Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness: A Request for Disclosure

Considering the number of times Jason Brennan has alluded, in the context of public discussion, to his once having worked at GEICO, I think it’s only fair that he disclose the following for public consumption:

  1. When did he work at GEICO, and at what location?
  2. What was his title while working there?
  3. What was his salary?
  4. Did he work there through a temp agency, or was he hired directly by GEICO itself?

If the GEICO job is important enough to bring up that many times, it’s worth clarifying the details by way of answers to the preceding questions.

A similar query is in order for Phillip Magness, who’s also been very autobiographically assertive on the subject. The article linked-to in the preceding sentence alludes to 1.5 years spent as a full-time adjunct (I’m presuming that “1.5 years” refers to the period 2008-2010, corresponding to the position of Lecturer at American University on his CV), then invites us to do some “arithmetic” about the income he claims to have earned during that period, and how he managed to live on it while being otherwise productive.

That’s fine, but Magness’s CV indicates that he received three grants during roughly the same period (2007, 2009, 2011). I regard the 2007 and 2011 grants as potentially relevant even though they strictly speaking fall outside of the 2008-2010 period. To be blunt, a year and a half of adjunct work cushioned by three grants is not quite as impressive as the impression one might get by reading the unadorned version of Magness’s apologia pro vita sua.

Three questions for Magness, then:

  1. What was the cumulative monetary value of those three grants?
  2. Does his CV exhaustively list all of his income sources for the relevant years (meaning 2007-2011)?
  3. Did he, during those years (2007-2011), live in a household with someone earning an additional income?

All three questions strike me as relevant to evaluating the story Magness tells.

One problem with both sides in the adjunct debate is that the most assertive people in it seem more interested in parading selective recountings of their valor or misfortunes than in documenting their claims in a way that demonstrates the credibility of what they’re saying to neutral or skeptical readers. If people are going to start going autobiographical in the Great Adjunct Debate–whether they’re adjuncts recounting their minimum-wage woes, or academic stars recounting their Horatio Alger stories–I think they owe us fuller disclosures than any of them have been making about the stories they tell us. Brennan and Magness clearly think of themselves as exemplars for the rest of the profession. How about exemplifying some disclosure about those stories you’ve been telling?

Postscript, 11 pm: I’m satisfied with Brennan’s answer, but on second thought, I have to say I’m not just puzzled but mystified by the autobiographical claims Magness has made in his increasingly-famous essay, “The Myth of the Minimum Wage Adjunct.

As someone who spent the last ~1.5 years of grad school as a so-called “full time adjunct,” constituting my only real source of income at the time, I can state first hand that it will not make you wealthy.

So he was an adjunct for 1.5 years, during which time adjuncting was his “only real source of income.” I take it that the word “real” implies that there was some other, secondary source of income. I’m curious what it was.

Later he tells us,

I can also speak to this first hand as it is something I learned to do quickly during my own period as a full-time adjunct ca. 2008-2009. I was not anything close to well off during this period of my career, but with a little basic time management I not only met my teaching obligations but I (1) finished a dissertation, (2) wrote several peer reviewed articles, (3) composed a substantial part of an academic press monograph, and (4) found more permanent employment.

The problem is, his CV lists a Doctoral Research Grant from George Mason University for the year 2009. I can see how the grant might not literally have overlapped with the adjuncting: if he started adjuncting in January 2008, and continued through fall 2008 and then spring 2009, that would be 1.5 years of adjuncting; he could then have gotten the research grant for the latter half of 2009. But I’m speculating. I think we’re entitled to hear the explanation directly from him.

Literal overlap or not, he cannot, on this basis, claim to “speak to this first hand,” where “this” refers to the experience of the average full-time long-term adjunct–which is what the discussion at BHL was about. One and a half years of adjuncting sandwiched between two grants, along with some undisclosed secondary income source, is not long term adjuncting in any sense relevant to the ongoing controversy. And we don’t even know what he did during the summer of 2008, when he was a “so-called ‘full time adjunct’.” According to Magness, adjuncts don’t teach during the summer months (point 5 of his enumerated points), from which it seems to follow that he didn’t. So did he simply go without income during the summer, or is that when the non-real income source kicked in? If so, what was the source? The answer surely has some bearing on the relationship between his personal experiences and the predicament of the long-term adjunct.

Whatever the answers, we’re left with a mystery in Magness’s account that’s worth clearing up. He wants us to believe that he knows what it’s like to be a long-term adjunct, but the story he’s telling is consistent with saying this:

I was a so-called full time adjunct during 2008-9. Of course, I got a grant in 2007, then one in 2009, and I wasn’t an adjunct during the summer of 2008. During the summer, I got a real job–a real job, albeit with an unreal income. Meanwhile, I had established a relationship with the Institute for Humane Studies, which eventually gave me an administrative job as Academic Program Director, a job I cheerfully hold while suggesting all over Twitter that the university’s problems could be solved if only we eliminated all of those useless administrators on the payroll. I realize that very, very, very few long-term adjuncts could get such a job, precisely because it’s sui generis, and I am now the person who holds it. And yet, I won’t hesitate to lecture long-term adjuncts about what bad time managers they are.

Say it ain’t so, Phil.