the idea that justice is not just something to pursue as good-in-itself, but something that most often comes at some cost. What would it cost, they ask, to satisfy the demands of part-time (“adjunct”) faculty? And, importantly, what other things would universities be unable to pay for as a result? And would the costs be worth it? Now, to ask the question is not immediately to answer it, but it’s a good question to ask. Brennan & Magness’s question is even more interesting once you generalize beyond the university: for any aggrieved class of workers, it is useful to ask what would it cost to satisfy their interests, and who would suffer as a result? In some cases, it will be ethically justified to reallocate resources, and in other cases it will not. >>>

LINK: Estimating the Cost of Justice for Adjuncts: A Case Study in University Business Ethics (by Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness, in Journal of Business Ethics [gated])

American universities rely upon a large workforce of adjunct faculty—contract workers who receive low pay, no benefits, and no job security. Many news sources, magazines, and activists claim that adjuncts are exploited and should receive better pay and treatment. This paper never affirms nor denies that adjuncts are exploited. Instead, we show that any attempt to provide a significantly better deal faces unpleasant constraints and trade-offs. “Adjunct justice” would cost universities somewhere between an additional $15–50 billion per year. At most, universities can provide justice for a minority of adjuncts at the expense of the majority, as well as at the expense of poor students. Universities may indeed be exploiting adjuncts, but they cannot rectify this mistake without significant moral costs.

What do you think?


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