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Are Adjunct Faculty Exploited: Some Grounds for Skepticism

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Fig. 1

Source U.S. Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics (2014), chart derived from Tables 315.10 & 303.10

Fig. 2


  1. Kendzior (2013).













  14. Unger (1995).

  15. Schell (1998).

  16. Giroux (2014).

  17. Kiefson (2004).

  18. Flaherty (2015a).

  19. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2013, Table 310.5,

  20. AAUP (2016, p. 14).

  21. Magness (2016).

  22. See the review article by Wertheimer and Zwolinski (2012).

  23. For instance, Duke University decided to allow unions, while George Mason University decided to eliminate adjuncts entirely:

  24. See Brennan and Magness (2016). Brennan and Magness report a 15 % increase, but they mistake the total number of courses adjuncts teach per semester with the number per year.

  25. AAUP (2016, p. 18).

  26. This is a modification of the case in Nozick (1969, p. 447). See also Wertheimer (1999, pp. 110–112).

  27. See Anderson (2011).

  28. Zwolinski (2007) and Snyder (2010).

  29. Coalition on the Academic Workforce, “A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members,” 2012, Table 9, p. 23,; The most recent Department of Education table reflecting highest degree attained dates to 2003, but reveals similar percentages as the more recent Coalition on the Academic Workforce survey. See U.S. Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics 2014, Table 315.50.

  30. Coalition on the Academic Taskforce 2012, 7; US Census Bureau,

  31. E.g., Robert J. Townsend, “Job Market Report 2004,” in Perspectives on History (the news magazine of the American Historical Society), finds that the number of new PhDs in history has exceeded the number of jobs for the past 15 years, and that only 1/3rd of history PhDs who graduated in the past 15 years managed to get a job advertised in Perspectives in History.

  32. US Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics 2014, Table 315.50.


  34. E.g., Katina Rogers, in her “Humanities Unbound” report for the University of Virginia’s Scholarly Communication Institute ( finds that most PhDs find alternative full-time jobs.

  35. Nerad et al. (1999).

  36. In a competitive market, neither buyers nor sellers have bargaining power, and both are price-takers. But mere departures from a competitive market needn’t imply exploitation. Automobile markets are probably semi-oligopolistic, but that doesn’t mean BMW exploits its customers.

  37. For example, see Flaherty (2015b). See also SEIU Statement of Bargaining Goals, Boston University,

  38. E.g., here:

  39. The 2012 Coalition on the Academic Workforce survey found that only 30 % of adjunct respondents possessed a completed doctorate. A more extensive analysis conducted in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Education placed showed about 18 % of adjuncts held doctorates. The largest category in both studies was a master's degree. CAW Table 9, IPEDS Table 315.70; The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found in a 2010 survey of undergraduate faculty that only 24 % of adjuncts held a PhD while an additional 4 % held terminal equivalents such as an Ed.D., M.D., or D.D.S. See p. 173. The AFT in 2010 similarly found that only 26 % of adjuncts held a PhD.

  40. Rosenthal et al. (1994a, p. 47).

  41. Milem et al. (2000), Jacobs and Winslow, (2004), and Link et al. (2008). For a recent synthesis of different strains of the faculty workload literature, see Rosser and Tabata (2010).

  42. CAW Tables 16 & 17.

  43. HERI (2010, p. 174); CAW Table 17.

  44. Higher education scholars have long noted that the motives for becoming a part-time faculty member are even more diverse than the typical full-time professor. Schuster and Finkelstein, (2006, p. 407).

  45. Schuster and Finkelstein (2006, p. 409); CAW, Tables 12 & 14; HERI 2010, p. 183; HERI 2010, p. 12, similarly suggests that about one quarter of current adjuncts are “voluntary” part-time workers who express no interest in taking on a full-time faculty position at their current institution.

  46. Ziker (2014).

  47. IPEDS Table 315.3. Note: these findings were also consistent with an earlier 1994 AAUP study, itself based on earlier Department of Education data going back to 1987. See Rosenthal et al. (1994). Similar attestations of faculty time allocation may be found in the 2010–2011 Higher Education Research Institute survey, particulary pp. 26–27. The consistency of these studies suggest that full-time faculty teaching obligations have remained relatively stable for several decades.

  48. According to the HERI 2010 survey, the median course load for full-time university faculty is 2 classes per semester. This increases to a median of 3 classes for 4-year colleges, a designation that includes a large number of regional and liberal arts institutions. (HERI 2010, p. 20). Though not directly comparable on account of differences in institutional designation categories, similar course load differences may be seen in the U.S. Department of Education survey. More than two-thirds of all faculty at private liberal arts colleges and regional comprehensive undergraduate institutions teach at least 3 courses per semester, and more than a third teach 4 or more. IPEDS Table 315.30.

  49. IPEDS 315.30. See also HERI 2010, pp. 26–27, which suggests a similar increase in teaching-related time allocation for faculty at 4 year colleges when compared to full universities.

  50. The same 2003 survey reported that over 75 % of adjuncts teach two or fewer courses per semester. Only a small fraction of less than 10 % teach a "full" 4 course load or higher. These findings are consistent with the more recent Coalition on the Academic Workforce survey, Table 16, and the time allocation frequency distributions of the HERI 2010 part-time undergraduate faculty survey, pp. 180–181.

  51. IPEDS 315.40.

  52. Percentages calculated from IPEDS tables 315.30 and 315.40. The average adjunct works 39.9 h per week, including all other jobs outside of the university, whereas the average full-time faculty works 53.3 h per week.

  53. Academic salaries vary widely by rank, academic discipline, and institution type. We selected this figure as an approximation of an entry-level salary for a full-time teaching position at a baccalaureate institution in 2010. See American Association of University Professors, “Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2012–2013."

  54. CAW Table 19.

  55. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses 2080 hours, including paid time off, as its hourly baseline for full-time employment. See "Occupational Employment and Wages Technical Note," Updated March 30, 2016

  56. College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. "Employee Healthcare and Other Benefits Survey," 2016. An explicitly pro-unionization survey by the American Federation of Teachers in 2010 found comparable levels of health benefits as well as variation by institution type. American Federation of Teachers, "A National Survey of Part Time/Adjunct Faculty," March 2010, p. 13.







  63. “A Portrait of Part-time Faculty Members,” Coalition on the Academic Workforce, June 2012, Table 16.

  64. Coalition on the Academic Workforce, 2012, Table 12, p. 25.

  65. Krugman and Wells (2012, pp. 319–322, 552–554), Mankiw (2014, pp. 260–262), Isen (1984), and Frank (1984).

  66. For a defense of the claim that voting power should be proportional to the stake a person has in a decision, see Brighouse and Fleurbaey (2010).

  67. Coalition on the Academic Workforce, “A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members,” 2012, Table 9, p. 23,; The most recent Department of Education table reflecting highest degree attained dates to 2003, but reveals similar percentages as the more recent Coalition on the Academic Workforce survey. See U.S. Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics 2014, Table 315.50.









  76. See, e.g., Caplan (2016).

  77. Ginsberg (2011). Administrative bloat is an almost universally acknowledged phenomenon in recent decades, although there are several competing theories of its causes. For an overview see Leslie and Rhoades (1995) and Greene et al. (2010).

  78. U.S. Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics 2014, authors’ calculations derived from Tables 315.10 & 303.10.

  79. HERI (2010, p. 185).

  80. Schuster and Finkelstein (2006, p. 223).

  81. AFT (2010, p. 11).

  82. Olson (1971).

  83. For an example of this argument see Nolan (2016).



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Correspondence to Jason Brennan.

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Jason Brennan declares he has no conflicts of interest. Phillip Magness declares he has no conflicts of interest.

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Brennan, J., Magness, P. Are Adjunct Faculty Exploited: Some Grounds for Skepticism. J Bus Ethics 152, 53–71 (2018).

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  • Living Wage
  • Sweatshop Workers
  • Full-time Faculty
  • Adjunct Activity
  • Current Adjunct