Thursday, April 24, 2008

Starbucks Morality

Here's a nice article from Inside Higher Ed about adjuncts at Marquette University:

... there was something wrong — morally — with tenured professors not speaking out about the conditions facing adjuncts who make their research possible by covering so many classes.

He said that a majority of introductory theology courses are taught by adjuncts — typically Ph.D.’s who have been unable to find a tenure track job. They are paid about $3,200 a course, he said, but receive no health insurance. Because they must scramble to find enough courses to teach — at Marquette and elsewhere — they have no job security and thus no academic freedom, Maguire said.

In addition to citing Biblical teaching on obligations to the less fortunate, Maguire cited the practices of well known corporations. “Even corporations like Starbucks (not the expected moral prophets or beacons of justice in our society) provide health care benefits for their full-time as well as their part-time workers,” he wrote in his memo to his colleagues. “Here is the question for this university with its avowed religious commitments: Can we rise to the moral standards of Starbucks?"
I don't hold out much hope of moral arguments winning the day on this issue. I think it will take an organized faculty taking collective action on many fronts, including, wages, hours, benefits, accreditation, and unionizing.

But at a Jesuit school, a good moral argument shouldn't hurt.


  1. I do not have faith in moral arguments either. The University, even a Jesuit University, is a soulless, bureaucratic institution.

    We can change it by deceptively conforming to its practices, then turn its practices against itself.

  2. From what I've seen, tenured faculty often don't speak out on behalf of adjuncts because they see them as competitors in the struggle for funding from the administration. Depressed wages and no benefits for contingent faculty, some of them argue, translate into higher salaries, more benefits, and larger budgets for those already in the club. Moral arguments are nice in the classroom, but they are seldom offered in the real world if they translate into one getting a smaller slice of the pie.

  3. Sadly, there is something to your point Rob. Wages for adjuncts are often presented as part of a zero-sum game where more for adjuncts means less for tenured faculty. Fortunately, many tenured faculty recognize that the existence a low-wage, second-tier of adjunct faculty is not in their long term interest and acts only to depress faculty salaries overall. Still, too often the short-term interests win out over the long-term ones.