The Soothing Stroke of the Invisible Hand

by Gordon Haber

Some time ago I begged people to stop writing stupid things about adjuncts, because I am unable to stop myself from responding and thus I take time away from writing for money. Therefore every time you write something stupid about adjuncts, you are taking food from my child’s mouth.

Today my hackles have been raised by one Phillip W. Magness, who wrote what he probably thinks is a devastating blog post debunking the idea of the “minimum wage adjunct.” Magness does the math and concludes—wait for it—that adjuncts actually earn more than minimum wage! So everything is okay then!

Still I want to respond to a few of Dr. Magness’s points (his in bold).

  1. As a rule adjuncts are usually hired to teach intro level “general ed” courses in their fields. Meaning that if it takes you a lot of time for prep you’re an idiot. Maybe! I’ve taught introductory literature seminars and there wasn’t that much prep at all, and it was lovely to stroll into the classroom and distribute my erudition and wisdom like rose petals. Actually, it was hard work to get most of those dunces to even read the books, but never mind. It was a lot easier than teaching composition. Because a significant number of adjuncts—I’d bet over 50%, but I am not going to bother counting, because nobody’s paying me for this—teach composition courses, which are very, very time-consuming. Hours and hours and hours of reading and grading until you feel you might puke. So Magness’s “rule” is at least partly fallacious.
  1. As a rule, lower level courses should also require less complex assignments and thus easier grading. See #1.

  2. Adjuncts usually have no obligations to attend faculty meetings, to serve on committees, or to do any of the numerous “university service” expectations of full time faculty. No indeed, and I’ve been to some faculty meetings that were so frustrating I was ready to claw my own eyes out and leap, shrieking and bloodied, through the plate glass window. However, adjuncts do have to hustle between two or three different campuses and still publish, which are also time-consuming pursuits. Now, when I was adjuncting in L.A., I taught 5 sections at 2 far-flung colleges and I did manage to produce journalism and short stories. I also produced some crippling anxiety attacks! After experiencing both, I’d have to say I would take the endless, clueless picayune droning of tenured faculty over adjuncting any day of the week. And I would have, but even then I couldn’t get them to pay me a living wage.
  1. Adjuncts also have no fixed research expectations (although they will never break out of the adjuncting cycle if they do not publish academic work). See #3.
  1. Like virtually all university teaching jobs, adjuncts enjoy an extremely generous schedule that includes 3 months off over the summer, a 1.5 month winter break, and numerous other smaller breaks throughout the year. If by “generous schedule” you mean “months without pay” you are indeed correct!

Based on these weak premises, Magness concludes that an adjunct teaching a 4/4 load should ample time to do all the other shit that goes along with academia. My favorite part is when he lists all great stuff he accomplished while adjuncting—finishing a dissertation, writing articles, finding a job, etc.

The gist of all this is pretty much what all the other trolls are saying, which is “I did it so how hard can it be.” And “if you don’t like it you can always leave.” In other words, here’s another guy who simply can’t imagine that someone might have a different set of challenges than he does, and that leaving paying work, even when it’s a terrible situation, is easy.

My favorite part is when he writes, “rather than spreading mythologies about ‘minimum wage adjuncts,’ our discussion of the subject needs to be grounded in a heavy dose of fact.” Indeed it does. Here’s some facts:

  1. This sneering dismissal of adjunct rhetoric is becoming a cliché.
  1. Undermining the “myth of the minimum wage adjunct” does not mean that you’ve proved that adjuncting is okay.
  1. Right now, while people like Magness pleasure themselves with Adam Smith’s invisible hand, thousands of hard-working Americans are getting screwed.

N.B. Any and all adjuncts are still welcome to email me for a free copy of my novella, Adjunctivitis. It ain’t much, but it’s the least I can do.