Estimating the Cost of Justice for Adjuncts: A Case Study in University Business Ethics


DOI: 10.1007/s10551-016-3013-1

Cite this article as:
Brennan, J. & Magness, P. J Bus Ethics (2016). doi:10.1007/s10551-016-3013-1


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


Exploitation Budget constraints Opportunity costs Academic ethics Adjuncts’ rights Higher education 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McDonough School of BusinessGeorgetown UniversityWashington DCUSA
  2. 2.George Mason UniversityArlingtonUSA

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