Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 155, Issue 1, pp 163–171 | Cite as

The Costs and Benefits of Adjunct Justice: A Critique of Brennan and Magness

  • Steven ShulmanEmail author
Original Paper


In their controversial 2016 paper in this journal, Brennan and Magness argue that fair pay for part-time, adjunct faculty would be unaffordable for most colleges and universities and would harm students as well as many adjunct faculty members. In this critique, I show that their cost estimates fail to take account of the potential benefits of fair pay for adjunct faculty and are based on implausible assumptions. I propose that pay per course for new adjunct faculty members should be tied to pay per course for new full-time non-tenure track instructors or to pay per course for new assistant professors. That framework for adjunct faculty justice yields an aggregate cost range of $18.5–$27.9 billion, one-third to one-half lower than the range computed by Brennan and Magness. Its opportunity cost would not be borne by students since students and faculty are complements, not substitutes, in the educational process. Instead it could be financed by reducing spending on non-educational purposes. Current adjunct faculty members would be protected from job displacement in this justice framework. The real obstacle to achieving justice for adjunct faculty is the priorities of university administrators, not budget constraints or opportunity costs.


Academic labor markets Adjunct faculty Contingent faculty Fair pay Higher education Justice Educational ethics Non-tenure track faculty Part-time faculty 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author of this paper declares that he received no funding for this paper and has no conflict of interests in its publication.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and Center for the Study of Academic LaborColorado State UniversityFt CollinsUSA

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