Perhaps I Should Instead Thank this Guy….

by Don Boudreaux on August 29, 2009

in Education, Seen and Unseen, Work

Here’s a letter that I sent today to Prof. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP):

Dear Prof. Nelson:

In the mass e-mail that you sent on Thursday to us college professors, you brag of how your organization, AAUP, is working to end “at-whim employment” of adjunct and other part-time professors.  You want all such professors to be dismissable only “with cause.”

Sounds noble.  You will, however, pardon my skepticism.

If you make the dismissal of adjunct professors more difficult, you’ll thereby raise colleges’ costs of hiring adjuncts.  As a result, fewer adjuncts will be hired.  So it’s doubtful that your efforts will help the very persons whose well-being you claim to champion.

What is clear, though, is that success at increasing the cost of hiring adjunct professors will benefit those of us who work as full-time faculty.  Because adjuncts compete with full-time faculty, making adjuncts more costly to hire will raise the demand for, and hence raise the salaries of, full-time faculty.  It will also prompt colleges to hire greater numbers of full-time faculty.  Each of these consequences benefits us full-timers, both by fattening our wallets and by improving our access to full-time scholars in our fields.

But our windfall will be paid for by unemployed part-time faculty – and by students and taxpayers who’ll have to foot the bill for the resulting higher cost of supplying classroom instruction.

Donald J. Boudreaux

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Anonymous August 29, 2009 at 12:24 pm

I’m sure your professional society will be as responsive to that kind of reasoning as mine is.

Anonymous August 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm

I think it would be obvious that the purpose of the AAUP is, at its root, the idea of improving the over-all power and position of the AAUP. It’s actions, as you reported, are the actions of a union, not a fraternal organization; and, I think we can agree that the actions of a union have the primary purpose of increasing the power of the union.

Matt August 29, 2009 at 1:37 pm

I appreciate your unwillingness to compromise your principles but I have a couple questions. If the AAUP is not a union what power do they actually have? What harm would come to a university by denying the AAUP’s wishes? Wouldn’t the universities have to want, on some level, to make the changes?

Anonymous August 29, 2009 at 3:12 pm

I stay on the AAUP mailing list for a good chuckle every once in a while.

Bill August 29, 2009 at 3:56 pm

And unions support minimum wage increases.

LoneSnark August 29, 2009 at 4:45 pm

I’m sure he is already aware of such eventualities, hence his support of them.

Anonymous August 29, 2009 at 5:38 pm

I must say considering your personal employment position this devastating indictment of tenure is both as welcome as it is surprising.

Michael August 29, 2009 at 5:39 pm

A chapter of AAUP has recently started at my institution. They don’t sale themselves as a union, but it is hard to distinguish this organization as anything but. The unfortunate part of this having this organization now associated with my institution is the the type of influence that they want to impose. For example, the issue raise here in this post regarding hiring practices is an example of this kind of influence. This is particularly troubling for my institution because it is a private college that is self-governed. Thus, polies and procedures are established by a faculty vote. Now, a group of my colleagues has joined this group that appears to have its own agenda. As a young, untenured faculty member, I am not sure the limits this organization has. Either way, it is particularly troubling to have an outside organization impose its agenda. As you point out in your letter (and many of your posts), these types of interventions have unintended consequences.

RL August 29, 2009 at 8:07 pm

You don’t mention whether or not Professor Nelson is an economist…though I expect either way what you told him was not a surprise.

Rob August 29, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Most of the graduate students working as adjuncts (especially in economics departments) are on student visas and not allowed to work outside of campus. This makes for what most of the economic textbooks would call a monopsony … and a pretty good reason to form some sort of union.

Anonymous August 29, 2009 at 11:54 pm

Or to allow them to work where ever…why does not that policy occur to you first?

Anonymous August 30, 2009 at 9:52 am

I graduated earlier this year with a masters degree in finance. Most of my profs were adjunct. They brought current knowledge from the field that I could not have gotten from full time profs. I would hate to see anything that would reduce their numbers.

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