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Issue: the span of time between getting a contract offer and the start date of the contract is often too small.

Some collective agreements secure a minimum span of time between receiving an appointment and the appointment beginning. Even in places where this normal minimum is in place, some non-TT faculty receive appointments with less than a week's notice, which is bad from multiple perspectives (professional: no one is e.g. putting in a textbook order at the appropriate time if that's your timeline; personal: always living on the brink of having no income isn't great).

a philosopher

It seems important to distinguish three sorts of non-TT faculty: adjuncts working part time, those holding full time, 1 or 2-yr contracts (e.g., VAPs), and those in permanent positions that just happen to not be part of a tenure structure (often now the case at CCs or in "teaching streams").

I'm sure Marcus and everyone is aware of it, but I'll throw it out there just so it's in the air: obviously, the important professional issues facing each group are different.

I've only ever been in the first two situations, never in a permanent position. While there are are many important professional issues I'm sure others will raise, I want to mention a psychological issue: never really feeling like you belong.

It's hard to have a vested interest in a place, take the time to establish roots, etc if you only have a contract for the current term or academic year. Even if it's likely to be renewed a few times, often circumstances in these situations can shift quickly and no one is willing to make promises, so you have to be ready for the end pretty much all the time. This can come out in little ways, e.g. at my VAP I never decorated or really set up my campus office. A lot of VAPs I know didn't/don't do this either. But after a few years now of moving around and being on the market, it's psychologically hard too. I want to feel like I belong somewhere, and that's just not really possible in these positions. Permanent and TT/tenured faculty can exacerbate this, to whatever extent they do or don't make an effort to be social or include us in department life, but part of it is simply structural. No matter how welcoming the department is, if you're only there to teach a single class for the term, or replacing someone on sabbatical for a year, you can never really be more than a visitor. After a few years now, I find that very hard.

Treading water

Tenured and tenure-track faculty should support unionization efforts by adjunct and non-TT faculty. Be vocal, sign joint letters to the administration. I've been non-TT faculty at three different institutions. At the former two there were strong unions that had been established for years. At those schools I had benefits, good pay, course cancellation policies in place, advanced notification of appointments, etc. At the third school, non-TT faculty just unionized recently. Overnight our pay increased dramatically and we now have several rights we didn't have before. Please support unionization efforts.

TT prof

I've been TT at a couple institutions where the "teaching" (nonTT permanent) faculty were more research and service active (on average) than the "research" (tenured) faculty. This problem is often fueled by the fact that the nonTT faculty have little job security, and may be attempting to work their way up. This is bad. And there's this idea out there that nonTT faculty don't care about research. Maybe some don't, but from what I've seen, tenured faculty will often dither away their sabbaticals with nothing to show for it while teaching faculty might publish quite a bit, of high quality, while laboring under a heavy teaching load.

I think the least that tenure stream faculty or department chairs can do here is recognize the ridiculousness of the situation, and stop treating the teaching faculty like second-class citizens. If office space is in short supply, don't prioritize new tenure stream faculty over permanent teaching faculty. Make sure they know they are included in departmental deliberations, invite them to faculty meetings and give them a vote. Ask their service preferences. Maybe they would like to be more involved, maybe they don't have the time, but ask. Think of them and treat them as you would any other member of the department, since that's what they are, the major difference being that they typically work harder, for less money, and with less security. If it's possible, find ways to grant them course reductions or leaves, especially if they are accomplishing a lot without recognition or reward.


The entire system is so inherently and deeply unjust that it's hard to imagine how any "reforms" could possibly matter. A few basic structural injustices:

1. In my non-TT position, I am "rehired" every single term despite having now been at this institution longer than half the department. I'm treated on paper as if I were some new person on a short-term contract. In reality I'll spend most of my adult life serving this institution, doing the dirty work, teaching five or six times as much as any TT person. But there is no institutional process by means of which my real status--a more-than-full-time, permanent employee--can ever be recognized. I can never get a raise, or any greater job security. My meager benefits can never be increased. It's a dead-end, an artificially maintained holding pattern. My research counts for nothing. There is absolutely nothing that can ever change until I'm just too decrepit to do it anymore, at which point I'll be kicked to the curb and some new sucker will be brought in to replace me. This is in a place that is already unionized; in practice, what this means is that a small number of losers like me sit on the union executive and collude with faculty and administration to keep the rest on the plantation. I have never seen the union do anything--and I mean anything--to stick up for non-TT people when there was any real pressure from the university.

2. As a result of the conditions described above, people like us have no academic freedom whatsoever. Unless we simply don't care about having a job in a few months, we can't risk saying anything in class (or in print) that might bother even one crazy or resentful student. Imagine that just one student is mad about a bad grade, and decides to complain that I said something "inappropriate" in class. If the chair doesn't like me anymore, I'm gone. In theory I have some rights but, again, the union will not do anything to protect me if the university doesn't like me anymore. And I have no ability to represent myself legally, or hire a lawyer (even if I could afford one), unless the union declines to "represent" me. So I can't actually do philosophy in my teaching or research. (Of course, it might be naive to expect you could ever do real philosophy in an institution, or as a job.)

3. Pay equity: Under any realistic calculation of the sheer effort that people like me devote to the system, doing exactly the same work as TT people, we should be getting paid _far_ more or they should be getting paid _far_ less. People will say "But they do research" or "They do committee work" etc. Well, I also do research, some of them don't, and I teach so much more than they do. The whole point of this structure, of course, is to allow generous salaries, pensions and benefits for the TT people; the only way to finance it is to have the non-TT ones do most of the teaching at cut rate. (And students are getting ripped off here too, of course. How can I be expected to do my best teaching, or even a decent job, when I have seven courses per term, year-round?) When I was involved in this stuff more seriously we did calculations. We're paid roughly 1/3 of what the more senior tenured people are paid to teach the same courses. This is known, it's probably illegal, but it will continue because no one with any power has any incentive to change it.

But as I say, I'm very skeptical that any of this can be dealt with except by demolishing the whole system. That's what should happen, and it wouldn't really be so bad.

Not a sucker

Re Jazzhands: this post is hard to read, but I think accurately reflects reality for many people.

I'm not sure how to translate these thoughts into an answer to Marcus' question. (I realize Jazzhands' point was that there was no good answer; perhaps they are correct.) A contract and other work conditions that accurately reflect the reality of their situation should be a right of non-TT workers. No one should end up in Jazzhands' situation (1). I also realize this isn't a problem unique to academia: tons of contract workers out there are really doing the labour of conventional permanent, full-time employees without any of the protections.


Note: I think it's a good point this isn't a problem just for academia. Contract work is problematic in lots of fields and it seems something that should be addressed socially/politically on a broader scale.

What I wanted say on the issue was this: On the one hand, yes, pretty much nowhere are non-TT jobs as good as TT ones. However, some places treat non-TT faculty much better than others. We have had posts on The Cocoon from non-TT faculty who are pretty happy with their jobs, even if they have complaints.

An obvious way to make things better is to look at the places that treat non-TT fairly well, and to think about how that can be implemented on a broader scale. Things *can* get better, because they are already better at a lot of institutions. Yes, I get that doesn't make things equal. But when people are very unhappy in TT jobs it sure as hell seems worth trying things that seem to make other non-TT faculty reasonably happy. We shouldn't let perfect be the enemy of the good kind of thing.

I've worked at two institutions where non-TT faculty are treated pretty well. Here are some things that took place at those institutions.

1. While non TT faculty taught more, it wasn't anything insane like 7 courses a term. At one place, TT had a 2/2 load and research expectations, and non-TT had a 4/4 and no research expectations. At another, TT faculty had a 3/3 and research, and non-TT faculty had a 5/4 and no research. (Yes, some do research anyway, but I don't think you can really complain about what you choose to do in your free time and what your contract does not require you to do. If you would get fired for not doing research, in that case, of course you can complain.)

2. They are given EQUAL travel money to TT-faculty, and EQUAL healthcare benefits. I am not sure on this, but I think equal retirement benefits as well. I do know non-TT were at least given some retirement benefits.

3. They can be promoted. At one place I worked there was 2 levels of lectures and at another place I worked 3 levels of lectures. Each promotion comes with additional pay, job security, and other privileges like priority for selecting classes.

4. Welcome them as part of your department. Offer but do not require committee work and meeting attendance. At one place I worked, we did not require non TT faculty to attend meetings, but about 1/2 of them did anyway. They got to vote on about 1/2 of department matters. For those who choose to come, we would schedule the meetings around them just as much as we schedule them around TT faculty. They are welcome but not required to do committee work. I'd say about 2/3 choose to do committee work probably because they find it meaningful and worthwhile and it makes them feel like part of the community. For the limited number of service jobs that come with a course release, non-TT faculty would get a course release too.

5. Non-TT faculty are included in all faculty email lists.

6. From what I can tell, TT faculty were not given priority over non-TT when it came to choosing classes, although TT faculty were given teaching assistant priority.

7. Their input in faculty meetings and in email discussions, from what I can tell, seems to have been taken just as seriously as the word of anybody else.

8. We often were making requests to admin to give non-TT faculty more privileges, for example, the ability to serve on PhD committees.

9. Non-TT faculty can apply to internal fellowships and sometimes get them even against competing TT faculty, i.e., they get a semester off teaching to work on a project (this might be a research project, teaching project, for community project.)

10. They have their own offices on the same floor as the TT faculty. There offices are no different from our offices and it is not like TT faculty are in one part of the floor and non-TT on another. We were all mixed together. I don't know what would happen if we ran out of office space. But when I was around, there was enough office space for all TT faculty and all lecturers (there were some adjuncts without offices, but we didn't have a lot of adjuncts and the adjuncts we had were not trying to make a living off their teaching.)Our emeritus faculty have offices in some other building.

11. When we hire a lecturer, there was a search committee and it was taken just as seriously as a search for a TT faculty. And once hired would brag about the person we hired just like we would a TT hire.

I will say again what I've said before: a lot of the problem with non-TT faculty is the social lack of respect from the discipline. This lack of respect is promulgated every-time someone suggests that the only jobs that are "real" or "worth having" are TT jobs. And I get that in probably all circumstances, all things being equal, it makes sense to choose a TT job over a non-TT job. But all things aren't always equal. You might want to live in a certain area. You might enjoy the community of one university better than another. You might enjoy not having the pressure to publish. You might be trying to workout out a job with a spouse and they will only offer a lecturer position. The point is there are cases in which it makes sense to choose a non-TT job over a TT one, at least at those institutions that treat non-TT faculty with basic respect.



I should add one more thing. The non-TT faculty were treated with respect not just from the department but also the university. They frequently received university awards, fellowships, published in the research oriented university newspaper, were invited speakers at various on campus events, etc. The main difference in their job is the lack of research expectations, and simply the perceived lack of social status from the absence of the TT title.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: Great comments - we created the same types of positions at our university several years ago.


I don't agree that any of these measures could add up to treating non-TT workers "with respect".

The structure of the current system encodes profound disrespect, and including people on email lists or inviting them to do committee work (for example) simply makes no difference to that fundamental institutionalized disrespect.

Our positions exist _for the purpose_ of enabling privilege, leisure, comfort and security for others whose achievements, qualifications, experience or time served are often exactly the same as ours or, often enough, significantly inferior.

There is no morally or intellectually relevant difference between us and those other people, considered simply as types of workers within the institution. The difference is simply that we have been put into one institutional box, and they have been put in the other, nicer institutional box. And we have been put in the not-so-nice box _in order_ that they can be put in the much nicer one.

I don't see how anyone could be aware of this situation without grasping that it involves profound disrespect for the people in the not-nice box. Why are we in there? Well, because no one wants to extend equal or impartial or fair consideration to our achievements and qualifications and contributions--and they don't want to do that because, if they did, they couldn't exploit our cheap precarious labor for the benefit of others who are, again, not different in any relevant respect except that they ended up in the nice box.

Even if I were eligible for a "promotion" from one "lecturer" position to another, that would not really be respectful. Why should I be limited to being a "lecturer" when I publish, and publish far more than some of the tenured people? Why are they eligible for recognition and institutional privileges--sabbaticals, for example--that are simply not open to me? There's no answer that doesn't convey a sort of contempt for me and my work, my aspirations. At least I can't imagine one.

It seems obvious that in any fair environment where people are treated with basic respect, it would at least be _possible_ for someone like me to _become_ eligible for exactly the same sorts of promotions or higher status that are open to the TT people, provided that I could demonstrate achievement and ability in all the same relevant respects. As things stand, it's really no different from the institution telling me "Sorry, you might have a PhD and a list of nice publications, but you just can't teach a grad seminar because, you know, you're brown". Would the situation be significantly more respectful if brown philosophers were given nicer offices or a less demanding teaching schedule?

No offense, but I find this kind of thing to be (ironically) an enactment of the very same structural injustice and disrespect that I was describing. It's frankly inhuman to imagine that someone in my position could really feel respected simply in virtue of a lighter teaching load or whatever. (And, of course, I don't want a lighter teaching load. I'm paid poorly, and that would just mean I'd have to teach more elsewhere or else not be able to support myself.)

The simple truth is that this system is intrinsically wrong. There should not _be_ any non-TT positions, at least not in anything like their current form. (It's fine, I guess, if universities want to bring in some person for a one-off engagement. I'm talking about universities relying on non-TT people to do the majority of teaching across most disciplines.) If there are such positions, and this is a normal part of the functioning of the institution, there just is deep disrespect, cruelty and callousness, human potential wasted or destroyed, bad teaching and no academic freedom, inequity and snobbery, etc. That's just what this _is_ and no amount of tinkering and good intentions will make a difference.


Amanda writes:

"Yes, some do research anyway, but I don't think you can really complain about what you choose to do in your free time and what your contract does not require you to do. If you would get fired for not doing research, in that case, of course you can complain."

This is a great example of the profound disrespect I was talking about. Hey it's just some eccentric hobby. (And never mind that it's incredibly difficult to write and publish with no institutional support or recognition, little time or funding.)

First of all, while it's true that my _contract_ does not "require" me to do research, my continued and precarious employment is dependent partly on my research. The more I publish, the more "points" I get toward whatever course load I'm applying for in a given term. Thus, the very same achievement that would get me tenure if I were in a different institutional box gets me (at most) a higher probability of teaching an intro course one more time.

So there is this dishonesty in my institution and others where I've worked. On the one hand, "It's not in your contract, we don't hire you to do this". On the other hand, "If you don't keep doing this you won't be competitive and maybe you won't get hired back".

Second, it's just absurd to pretend that my research is nothing more than "something I do in my spare time". If I'm teaching an epistemology course, then of course my _research_ in epistemology is normally going to be highly relevant to the quality of the course. It's _because_ I do research that I'm up on the latest literature, engaged and full of ideas. And many faculty people do no research and their teaching suffers as a result.

But finally, it's also absurd to pretend that it's _just_ for the research of some people to count for nothing and be regarded as just an irrelevant hobby while the _same_ activities and achievements of other people doing the _same_ job in the classroom is treated as a relevant factor in what _qualifies_ them for their TT positions. Ask any non-R1 university why TT people are being hired. Well, in large part they're hired to be teachers. And why does it matter that they do research? Is it just because the universe needs more papers on semantics or modal logic or utilitarianism? The answer is always that this has something to do with their _teaching_ Maybe that's just stuff they say. Maybe it's not true. But the fact is that these institutions treat research _as if_ it were relevant to teaching and very important. So why then does it become just an eccentric hobby when the people who do most of the teaching are the ones doing it?

And this is to say nothing of the many faculty who do no research, or haven't done any for decades. Or the outrageous disparity in pay. Is equal pay for equal work any part of basic respect? I would think so. How absurd to pretend that people can be treated with respect without addressing _that_

history buff

I assume you are working in the USA, and probably at a state university. I worked at one, and I learned a bit about the history of how this distressing situation came about. Around 1980, there were about 10 full time philosophy faculty at my school. Then the tide turned, and when people left positions the positions were not renewed. In time the department was down, really low. They would periodically get a position. Then the chair made a pact with the devil, and began hiring adjuncts, first one, and then another. By around 2000, there were 5 full time faculty, and 5 adjuncts. It was bad. Now that is called normal. This story can be told over and over again across the country.


Marcus glad to hear other places are doing similar things!

Jazzhands: Well, whether it is respect or not it is better to treat non-TT better. So we should try to do that, regardless of whether it meets some other standard like respect or equality or whatever. Treat people better when possible is a simple and not world-changing commitment, but one I take seriously.

Second, I don't know how you are defining "fundamental institutionalized disrespect" but paying people better, giving them promotions, including them in the community, giving them healthcare and travel benefits - these show individual persons respect, at least in some circumstances, and I want to do that. I think that's important, whether or not it changes whatever institutional power system is responsible for bigger problems.

The world is hierarchical and unfairly values some people over others. Yes, it sucks. Yes, we should try to change it.But damn, life is short and I for one want to appreciate the good things that exist in this world, including so many privileges that people before me have spent their life fighting for so I and people like me can enjoy them today. People who lived before me fought to overcome things that would have made life really difficult for a gay, disabled, woman. And now I can live a decent life in the midst of all the imperfections. I want to help other people live a decent life even if I don't change the world and overturn the power structures. Yes, we should try to overturn these things to the extent we can, but I think we should try to do smaller things also.

Maybe there should be no non-TT positions and you are right that it is fundamentally wrong. But we do have them. Just like we have all sorts of other things in this world that we shouldn't have. I'm a pragmatist. Maybe that's immoral. But I try to work with what I have to make things better to the extent that I can.

As far as for imagining that people in your position can feel respected. Well I can't speak for people in your exact position. But many people in non-TT positions *do* feel respected and *do* enjoy their job. I don't get to speak for everyone, but you don't either. I get that you find it shocking that others can feel respected and happy in what you consider to be such fundamental wrongness. But people do. Not everyone sees things like you do. The world is a big place, and people value all sorts of different things that you might not value and they feel all sorts of different emotions that you might not feel. They matter too. They're opinion is valid too. And yes, so is yours.

Lastly, if you are so abused and unhappy I hope you leave the profession and find something better. I am sure you are convinced you can't do something else.....but you can. Life has good things to offer you. I hope you find them.

a philosopher

I just wanted to say that I agree with both Jazzhands and Amanda. Both raise legitimate points worth taking seriously. I'm not sure there's any real resolution which absolves the apparent disagreement, beyond compartmentalizing the two perspectives and only thinking too hard about one at a time.

Regarding Amanda's last point, for whatever it's worth, when I've found myself in Jazzhands' shoes, I just left the profession. Because, well, it does suck.


Just to bring some of the specific issues back in: one thing Jazzhands talks about is the pressure of doing research while also teaching a lot.

I don't want to get into their particular reasoning for doing this, but : part of what makes it rational for people to research when their contract doesn't ask for research is the precarity of their position and the possibility that they will, at the end of the semester, need to start applying for work elsewhere, at institutions that might raise their eyebrows at the lack of an active research program.

One solution to this problem is longer term contracts, and a longer warning period before a "non-renewal".

Jazzhands, I agree with many of your claims, but incremental gains increase quality of life for NTT faculty members, and so talking about how to make those gains happen is worthwhile.


I appreciate this well meaning thought:

"Lastly, if you are so abused and unhappy I hope you leave the profession and find something better. I am sure you are convinced you can't do something else.....but you can. Life has good things to offer you. I hope you find them."

But, in fact, there just are not any realistic better options for me. I'm not so young, I have dependents and debts, and I have no other marketable skills. I guess I could "learn to code" or something, but it's not particularly likely that this would actually result in a better career. You can tell me that there are all these options out there, but maybe you should consider more seriously that I (and others like me) have already explored a lot of options and thought long and hard about the situation. To the best of my knowledge, given all the contingencies, this is pretty much the best deal available. And, of course, the institution tends to agree with this assessment; that's why they're under no pressure to offer me anything more decent.

But I'm not particularly unhappy. I have a good life in many respects, and there are aspects of my job that I enjoy. The point is just that my situation is (demonstrably, objectively) unjust. My rights are being violated: the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to proper recognition of my real employment status, the right to professional advancement on the basis of criteria applicable to others doing substantively identical work in the same workplace, and so on.

The topic was the "rights" of non-TT people, not their subjective satisfaction. And I don't see how anyone can deny that our rights are being violated, that this is a systemic issue, and that nicer treatment of the kind you favor won't make any difference to the violation of our rights.

I do agree with most of this:

"The world is a big place, and people value all sorts of different things that you might not value and they feel all sorts of different emotions that you might not feel. They matter too. They're opinion is valid too. And yes, so is yours."

But I don't think it's relevant. No doubt there have been happy slaves too. People adapt to their circumstances, and most find it too painful to dwell on injustices they can't do anything about. (I do wonder, though, whether perhaps the non-TT people you talked to weren't being completely honest with you. Maybe they feel some reasonable concern about being blunt on this topic with faculty who typically have great power over them.) I do know some people who have convinced themselves that our situation is really not so bad, all things considered. And that's "valid", of course, if it's just a matter of how they feel. If it helps people get through the day I have no objection to it. But, again, my point is not that I'm unhappy but rather that my situation is objectively seriously unjust. If some non-TT people disagree with me about that, we can't both be right, and I have never heard a good argument for that view.

This strikes me as quite strange:

"I for one want to appreciate the good things that exist in this world, including so many privileges that people before me have spent their life fighting for so I and people like me can enjoy them today."

Were these people fighting for you to enjoy such privileges on the basis of the systemic exploitation of others no less deserving of those privileges? If so, their fight was misguided at best, and the fact that others fought for this exploitative situation doesn't entitle you or anyone else to benefit from it.

Imagine someone saying something similar about some other gross injustice:

"Sure, it's unfair that people in Pakistan work like slaves in brutal conditions so that I can enjoy my nice sneakers at a very low price--but life is short and I for one want to enjoy the privileges that the British East India company fought to establish for people like me."

I hope you'd agree that such an attitude would be morally indefensible--though also entirely human and probably forgivable. (No, I'm not saying that the situation of non-TT PhDs is comparable in all respects to that of sweatshop workers.)

Anyway, I do appreciate that a small minority of TT people would like to do a few nice things for us. And that would have some value, to be sure. I don't prefer a situation where the non-TT people are somewhat more unhappy. But this does nothing to address the basic injustices that I've mentioned. If you're saying that you have no interest in addressing those, and don't regard this as a pressing moral issue, that's fine. But it's important to be clear about what it is that you're endorsing: gross systemic injustice against a large class of people, as a means to the comfort and happiness of people in your class.


jazzhands: If you are happy and think you have a basically good life, then (1) I am glad. And, (2) then I think you are probably correct that this is the best deal available to you. I think that non-TT jobs can sometimes be very fulfilling jobs that provide a lot of what people need to live a good life. Not all of them are like this, but some are like this. And if you are in that position, or at least in a position where overall you are happy and able to support your family, then I *do* get that there might not be anything better.

My stance on finding something better (for you or for anyone in non-TT positions) is that *if* someone is miserable and/or feels desperately insecure financially, well then in *that* case, they typically *can* find something better. But if someone is *not* miserable, and if they can support their family and they are fairly happy, then sure, this might be the best available. All of those things just mentioned are scare employment wins that many people never find. Unless there was an obvious alternative for someone, I wouldn't recommend anyone that is fairly happy and secure in their employment to go find something better. Being fairly happy is pretty good, in my book, anyway. I guess my confusion was with the way you described the system, and the way you suggested that no one respects you.... well that just lead me to believe that you are not happy. I'm glad I was wrong.

As for your thoughts on rights. Okay, maybe you were responding better to the subject of the post. I didn't read things in a theoretical way, i.e., about the objective sense of rights and what would need to do to create an ideal system that doesn't violate rights or exploit anyone. I guess I didn't read it this way, because this blog seems very practically oriented. I find your view on rights plausible, but honestly, I would have to spend more time thinking about theories of rights and related issues before I could say whether I agree or disagree. I don't have strong philosophical commitments on what rights in themselves amount to. When making political decisions I try to focus more on whether a certain policy is ethically better or worse. I am not suggesting that the way I do things is preferable. Just explaining my thought process.

"Were these people fighting for you to enjoy such privileges on the basis of the systemic exploitation of others no less deserving of those privileges? If so, their fight was misguided at best, and the fact that others fought for this exploitative situation doesn't entitle you or anyone else to benefit from it."

I am not sure what you are getting at in the above. Are you suggesting that because people who have fought to make the world more just failed in making it *completely* just, that therefore they did nothing good and are actually exploiting people? The people who fought to overturn past injustices did not do so "on the basis of the systematic exploitation of others." It is not "on that basis" that people wanted to make the system more just. It is just that the exploitive system is what they had to work with. So therefore, anybody who is no longer exploited I guess becomes part of the class that is benefiting from the others who are still exploited. But this isn't because they don't care or enjoy exploiting others. It is because they have no other choice. The system is just too hard to overturn its entirety.

So imagine this situation: I am working for a company that frees persons unjustly imprisoned, you know, like the innocence project. I find out that there are two prisoners in my city that are innocent, but yet imprisoned. I consider all the possibilities, and I cannot free them both. I can only free one of them. I think I should do this, even though the other prisoner remains unjustly imprisoned and even though me and the newly freed prisoner will take part in the exploitive system that is responsible for the other prisoner remaining in jail (i.e we pay taxes, stop when a cop pulls us over, serve on juries, etc.) I also think that if a family member of one prisoner decided to help their family member and not the other prisoner simply because they love their family member and don't have time to commit to freeing both, well this is okay too.

No, the second prisoner is *not* any less deserving than the first. Still, it is okay to save only one if the alternative is saving none. You seem to think that fights against injustice must rectify everything or they don't "count" as actually fighting injustice. Maybe I am misunderstanding you. But if this is along the lines of what you think, then I strongly disagree.

Here is my point about being grateful for people who have fought in the past. We don't live in a perfect world, Lots of us face injustices a lot of the time, myself included. It sucks when I have to deal with it. It really does. And I bitch about it to my close friends and doing this is kind of cathartic. But in spite of that, I try to recognize that in many ways I have it very good. That compared to a lot of people in the past, I have it very, very, good. And I have it that way because other people worked their ass off to make the "system," the world, whatever, better than it was before. So as angry as I get about all sorts of injustices, I personally find it helpful to balance this anger with gratitude for those who made the injustices I deal with less than they used to be. I kind of think many of us *owe* this gratitude to people in the past.

The above said, maybe some non-TT people will find it helpful to think about similar things when they take their sick kid to the emergency room and use their employment provided health insurance to pay for it. Lots of non-TT people in the *past* and *present* do not have that kind of health insurance. So for the ones that do, they might want to think about how nice it is to have health insurance, and that it is nice other people worked hard to make this possible. Sure, okay, they might not want to think about that either. I get that it doesn't change all the systematic stuff. But my entire point was that I see these things worth thinking about, and if you don't, then we are just approaching this from different value systems.

I hope the above explains this, but your point re Pakistani was missing my point. My point was more comparable to the prisoner example I gave. And I wasn't talking about being grateful for what I have in academia. I was talking about being grateful for what I have in other parts of social and political life. This is relevant, because my gratitude for these other things might be comparable to the gratitude non-TT people might have for certain good things they can enjoy in the midst of their unfair working conditions. Just like I am grateful for various good things I get in the midst of other types of unfairness.

Overall, I cannot get at whether your points are at some level of ideal theory, or you think they have policy and practical implications. But your last comment seems to suggest you think this is practical. I don't even know where to begin with the whole, "Um yes, I endorse gross systematic injustice so "my people" (???) can have comfort and happiness."

Wow. So may things wrong with that suggestion.

1. Having a TT job does not make you happy and comfortable. And having a non-TT job does not make you unhappy and uncomfortable. Not even close. This isn't hard to verify. As I have said many times before, many TT jobs are *worse* than non-TT jobs. Some that have TT jobs are still treated like crap.

2. What do *you* want to do to address the basic injustices? I get it. My solutions are small and kind of pointless even if they help a little, because yeah, the entire system is unjust. So what is your big issue solution? Let me know and I can decide whether or not I endorse it.

3. The world is unjust in so, so, many respects. However, it is also in many ways much, much, better than the world in the past. From what I have seen, improvements have almost always been made not by overturning the entire system, but by overturning it piece by piece. I don't believe overturning the entire system is plausible, especially not the system you reference. I can't even imagine what would have to happen for all universities to completely eliminate non-TT positions. It doesn't follow from this that I endorse the system. Maybe I am too pessimistic and maybe you're grand plan to overturn the entire system (the one I'm waiting to hear) once and for all will work. Maybe I just really ought to get behind it. Well, I still need to evaluate your plan. But suppose I do evaluate it and suppose I think it won't work. And suppose I am wrong. All this means is that I am mistaken about what is effective. This does not mean I "endorse" systematic injustice.


a philosopher: are you happy in your current job?

FWIW, I don't disagree with jazzhands about the systematic injustice. I think I just disagree with him about the plausibility of changing things, and the most efficient way to make things better for all in academic positions, especially those in non-TT positions.


anon: yes, I get why it is rational for *some* in non-TT jobs to keep doing research. Especially those at the beginning of their career.

My point was for those people who have *secure* non-TT positions. People in those positions can really choose to not do research. And sure, you can argue in some sense their position isn't secure. But at many places all the evidence suggests their position is nearly as secure as their colleagues in TT positions, and more secure than many other philosophers who actually are in TT positions. If you are in a renewing lecturer position at a huge school with a very strong financial backing, you are likely more secure than a TT person at a not so prestigious liberal arts college that has okay, but not great, financial status. Actually, we had a post on The Cocoon from someone who *choose* a renewing non-TT position over a TT one for what I recall was very similar reasons.

I think it's important to remember that the security of TT positions is absolutely not normal when looking at the jobs held by 95% of the workforce. Most jobs outside of academia are jobs that you can lose not merely every contract season, but every day. We get a very skewed view on what employment security looks like by taking TT as the role model. Sam Duncan, who posts here a lot, doesn't have an official TT position but he says all the time that his job is very secure, and I'm sure it is. Tons of people in industry technically could get fired any time, but they live with no anxiety that this will actually happen. So the fact that someone in a non-TT position doesn't have the language in their contract that gives the security of tenure doesn't mean they are in a "precarious" position by almost any reasonable standard of security. They might be. But many of them are not. And my point is we should try to make as many non-TT jobs as possible the secure type of non-TT jobs.

a philosopher

Amanda, I am currently back in philosophy after a few years off, due to a lucky break, but I am also back on the market this year, as this is the last year of my contract. But, yes, I was quite happy in my previous nonacademic jobs. My situation there was much better, especially for my mental health, than being in the sorts of hellish, unrespected temp positions Jazzhands describes. I will say that although I very much hope things work out for me in philosophy and that I have some sort of success on the job market this season, if I don't, I am fully prepared to shrug my shoulders and pickup my nonacademic career again.

A final thought on the disagreement between you (Amanda) and Jazzhands: I'm kinda looking at this thing from 30k feet and squinting through my memory of past posts, but I didn't read Jazzhands as advocating for replacing all non-TT positions with TT ones. I simply read them as wanting contracts, or at least employment terms, for non-TT positions which reflect the reality of the situation. For example, if a position really is just a VAP to fill a circumstantial need for a year, then fine, give the person a one-year contract and otherwise treat them as a short-term employee. But if you're using various forms of contingent employees (VAPs, adjuncts, whatever) to fill teaching needs a reasonable person would foresee you having indefinitely, for 3-4 yrs, whatever, then these people should be afforded the appropriate employment terms: e.g., a contract that promises renewal assuming satisfactory performance or no-contract indefinite employment terms (you know, like a normal person), clear job expectations, pay and benefits commensurate with other full-time permanent faculty doing equivalent work, reasonable benefits afforded to other permanent faculty like an office, etc.

I will happily take a "teaching stream", non-TT position if it affords these sorts of employment terms and otherwise fits my needs. What I won't do is hop back into the exploitative adjuncting game Jazzhands describes.


Hi Amanda,
Your analogy with the person working for the Innocence Project seems faulty in a few respects. First, this person is disinterested. She doesn't stand to benefit (or lose anything) from either of the innocent people being freed. Likewise, whichever of the two innocent people ends up getting her attention and getting freed will not be imposing any new harms on the other one as a result, and the free innocent person is not better off as a direct result of the injustice done to the other one.

So a somewhat closer analogy would be this. Imagine that, as the legal system is set up, one of these two people can be freed only if, for each day of freedom that he enjoys, another half-day is added to the sentence of the other one who's still in prison. And maybe we can imagine that his legal fees and housing expenses are partly covered by profits from the prison system, which in turn are generated by the slave labor of convicts--including this other innocent person who is still in the prison. Imagine that, unless the whole system were radically different, there is no way to get any innocent person out of prison.

I would say that in such a situation it's pretty dubious that the person working for the Innocent Project should try to get either one of these people free. It might even be morally wrong to try. (Though, of course, it would not be wrong to try to change the laws governing how innocent people get released from prison.)

Similarly, your position in the faculty class exists only because people in my class are being ruthlessly exploited. Otherwise, there simply wouldn't be enough money--unless the whole system were radically different--to finance your privileges and relatively light duties. This is how the situation resembles my situation with respect to sweatshop workers in Pakistan. I can't have my nice things at such a low price unless those other people are being ruthlessly exploited. (So I generally try to avoid buying stuff produced in sweatshops, because I don't want to be involved in that kind of injustice.)

Imagine the freed person in my version of the story saying something like this:

"Sure, my time as a free person out here depends on this other innocent person having years added to his sentence. Sure, my rent is paid by his slave labor. Still, I want to enjoy the privileges that others have fought for in the past. The world isn't perfect. Life is short. Hey, if I can I'll help that guy out. I already signed a petition to get him a bigger cell and more yard time! And I think it's vital that the guards treat him with respect. They should make him feel included and not be rude. That's imperfect but it's better than the old days."

The speech might contain a fair bit of truth even. Imagine that in the old days no one could ever be freed from prison under any circumstances. Or only if some other innocent person was tortured to death. That might well be worse than the unjust situation at present. But my intuition is that the free person in this situation would have a special moral duty to the prisoner whose misery and exploitation directly funds his freedom and happiness. It wouldn't be right for him to just say "Life is unfair" or whatever and then get back to enjoying his own life.

This seems like a special kind of situation, in other words. I don't claim that any arbitrary person has a moral obligation to rectify any injustice done to any other arbitrary person, or that it's never permissible to rectify one injustice without rectifying every injustice. That would, of course, be absurd.

Instead, I'm arguing that when (i) a person enjoys special privileges--and these really are privileges, so not deserved--as a direct result of injustices done to others, and (ii) this is an ongoing situation, and (iii) it's part of a larger systemic situation that makes it impossible for those privileges to exist otherwise, THEN (iv) it's immoral for this person to feel satisfied with reforms that may at most make the exploited other somewhat happier, without attempting to address the systemic injustice itself.

You ask what my plan is. Why would I need one? I could offer some ideas but it's not relevant. I'm describing what I take to be the moral situation.

I guess my position would be wrong if in reality there was nothing that TT people could do to address the systemic injustice. If, for example, it was truly impossible for them to organize themselves and speak out clearly and publicly on these issues, acknowledging their unjust privilege and the real nature of the academic system, demanding justice for the people whose exploitation facilitates their privilege, and so on.

But that's not impossible. And in fact there are many other things that TT people could do. But I'd be very impressed if they just did that. If even some of them, especially the more prominent and comfy tenured people, spoke out honestly and clearly and publicly and unequivocally.

No one is doing that though. Or even trying. Or even seriously talking about trying.

And that is despicable.

Marcus Arvan

Jazzhands: I have to confess to being more than a bit puzzled by your comments. I am happy to agree that adjuncts are ruthlessly exploited. I am not happy to admit that nonTT faculty in well-paying positions with excellent benefits are ruthlessly exploited. I was in those kinds of positions for 8 years. At no point did I feel ruthlessly exploited. I made good money, had my healthcare paid for, had 5 weeks off over winter break, and 4 months off during the summer. In many respects, while I was in that kind of non-TT position I was among the most privileged people in the world. I was thankful for my job--and I do not think that because some people had it better than me (with TT jobs), that somehow made my position profoundly unjust. I am, to be frank, as sympathetic with nonTT faculty as anyone--but I think my university and others have done a significant moral good *undoing* genuine injustices (to adjuncts) by creating more permanent positions like this with some real job security and opportunities for promotion, etc. Could we do even better, by creating more TT positions? *Absolutely*, but that is very hard to do and many of us work as hard as we possibly can to do it.


Hi Marcus,
I think you were in VAP positions, right? That's what you're talking about. So that may be somewhat different from what I had in mind. Let's not say "non TT" but something more specific: people like me, the lifers in the adjunct system. Let's just talk about _those_ people.

So while you were in VAPs you had summers off, healthcare, relatively nice teaching loads, etc. Well, my contention is that _those_ kinds of non-TT positions are also funded by the ruthless exploitation of the far larger number of precarious, under-paid adjunct positions.

Why do I say it's ruthless exploitation, injustice? I don't think it's so puzzling. Let me try again. I'm claiming that the position of adjuncts in the larger system includes these features:

(1) We are severely under-paid to do substantively the same work as others. (I have been involved in this stuff at a fairly high level through unions, and we've done some realistic calculations.)

(2) Our real employment status is not recognized, which enables the employer to cheat us out of protections and benefits to which we would be entitled if we were recognized for what we really are.

(3) Our employment is highly precarious, making it extremely risky for any of us (or any group of us) to advocate for our basic employment rights, or to complain of seriously unequal pay for equal work.

(4) It is because of conditions 1-3 that faculty and a minority of non-TT people are able to enjoy their very considerable privileges: light teaching duties, summers off, pensions and benefits, sabbaticals, etc. At my institution, adjuncts do 60-70% of all teaching. If we were paid better, or able to safely advocate for our legal rights, the whole system would come to a grinding halt immediately. That's the reality. It's similar at many other institutions.

So I would ask you to clarify if possible what is puzzling in my argument. It seems to me that when you put together conditions 1-4 you have a very clear case of systemic injustice and exploitation. Do you disagree that 1-4 are generally true for adjuncts throughout much of the western world? Do you disagree that 1-4, if true, would constitute serious injustice or exploitation?

You write:

"I do not think that because some people had it better than me (with TT jobs), that somehow made my position profoundly unjust."

This seems to ignore everything I've been saying. I am also not saying that adjuncts (and many other non-TT workers) are treated unjustly _merely_ in virtue of the fact that some people are better off. That would, of course, be absurd.

Again, I am saying that adjuncts are treated unjustly for various other reasons: Their employers pay other people far more to do substantially the same work; their employers refuse to recognize their real status and on that basis deny them normal protections and benefits; the others who are better off are better off _because_ adjuncts are under-paid, unrecognized, precariously employed, unable to safely advocate for their rights, etc.

You allow that we could "do even better" by "creating more TT positions". Well, maybe. I don't think that would be a good solution actually. Again, unless the whole system were radically changed, those new TT positions would inevitably come at the expense of exploitation of others. Personally I'd like to see TT positions abolished. I'd be happy with a world where everyone is on a contract--but I'd like that to include all the administrators and other parasites.

In any case, doing better with respect to our _rights_ as opposed to subjective feelings of adjuncts or VAPs or faculty would at least involve those who directly benefit from 1-4 speaking out collectively and clearly on the topic: Tell the whole world how it really works, how public money is diverted to fund comfort and privilege for faculty and administrators by means of injustice and exploitation. Demand that the system be changed.

That might not work but it's a moral duty of those who directly benefit from exploitation to at least air out the issue publicly. At least that's a duty for senior people with essentially nothing to lose. And yet they do NOTHING. They don't care enough to SAY SOMETHING.

That's despicable.

Now, I should qualify all of this just a bit: I'm open to the idea that no one is even entitled to the form of life that lifers in the adjunct system enjoy. To be sure, we're better off on the whole than sweatshop workers. I'm basically some kind of communist so I'm happy to consider that. However, IF my complaints are illegitimate because I'm not even entitled to what I currently enjoy--as could well be--that still doesn't make it just for faculty and administrators to exploit my labor and insecurity as they do. It just means that the whole thing should be dismantled; it means that positions like yours are even more morally objectionable than positions like mine. If instead it's not wrong that institutions roughly like these actual ones exist, then surely my complaints about 1-4 are legitimate even if there are many people in the world worse off than people like me. And even if, as I've already said, I am not miserable and even if many adjuncts don't _feel_ too troubled by their situation.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Jazzhands: Okay, now I'm clear on your argument. I agree that lifers in the adjunct system are exploited. However, the creation of new permanent non-TT positions has dramatically lessened dependence on adjunct labor at my university and others. I think this is a clear moral improvement. You seem to think it's not because it still leaves some people exploited. However, I think I'm with Amanda on this: nonideal conditions place serious constraints on what people can do to address injustices, and our duty is to do our best to make things significantly better in a world that makes it prohibitively difficult to make things perfect/completely just. I think the creation of these kinds of jobs *does* make things significantly better, reducing exploitation to an important and desirable degree--and that it is key to keep working for greater justice to the extent that we can.

Marcus Arvan

I'll also add, as an addendum, that I agree with you that people who benefit from these conditions have individual and collective duties to speak out about it and work to make things better.

Marcus Arvan

Let me also add that I think your comment at 11/17/2019 at 10:21 PM lends itself to my original interpretation of your argument. There, you write:

"I don't agree that any of these measures [the ones Amanda described and I describe about my VAP] could add up to treating non-TT workers "with respect".

The structure of the current system encodes profound disrespect, and including people on email lists or inviting them to do committee work (for example) simply makes no difference to that fundamental institutionalized disrespect...

There should not _be_ any non-TT positions, at least not in anything like their current form."

In these passages, you seem to clearly suggest that the kind of well-paid nonTT positions Amanda talks about (and my VAP was an instance of) are *themselves* positions that are exploited.


Hi Marcus,
We're probably talking past each other a little. First, it wasn't clear to me from Amanda's original post about this that the positions in question were "well-paid". As far as I can tell, she said nothing about money except that these non-TT people had equal "travel money". But maybe these positions are "well-paid" in some sense. For example, I probably earn quite a bit more per hour than people working at McDonalds. Maybe these positions pay far more than typical adjunct positions. However, that's consistent with being paid half or less than half of what your "colleagues" are getting to do substantially the same job (and often a much easier job).

Equal pay for equal work, at a single time and with a single employer, is a basic right. Or so I think. Since Amanda didn't describe a situation in which these non-TT people were getting equal pay for equal work, and since the real reason these jobs exist in the first place is to finance more expensive nicer jobs of the same kind in the same institution, I inferred that the nicer situation she described was still a violation of people's rights in that respect. It doesn't matter whether such positions are better paid than other similar (exploitative) positions. (To be clear, I'm also fine with leveling down here: Pay faculty and administration way less; put them all on contracts, etc. That is FINE by me. And it's not "resentment". It's a matter of basic justice and respect for persons.)

I'd say the same about some other issues, such as precarity and academic freedom and opportunities for recognition of one's achievements under fair and consistently applied standards within a single institution. None of that was addressed either. As long as none of these many issues are dealt with properly--justly and systemically--the basic situation is unjust and even people in nicer non-TT positions are being exploited. But that's consistent with my claim that some of those positions also depend on worse exploitation of others in worse positions.

If perhaps there are some VAPs that don't involve the kinds of exploitation I described then I was wrong to suggest that those positions involve exploitation of the people in those positions. I guess that could be, but I suspect all of them are exploitative in certain other respects. (But never mind.)

Perhaps the claim that non-TT positions "in their present form" shouldn't exist was too strong. To be more precise, I'll say that the vast majority shouldn't exist. Maybe 80% or more? All those that exist only in order to rip off precariously employed poor people for the benefit of the tenured and tenure-track and administrators. If there are some that don't exist for that reason then I'll be agnostic about whether they should exist.



The positions I am talking about are well paid. Equal pay for equal work is not an easy thing to define, because it is hard to compare different types of work. But it is not fair to just assume that it is unequal. And it is not fair to assume I was talking about unequal pay because I didn't mention pay. I also didn't mention their parking permits. If someone doesn't mention something, you can't just fill in the details however you like and act as though that is the fact of the matter. Well, you can, but it's not a great discourse strategy.

Well, okay- you bash all my ideas as small and pointless and ask if I am willing to do something to overturn the systematic injustice. Because, if I am not, then I am "endorsing" this injustice because it provides me and "my people" with comfort. So to avoid such harsh accusations, I ask you what that would be. You say that you don't need to tell me. Um okay.

You say there are "many" other things TT people can do, and here we have a TT person asking you what that is, and you are refusing to tell them. So you won't make a minimum effort to help the situation by providing advice on how to help, but you will complain that people trying to help are doing nothing useful, and that we enjoy exploiting others, and that you want us to act differently, but you refuse to tell us in what way we might actually do this (even though you know the 'many' ways it can happen.)

You said it's immoral for me to feel satisfied with reforms that don't completely stop exploitation. Well, I never said I felt satisfied. So I don't know what that is about. I am saying it is better to help a little than not help at all. I am also saying it sometimes makes sense to be grateful for improvements in one's life situation. That does not amount to being satisfied with the system.

Anyway you seem to have completely changed positions on your last comment when you suggest some non-TT positions are not explotive. That was my entire point in the first comment. We should look at places that are treating non-TT people correctly, and we should try to do what they do. I gave some examples of what they do. I didn't include everything, and I didn't claim to include everything. I said these are some things that help.

Lastly, lot of people air the issue publicly. All the time. So I am not sure on what grounds you are suggesting people are not airing the issue publicly. is best for their long term interests.

People on the market: I hope you know some non-TT jobs are secure and much better than some TT jobs. Good luck out there.


"There are many other things that TT people could do. But I'd be very impressed if they just did that. If even some of them, especially the more prominent and comfy tenured people, spoke out honestly and clearly and publicly and unequivocally.

No one is doing that though. Or even trying. Or even seriously talking about trying.

And that is despicable."

I really find this statement amazing. First, you accuse people of being despicable for not doing the "many" things that they can do, and you refuse to give suggestions. Second, you say that no one is even discussing the issue or trying to change it, when THIS ENTIRE POST is about how to improve things for non-TT people. That is EXACTLY what we are doing right here. Maybe you think it is not enough, or the right way, or whatever, but we certainly are talking about how non-TT people should be treated different/better than they are and we are trying to figure out how to do that. Lastly, I see efforts from tenured people about how to help non-TT people frequently. At my former institution, we brought up the issue of adjunct pay at every single faculty meeting, and it was always lead by the chair who of indeed had tenure. Marcus just talked about how his institution created better positions for non-TT. So I would agree that enough people are not talking about it and not enough are trying to help. But to say that this isn't happening at all is so obviously false it is hard to know where to begin.


Hi Amanda,
Equal pay for equal work is not hard to define, but it may be hard to apply the definition in some cases. Of course it's hard to compare the labor of a librarian and a janitor with respect to some abstract notion of "work". Generally speaking the cases I'm talking about are not like that.

In most of these cases, adjuncts are paid far less than what faculty and tenure-track people are paid, and the jobs are intuitively "equal" or comparable. Were such cases to make it to court, many would definitely fit normal legal conceptions of equal work. I will give you one example from my own workplace:

- Person A teaches 4 courses a year, with almost no grading, does some administrative work, has done no research for a decade.

- Person B teaches 14 courses a year, does all the grading, does administrative work unofficially, and is hired each term partly on the basis of having done some research in the last few years.

- Ignoring benefits and pensions, which are also deeply unequal, A is paid twice what B is paid per course taught.

I don't see any difficulty here in justifying the claim that the jobs performed by A and B are substantially the same. (In fact B is doing far more but never mind.) Labor lawyers have agreed with me on this, but they also tell me it would be incredibly difficult to get this heard in court.

So your claim that I "just assume that it is unequal" is false. I don't assume this, but rather I came to this conclusion as a result of many years of working in this environment, thinking over the issues and reading up on the law, being involved in negotiations with administration, and getting outside legal advice. It's a well supported conclusion. If you disagree, please explain why it's hard to apply the notion of equal pay for equal work to the situation I just described.


"We should look at places that are treating non-TT people correctly, and we should try to do what they do. I gave some examples of what they do. I didn't include everything, and I didn't claim to include everything. I said these are some things that help."

You didn't include equal pay for equal work, legal recognition of real employment status or any of the other things that would be required by justice. So if we're talking about rights violations, "some things that help" are simply irrelevant.

There are no universities that treat adjuncts "correctly" in the sense of justly or fairly or equitably. You seem to be conflating justice with being nice(r) but these are very different things.

The vast majority of non-TT positions are adjunct positions. However, as I noted earlier, I would allow that there may be some other non-TT positions (VAPs) which don't involve exploitation of this kind. Let's just set those aside. I'm happy to limit myself to the claim that the adjunct system (on which the entire system depends) involves gross exploitation for the benefit of people in your privileged class. Do you disagree with that statement?

"So you won't make a minimum effort to help the situation by providing advice on how to help, but you will complain that people trying to help are doing nothing useful"

I have provided one piece of advice: People in your class, particularly senior people, should collectively speak out clearly and unequivocally about this issue. They should acknowledge the real nature of the academic system, the exploitation and injustice that funds their own positions, etc. That would be the right thing to do, and it's possible it might even be "useful".

Beyond that, I don't see why it's up to someone in my position to come up with more practical advice. In fact, as I mentioned at the outset, I don't think this system can be fixed; it's thoroughly evil, in my opinion. But if there are solutions, shouldn't it be up to the privileged people within the system to do some work figuring that out? Do you normally expect ghetto kids to come to Congress with fully worked out plans about reducing poverty? Do you expect homeless people to tell you what to do about housing? (No, I am not saying that my position is comparable in all respects to theirs.) In any case, I think there is value in emphasizing how unjust the situation really is.

You say that lots of people are speaking out. Where? Who? Apart from the odd individual in private conversation, I'm not aware of any tenured or TT people saying what I think they should say. You yourself refuse to say it: You refuse to acknowledge that your own privilege is funded by the exploitation of people like me, that what you feel entitled to just "enjoy" can only exist because this large class of others must do all the heavy lifting at cut rate, always on the verge of unemployment.

So it's not nothing to press people like you in a public forum to be frank at least. Are you willing to admit that your privileges directly depend on the exploitation and insecurity of your "colleagues"? If not, I'm doing the Lord's work in trying to get you to admit it.

"you accuse people of being despicable for not doing the "many" things that they can do, and you refuse to give suggestions."

This seems to a misreading of the quoted passage. I said it was despicable to say nothing about the systemic injustice, when it would be so easy to say it, and when your privilege is directly dependent on that same injustice. I never said it was despicable for people to fail to do many other things. (And I won't get into the other things here; no one is going to be motivated to do those other things if they don't even admit that their privilege depends on systemic injustice, so there'd be no point.)

Marcus Arvan

Jazzhands, two points:

1. In both of my VAPs, I received equal pay as tenure-stream faculty. I know this to be fact in each case.

2. In the new types of full-time non-TT positions we have created at my university, non-TT faculty do *not* do equal work. We now have two types of full-time non-TT faculty: (a) lecturers, who are full-time non-TT people without terminal degrees (i.e. only an MA, not a PhD), and (b) Professors of Instruction (who do have PhDs). In neither case are these faculty expected to do all of the same things as tenure-stream faculty. They are *not* expected to do research, research is *not* a condition of promotion to higher levels; they are *not* expected to do various forms of service, such as advising, independent studies, honors tutorials, and so on.

So I really think you are just misunderstanding what universities like mine and the kind Amanda describe are doing. People in these positions are paid well and have excellent benefits, and they are paid commensurate with the substantially different work that they do.

a philosopher

I really want to get on board with Jazzhands, but they are making it hard. They seem to keep either overgeneralizing from their specific case, or alluding to vague generalities that have no grip in the real world. For example, they now explicitly asked Amanda "Are you willing to admit that your privileges directly depend on the exploitation and insecurity of your "colleagues"?". I assume they would put the same question to Marcus. But so far as I can tell (again, long thread), neither Amanda nor Marcus are in a department with a substantive level of adjuncting. Yes, of course, Jazzhands' specific situation is in some sense exploitative, but Amanda and Marcus aren't in parallel situations. So who, exactly, are they exploiting? Some vague notion of "us adjuncts"? Are they, despite their own department's financial independence, somehow indirectly exploiting Jazzhands' labour or the labour of other adjuncts at unconnected universities? If so, how, exactly?

Frankly, this whole conversation seems to have gone off the rails, including a good bit of emotion and talking past each other. I'm out there in the philosophy job sphere too and I also listen friends and those like Jazzhands, Amanda, and Marcus, and a few things seem clear:

(1) there are clearly plenty of individual institutions out there whose philosophy departments are structured like Jazzhands' department, in which there are X number of classes to be taught, Y dollars to pay instructors, and most of those dollars go to a few who teach only a few of the classes without doing any real compensating work; to keep the pay of those few high while still teaching X classes, it's necessary to employ people like Jazzhands at low wages and without real employment protection.

(2) But there are also departments like Amanda's and Marcus' (and others I can think of), which use essentially no adjunct labour, and these departments are financially independent of any other departments which use adjunct labour.

(3) A whole lot of departments fall somewhere in between (1) and (2), along various relevant dimensions.

(4) Since there are many departments like (1), and a lot of messiness in (3), there's a lot of injustice and exploitation floating around the system. Since many of these departments won't survive in their current form without that exploitation, a big chunk of philosophy departments would be shut down without it, and hence in some vague and loose sense "the system" depends on exploitation.

(5) As it happens, a lot of institutions are so bad off that tenure people themselves have no real security (due to, e.g., retrenchment), receive low pay, must teach many courses with no grading support, etc. In effect, these tenure people bear little resemblance to the bogeyman Jazzhands imagines and are little better off, if better off at all, than Jazzhands and other adjuncts. So the divide between exploited adjunct and ivory-tower TT exploiter is not a clean one, anyway.

(6) To complicate the moral picture further, many of those exploited adjuncts are exploited by community colleges to provide a cheap product (education) to the most needy individuals in the US: working-class, low-income, minority, adult, unemployed students who likely dropped out of high school or just otherwise aren't positioned for any form of higher education and who lack other viable paths to better themselves. So, you know, it's a morally messy situation.

In sum, what I see is a reality in which while there are big patches of injustice and exploitation of the sort Jazzhands rails against, that injustice is not nearly as "systematic" as Jazzhands' comments suggest, plenty of TT folk aren't directly benefiting from it, and that injustice often provides opportunities to people even worse off.

And as Amanda and others have said, the solution to resolving much of this injustice is pretty straightforward: shift as many of the (1) departments as we can into (2) departments, meaning equal pay for equal work, contracts and employment terms which reflect the reality of the job and job duties, etc. This suggestion has been now floated several times, and Jazzhands seems slow to embrace it, as if somehow there is some deeper, hard-to-articulate sort of injustice or exploitation that's baked into the system and can't be addressed by, piecemeal, shifting more departments from model (1) to model (2). But I just don't see this deeper problem.

Marcus Arvan

a philosopher: thanks for chiming in.

Just to clarify my previous comment: we still do employ significant levels of adjunct labor at my university. It is merely that the new positions we have created have *very* substantially cut down on adjunct labor (indeed, my department alone has reduced our adjunct dependence by nearly 1/3 in just two years), while at the same time creating well-paid permanent positions.

Jazzhands might say that people like me are still benefiting from an unjust system insofar as we have *any* adjuncts. But while that may be true, I think this is merely a point of ideal theory: ideal theory defines what is perfectly just, and by extension what is unjust. Ideal theory as such does *not* tell us precisely what our obligations are under unjust conditions. It just tells us: unjust conditions are bad.

In contrast, nonideal theory deals with what our *obligations* are to combat injustice. These kinds of nonideal questions are difficult, but I do *not* think that nonideal morality or justice require those who benefit from injustice to "not benefit from injustice at all", as that is totally unrealistic among other things. There is nothing we can do in nonideal conditions to completely avoid benefiting from injustice. What we can do is take on *fair burdens* for addressing injustices (see https://philpapers.org/rec/ARVNJA-2 ).

But this is broadly what I think me and many of my colleagues have been doing by working hard in our Faculty Senate and elsewhere to create new well-paying positions like these in order to reduce adjunct dependence. Our faculty spent years working on this, and as I say above I think it has dramatically lessened the injustices that exist. So, I think in that regard, we have done what we should. Second, I think that getting the word out and discussing things like this on this blog and in the profession and public sphere more generally are other ways to help address these issues. Running this blog, hosting discussions like this (and about the rights of non-TT faculty) are not cost-free for me: it takes work to write blog posts, moderate discussions, run polls, and so on. In a word, I (and I think many people) in positions of power (e.g. TT positions) are actually doing quite a lot to try to change things for the better. But we do live in a *nonideal* world, and to expect "perfection" (of the sort that Jazzhands' various comments suggest) seems to me plainly unreasonable once we understand what 'nonideal justice' really requires.

I'll end with a common saying: Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. Many of us are doing good. Saying we're not doing good because, for all that we still benefit from injustice, is a kind of moral purism that I think is unfair and out of touch with what people who actually find themselves in an unfair world can reasonably accomplish in an unjust world like our own.


Hi Marcus,
Just to be clear, I never denied that some TT people such as you (or Amanda) are "doing good". I denied that doing good in the specific sense indicated by Amanda's comments is enough to deal with violations of our _rights_ under the present system.

In case I seem overly harsh, thank you and thanks to Amanda for attempting to do good. And thanks for hosting this discussion. That's also doing good.

A philosopher: I don't know whether I overestimate the systemic quality of the injustice. Maybe. But I see a vast system of networked institutions and vested interests, not just indiviual departments or faculty associations but states and banks and corporate powers. The credentialing racket is part of this, and I don't see how we could have got to this point without a systemic push for cheap labor as a means to privileges for the few. Since there seems to be no way for this system to function without exploitative labor, I doubt that all or even most departments will ever adopt basic measures such as pay equity. There is no structural incentive to do so.

Here is a recent piece about the system (as I see it) up in Canada which I think supports my overall picture:


If this is even roughly right there is in effect a conspiracy. I doubt things are deeply different in other Canadian provinces or in the US. Do you disagree?

a philosopher


As I said, I'm sympathetic to your position. I quickly skimmed the linked article. It sounds, roughly, like I expected, although I didn't glean any new information or special insights into the deep systematic nature of the problem.

There are, of course, interconnections between universities. What happens at a rich, private institution (e.g., Harvard) is not totally disconnected from the current state of public education funding, the overall state of the college admissions pool, and broader economic trends. Large wealthy public institutions (e.g., UT Austin) are even more complicated cases.

What I was questioning was the extent to which these loose systematic connections conferred direct responsibility on TT faculty at certain institutions. If I'm a late-stage career faculty member doing no research at a struggling local state school with a light teaching load and pay that's only possible due to the adjuncts my school employs to teach half the classes, then obviously I benefit from the exploitation of those faculty members in a vivid and vicious way: without their cheap labour, my university would fold and I'd be out my cushy job.

But what if I'm one of a dozen TT faculty at a small rich SLAC that doesn't use any adjuncts? Do the loose systematic connections noted at the start mean that I'm somehow exploiting the labour of adjuncts at other schools? Maybe, but clearly there's a difference between the cases.

Most of what I wanted to do was highlight this difference.

Of course, there's still good reason for the person in the latter situation to stand up for adjuncts in general. It's probably the case that many more TT faculty, even those not themselves directly exploiting anyone, should do more.


I can't spend much more time commenting on this. But I just want to second Marcus's two points.

The positions I am discussing are ones in which non-TT faculty are paid very well (more than TT faculty at lots of institutions in the same state) and receive great benefits. Their contract has different requirements than TT faculty. As I said above, they teach more (but nothing crazy as far as load goes) and do not have research responsibilities. Some have minimal service responsibilities, others do not have any. Some choose to do research anyway, others do not do research.

Equal work is also puzzling to me unless we are talking about contracted, required work, because no faculty, TT, or not, do equal work. We all know some slackers, some overachievers, some people who do lots of research, others who want to just pass the minimum bars. One of my colleagues told me that because of work life balance, he does not want to do more publishing than required for tenure, nor more service. That's fine. I get and respect his choice. I choose to do more than required in both those areas. I don't think I should get paid more. Doing more is my choice, i.e. something I freely take on knowing I won't get compensated. Non-TT persons in very secure contacted positions can choose to make the same type of choices.


FWIW, my current department makes very little use of adjuncts. This is a problem for our grad students, as it is hard for them to teach their own classes.

Does my position depend on some people being exploited? Honestly I don't know. The system is extremely complicated, at least that is the way I see it. And while 'a philosopher above describes a hypothetical in which it can seem clear that a TT position depends on others being exploited, I think most cases, like my own, are far more complicated. So I admit to nothing other than "I don't know."


Oh, I read the question wrong.

I can say, with fair confidence, that my job does not depend on the insecurity or exploitation of my *colleagues.* My doubt was when it is described as the entire system, I guess, I have doubts if any philosopher professor anywhere would count as a "colleague." But if we are defining "colleagues" as those at my institution, than no, my job does not depend on their insecurity or exploitation. As I have explained, we treat our non-TT faculty well. We pay them more than other schools pay TT faculty, we involve them in the department in every way possible, they get the same benefits as I get, they are happy with their jobs, and their jobs are very, very, secure. They are certainly as secure as my job, because I'm not tenured. They are only minimally less secure than tenured jobs. These are the type of non-TT positions that I would like to see as the standard for all non-TT positions.


"Equal work is also puzzling to me unless we are talking about contracted, required work, because no faculty, TT, or not, do equal work. We all know some slackers, some overachievers, some people who do lots of research, others who want to just pass the minimum bars."

We could always get really fine-grained and make it puzzling. But the notion of equal work has some pretty obvious and clear applications in all kinds of cases. Imagine a situation where all female high school teachers get paid half of what male high school teachers are paid. They teach the same kinds of courses, in the same school, with equivalent credentials and years of experience. Any court would (rightly) deem that this was a violation of pay equity. It wouldn't be reasonable to worry that maybe some particular male teacher volunteers in the school drama club while most female teachers don't (for example.) The job done by most adjuncts and the job done by most tenured people would be considered "substantially the same" under the law. (This is the opinion of every legal expert I've spoken to, at least, and it seems clear based on my reading of the law in various jurisdictions.)

It's not really relevant that some people are "slackers" and "just pass the minimum bars". Anyone who does do the minimum required in their job is entitled (morally and legally) to the same pay as anyone else who does "substantially the same" job for the same employer.

While it may be true that no two people in a department (or any other workplace) "do equal work" in some sense of that phrase, it's often true that they do "equal work" in the standard legal sense.

What are faculty in my department paid to do? Basically, it's teaching, research, administration and service. They aren't _in fact_ required to do any very specific balance of such duties. People who do no research can "make it up" by doing lots of administrative stuff, for instance. And the law has to do with what people _actually_ do and are expected to do, not what it says on paper. (Which is reasonable.) What do adjuncts do, and what are they expected to do? Well, essentially the same. But they do far more teaching and less administrative or service stuff, on the whole; in reality they're also under great pressure to publish, given the nature of their employment.

This is the situation in _many_ departments. Any court would deem this to be "equal work" in the relevant sense: the employer is in fact expecting similar tasks to be performed, to varying degrees or in varying proportions, across two _formally_ distinct classes of workers.

(There is also some tension between claiming that the notion of equal work is mysterious and claiming that in fact specific people do not do equal work. How can you know that if you aren't sure what "equal work" means or what it would refer to? But never mind.)


a philosopher,

I'm glad we agree on this:

"If I'm a late-stage career faculty member doing no research at a struggling local state school with a light teaching load and pay that's only possible due to the adjuncts my school employs to teach half the classes, then obviously I benefit from the exploitation of those faculty members in a vivid and vicious way: without their cheap labour, my university would fold and I'd be out my cushy job."

Here's how I'd now argue that it's systemic and implicates most tenured people. First, huge numbers of schools are run on exactly the model you described. Second, due to how the credential mill system operates, most of the (publicly funded) schools that don't run on this model receive funding only because there are so many others that do: The others have to be like that to serve the huge population of students at a cost that doesn't bankrupt the whole system. Admittedly the people working in schools that are not themselves _directly_ dependent on adjunct exploitation (and student exploitation) are not as directly implicated. But the connection isn't so remote or hard to understand that they have no responsibility (I'd say).

On the other hand, I allow that there are some TT or tenured people whose positions really are connected only "loosely" to the exploitation, and it's not so clear to me either what their moral status is in this respect.

Isn't this a little hair-splitting though? Imagine we were talking about some other issue, such as (actual) sweatshop labor. I'm sure there are some sweatshops that are much better than others. No doubt there's also a case to be made that, for some workers, the sweatshop is actually a pretty good option given various contingencies. The connections between my purchases in the first world and the exploitation of workers in Pakistan are _very_ complicated and indirect. Still, it seems correct(to me) to say this: (i) When I buy stuff made in sweatshops, I'm benefiting from the exploitation of the sweatshop workers; (ii) this exploitation is the result of a bunch of networked systems and vested interests, in effect conspiring to exploit their cheap labor; (iii) I have a moral duty to admit that I'm benefiting from their exploitation, and demand that these workers be treated with basic justice.


I think the following is an extremely uncharitable interpretation of what I've been saying:

"But we do live in a *nonideal* world, and to expect 'perfection' (of the sort that Jazzhands' various comments suggest) seems to me plainly unreasonable once we understand what 'nonideal justice' really requires."

In asking for pay equity of the same kind that's been legally established in a zillion actual court cases, I'm not demanding "perfection". In demanding that employers simply obey existing laws, for example by formally recognizing permanent full-time workers as permanent full-time workers rather than pretending these are temporary part-time workers, I'm not asking for "perfection".

The same is true for all the things I've proposed. Asking privileged senior people to merely SAY that the existing system is exploitative, that (typically) their privilege depends on the exploitation of a large peasant class, is not demanding "perfection".

Again, I doubt that most philosophers would have this kind of response to any other instance of exploitation or oppression.

Are the Black Lives Matter people demanding "perfection" when they call for police to treat black people differently? Were feminists demanding "perfection" when they campaigned for voting rights or pay equity legislation? I don't really see the difference. I'm asking for _basic rights_ that most people in our society already accept in principle, and which are already encoded in law and applied to workers in many other areas of the economy.

It's ironic because what I'm proposing here is very far from "ideal" or "perfect" in my view. In a perfect world there would be no institutions like the ones we have now. But I'm simply proposing realistically possible changes which, unfortunately, are probably not going to happen because people with power don't want it.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Jazzhands: I'm sorry if my reading of your arguments was uncharitable. I've been following the entire thread, and I thought my responses addressed your position.

In any case, we may be talking past one another. If the moral proposition you mean to defend is simply that people like me should "merely SAY that the existing system is exploitative", then I'm entirely happy to accept that proposition -- adding, however, that I think just about everyone I know says these very things openly and often, thus satisfying the duty you mean to affirm.


Hi Marcus,
I've only heard one or two tenured people say that the current system exploits adjuncts, and that their own positions depend on this exploitation. (And I'm thinking here of all the people I know personally whose positions definitely do depend directly on the exploitation of people down the hall.) They say this only in private conversation.

It's far more common, in my experience, for people to simply deny that it's exploitation. ("Hey, no one's holding a gun to your head".)

In any case, I don't know of any large number of prominent senior people _publicly_ saying the stuff I've been suggesting. Maybe I should be more precise: I'd like for large numbers of people to make public statements in places where this would matter. Make an official APA statement. Have hundreds of people sign their names to a letter that goes to the president of your local credential mill, and to the press. Is that kind of thing happening? I don't think so but of course I'd love to learn that it is.

This wasn't the only moral proposition I was defending though. I was also defending various others, such as this one:

The system is severely unjust (and the rights of adjuncts are violated) to the extent that there is severe pay inequity between adjuncts and others.

So while it could be that the only moral duty of many people, especially senior and prominent people, is to make a lot of noise about the issue and admit the nature of their own privilege, that alone wouldn't make the situation just (in my view).

Marcus Arvan

Hi Jazzhands: I guess you and I run in different milieu. At my university, large numbers of faculty (including our Faculty Senate) openly drew attention to these issues over many years, pushing very hard to create well-paid, full-time positions with full benefits to replace adjunct labor. We also often make the case to administrators (in departmental reports) that we find reliance on adjunct labor unacceptable, etc. And there are often unionization efforts at universities that I've heard plenty of tenure-stream faculty support.

Anyway, I'm happy to agree that much *more* could be done. That's why I'm pursuing this series! I'm also more than willing to recognize there are places where tenure-stream faculty show little interest in addressing these issues. My point is simply that I think a lot of people *are* doing what can reasonably be construed as our duties given the highly nonideal conditions we face.

Finally, I also think there can be reasonable disagreement about tactics. My own experience has been that calling out the injustice of adjunct labor can be effective in some conditions but less effective in others. At my university, the most significant positive changes that have been made appear to me to have been based on arguments that it is in the *institution's* interest to reduce adjunct labor in favor of more well-paid full-time positions (in terms of attracting and retaining students, quality of teaching, etc.). For obvious reasons, these kinds of arguments can be more practically persuasive to administrators and other people who have the power to change things--and at my university this approach has been highly effective in changing things: far more effective than the (many years) we called out the system on moral grounds.


Hi Marcus,
Good for you. But I'm assuming "Well paid" doesn't mean pay equity or even explicit admission that pay equity is the real issue (Or rather one of them). I agree with you that the arguments you're describing are more effective, and I agree about the reason: they may (with luck) appeal to the self interest of administrators and others with power. That's precisely why I think there is little chance of _justice_ here. It's not in any powerful entity's interest to acknowledge that we adjuncts have basic _rights_ which are being violated. So realistically the best case is probably just somewhat nicer injustice--not equity or consistency or even just the proper application of existing laws.

Why do you think the APA has never issued official statements about the obvious pay equity problem, or other injustices I've mentioned? I assume the reason is that the people running it have no self interested reason to care or admit the reality. But, of course, nicer injustice is better than not so nice injustice. It's not nothing.

Marcus Arvan

jazzhands: I have already addressed your pay equity point in the above discussion, so I'm a bit confused about how we are back to that. Anyway, yes, my view (very roughly speaking) is that in a nonideal world, “nicer injustice” is what realistic progress looks like. We cannot make a fully just world in one fell swoop. It would be nice if we could, but we can’t. In any case, I agree that it would be good for the APA to take a strong position here, and entirely support lobbying effectively for it to do so.



I have no idea why you think the job done by adjuncts and the job done by tenured people is "substantially the same." It isn't. Even in situations where adjuncts are clearly exploited, they are nonetheless required only to teach classes. TT people are required to do much more than this via research and service. Likewise, some very good non-TT positions have very different requirements than TT positions. They are not substantially the same.

Yes, I get many non-TT people have reasons to do more than their contract requires, but nonetheless, in lots of situations lots of adjuncts and non-TT choose to do only (or about) what their contract requires, and these non-TT faculty keep their jobs, they are at not at risk of losing their job because of this, etc.

Sure, maybe there are situations where things are different, but the situation I describe is common. Your claim about "substantially the same work" seems completely implausible. (This doesn't mean adjuncts are treated fairly, that is a different issue. You can do different work and still not get enough pay, even if your work is not equal to TT persons' work.)

I think TT persons should spend more time talking and working to help non-TT persons. However, the idea that very few TT people talk about this is very far from my experience. Jason Brennan (along with Phil Magness) wrote a book saying that adjuncts are not exploited. His book was written, and considered controversial, because his position is so uncommon amongst academics. If it wasn't, he wouldn't have had a book to write. Almost every philosopher I knew took huge issue with Jason's claim, and took issue with it publicly. I don't know a single philosopher, at least not personally, that supported his position.

Marcus Arvan

Jazzhands: I think Amanda is absolutely right here. The amount and kind of service that full-time, tenure-stream faculty engage in, and role that research plays in their employment evaluation (etc.), are really completely different than what adjuncts are contracted to do. Adjuncts may work equally *hard* as full-time faculty--and I agree there is serious unfairness/injustice along many dimensions--but the kind of work they are hired to do is very, very different.

Maybe everyone *should* be hired to do the same work (viz. no adjuncts)...but that, again, is a point in ideal theory. In an ideal world, all faculty would do similar work. But it does not follow that in the actual world, everyone does do the same work. And the equal pay for equal work argument you've been advancing supposes the latter.


Hi Amanda,
If you read my earlier comment that will give you an idea of why I think these jobs are typically substantially the same. To repeat, tenured people who publish little or nothing are considered to do the same job as tenured people who publish all the time; they can make it up by doing more admin world whatever. Typically varying mixes of different activities are "enough". They are in the same institutional box regardless. Why then would an adjunct who teaches four or six times as much as any tenured person not be considered to "make up" for lack of publishing by all of that heavy lifting?

Of course the reality is that all that service and administration work adds up to a lot less labor in many cases than the labor required to teach as much as lifers such as myself teach. With no sabbatical, no summers off, etc. But never mind. It's at least substantially the same given that various different mixes of types of labor are substantially the same when comparing just within the tt or tenured stream.

You say adjuncts are not in danger of losing their jobs if they don't publish. This is false in my case since my publications or lack thereof partly determine whether I am rehired. A court would rightly deny that publication is no part of my job; in any case, tenured people are also not required to publish or do research. I know many who have done none for many years and some who never did any at all.

In addition, many adjuncts do lots of administrative work. This too is farmed out in many schools.

So I don't see that you've drawn a plausible distinction between all tenured or TT people, on the one hand, and all adjuncts, on the other. Again, the legal standard is not what it says on paper but what actually happens in the workplace.


The question is not what adjuncts are contracted to do but the "facts on the ground". Tenured or TT people are theoretically doing research but we know that some don't or do almost nothing for years or decades; this makes it implausible to claim that research is _part of the job_ as things actually work. What's required for my argument is not that every single adjunct does equal work with respect to any arbitrary TT person. Instead, it's enough that some adjuncts do the same as some TT people in a given institution. That's very often true, and enough to demolish a proper legal basis for such disparate treatment.


Marcus, there is some variation across institutions that you might want to hear about. At my institution, workers holding the equivalent rank of "adjunct" teach at all levels of the curriculum, and might have semesters where they only teach 400 level courses. I haven't seen them do graduate teaching in philosophy, but I have seen that happen in the sciences. (These are workers contracted on a course by course basis, but "adjunct" is just not a term at my institution.)

We also have lots of NTT workers who have 12-month contracts that are less than full time (anywhere from 25%-75%) and with no expectation of renewal (sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't). These workers do things like serve on committees, supervise student clubs, supervise honors projects, do the bureaucracy to get new courses approved, and supervise independent studies. I'm not quite sure how these workers fit into the conversation but just wanted to mention the existence of this category.

Anyways, I have a question that is geared at bringing this discussion back towards practicalities. What sort of panel are you serving on? That is, who is running it, who else is speaking, and who might act on the things that you discuss at the panel? I'm just curious about the context, and other Cocoon readers might be able to chime in more if they knew more about the context.

Marcus Arvan

anon: thanks for chiming in and bringing some greater clarity to the discussion. At my university and the place I adjuncted with as a grad student, adjuncts do none of those things. If indeed there are places where they do, then that is really important information to know and disseminate. Because in that case I think jazzhands has a better case: namely, that there are some places where part-time faculty face much greater forms of unfairness than many of us might be aware, and where equal pay for equal work may have real weight. This might be a good topic for another post: to learn how many places are like this. Anyway, I plan to run a post or two on the panel in the future. However, I don’t want the series to focus on that just yet, in part because I don’t know the full details as of yet, but also because I’d like for this series to be a much broader discussion involved in fact finding and investigating the kinds of things that various parties (individuals, universities, and organizations) can be done to improve things. In any case, thanks again for chiming in. The information you provided is *very* helpful.


Sounds good: glad that was helpful, and I'll keep an eye out for the future posts as well.

Will work for tenure


Just to second what anon said, at my institution, where part-time faculty are usually given year long contracts with no clear expectation of renewal, some part-time faculty supervise undergraduate theses, some advise students, though they get a (probably meager) bonus for doing so; I myself am supervising a philosophy student club; and one of us has been teaching a required graduate class for a year now. Now, no one *required* us to do any of this, but, given the lack of assurance of our contract being renewed, there's pressure to show that we're valuable members of the department as well as the (probably vain) hope that if we excel at our jobs and demonstrate a commitment to the department and its students, we'll be "promoted" to a full-time teaching position when an opening comes along. The department, for its part, is happy to have us do the extra work. I don't think any of us find this arrangement unusual either. For my part, I've just assumed that this sort of adjunct mission-creep is a common effect of the adjunctification of higher education.

Marcus Arvan

Will work: thanks for chiming in as well. The kind of case you describe is I think very helpful in terms of thinking about the rights of part-time faculty. I think the kind of pressure you talk about is wrong, and that it is unjust for universities to take advantage of that pressure in soliciting unpaid labor. Perhaps this is what jazzhands meant to be getting at all along—and if I have been obtuse, then I apologize. I guess my question now is: how common is the situation you describe? If it is the normal case (if universities generally pressure adjuncts to do unpaid labor), then I think jazzhands’ equal pay for equal work argument has more pull (it, at the very least, now has more pull for me at least in these kinds of situations). However, if it is not the normal case, then that is worth knowing too. For example, at my university, my sense is that adjuncts are generally protected from this kind of pressure. They cannot serve on committees, don’t do independent studies, supervise student groups, and so on. Perhaps we are an outlier here. If we are, that would be very good to know. It would help me, at any rate, get a clearer view of things!

Will work for tenure


I'm also interested to see how common these practices are. But, just to be clear, the faculty at my institution don't directly pressure part-time faculty to take on more responsibilities. It's the system itself that puts pressure on part-time faculty. As long as (a) not everyone's contract is reliably renewed; (b) some part-time faculty are able to teach extra classes and thus earn more money; (c) there are occasional openings for full-time teaching positions; and (d) there's no strict rule about divvying these things up according to seniority or something like that, then some part-time faculty will seek out opportunities to do more than just teach courses. Hell, the brutally competitive job market is enough to motivate part-time faculty to try and take on extra responsibilities. If I manage a student club, I can put that on my cv and mention it in my cover letter. You yourself indicate how that could be advantageous by pointing out that a full-time position involves responsibilities beyond just teaching courses and doing research. It would take a concerted effort by the department to prohibit this sort of thing. Maybe that would be for the best, but the "plight of the adjuncts" is just not at the top of the list of faculty concerns at my department. I should also add that we're not unionized (that's another story). Maybe that would change things. It does sounds like your and Amanda's universities have been making a concerted effort to create more full-time teaching positions and significantly reduce your reliance on precarious labor. I applaud you for that. I wish it were my impression that this was a more common thing. Anyway, I'm looking forward to your next post about this.


I wasn't saying that every position is like the one I described. I said it is common. If your rehiring depends on you publishing, and yet publishing is not part of your contract for which you are paid, then that is most certainly unjust. And yes, that is a violation of a commitment to equal pay. But you make your statements as if they apply to all non-TT track, when they don't. So the equal pay issues is only an issue for specific type of situations that do not apply to every non-TT faculty member.

I am very sure that the vast majority of *adjuncts* do not have to publish to get hired or rehired (even if early career ones will try to publish for obvious reasons. They don't have to in order to adjunct.) Other non-TT positions, in my experience, the often don't require publishing. So at least in the positions I am talking about, they don't do the same work.

As for tenured people who don't publish, well, that seems to be an objection to the tenure system. Sure those people exist, although lots of them do service. And at some institutions tenured people who don't publish get higher teaching loads. Still, there are indeed some lazy tenured people who do not publish or do much service work or much besides their classes (which they might not even do well.) Yes, that sucks. But if you are objecting to that, you should be objecting to the very idea of having tenured faculty (which I thought was the opposite of what you wanted.) Lazy tenured faculty are *not* doing the job they are paid to do. Instead, they are protected from firing *despite* not doing their job.

I think the reasons to have tenure are very strong, and override the concerns about these lazy faculty, but I can see why some would disagree. Yet none of this has much to do with non-TT faculty. For in a case where a tenured person is teaching and not publishing, and the non-TT person is doing the same but getting paid less, well, in that kind of case the problem is that we are treating the tenured person "too good" i.e. they are getting away with stuff they shouldn't get away with doing. Said differently: it is not that the non-TT are not being compensated for their work, it is that the tenured persons are being compensated for work *they didn't do." These are different issues.

All that said, yes, some non-TT faculty are treated unfairly and should get paid more. But the very point of my first post on this thread was we should look at places where non-TT are treated fairly and try to make the unfair places more like the fair places. Yes, I get that you think this is all systematic so piecemeal like that isn't very helpful. I think we will just have to "agree to disagree" on that.

Greg Stoutenburg

Last week, I had a conversation with a longtime adjunct instructor at my institution, who expressed frustration over some of the measures used to "protect" adjuncts like her from being mistreated. She likes having relatively free summers, a large degree of autonomy in her work, and the decent pay for teaching a few courses a year (compared to relevant alternative work). But our college's measures to prevent "exploitation" of adjunct labor end up requiring her to work more for free--by limits on things like the number of office hours she can officially hold--and miss out on professional development opportunities only available to full-time faculty. Protecting some instructors from mistreatment requires eliminating opportunities for others, and not all adjunct instructors are such because they didn't get a TT job--both points should be kept in mind before making calls for the elimination of adjunct labor or similar.


Marcus: None so blind...

Amanda: You seem like a very decent and well meaning lady. I'm sorry you can't see the justice in my argument, but I regret speaking harshly to you. No offense :)

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