The professional opinion of the chair of the George Mason University economics department is mistaken for the punchline to a Cajun joke.

Last Thursday, 350,000 faculty members–most of them without any hope of entering the dried-up tenure stream–received a militant blast email from the AAUP:

The AAUP serves notice that we are working to end “at-whim” employment for contingent faculty.  At its June 2009 annual meeting the AAUP put Nicholls State University and North Idaho College on censure for terminating the services of contingent faculty members who had been teaching in good standing for many years: one had taught as a full-time contingent faculty member for twelve years; the other had taught for thirteen consecutive semesters as a part-time faculty member.  The North Idaho College case was the first in which the AAUP has censured an administration for violating Regulation 13 of the Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure (“Part-time Faculty Appointments”), which draws on some procedural safeguards embedded in tenure to extend stronger due process rights for contingent faculty in part-time positions. (join AAUP)

This drew a quick response from that reputable academic outlet, the PhiBetaCons blog (The “Right” Take on Higher Ed) at National Review Online, authored by the chairman of the George Mason University economics department, Don Boudreaux.

(Usually I’d say chair or chairperson, but this really is as close to an all-male celebration of “competitions” rigged in favor of the richest as you’ll find anywhere in the academy.)*

Boudreaux’s intellectual argument, such as it is, is a classic if-then castle in the air: if AAUP succeeds in making it more difficult to fire faculty (you know, like having a cause other than we want to get back at your husband, as in the North Idaho case), then it will be more expensive to hire faculty on contingent terms.

If that is true, Boudreaux continues, fewer such faculty will be hired. Therefore, he triumphantly concludes, without any actual research,”it’s doubtful that your efforts will help the very persons whose well-being you claim to champion!”

Wow. You can just see this genius dusting off his hands after dispensing with Cary Nelson and Gary Rhoades in 144 characters or less.

He’s so intellectually deft that he can dispose of the AAUP, all of academic unionism, and three-quarters of the faculty in higher education in an argument that will fit on his Twitter page!

But wait, there’s more. Flushed with pleasure at his first unassailable gem, Boudreaux can’t resist another go:

Because adjuncts compete with full-time faculty, making adjuncts more costly to hire will raise the salaries of full-time faculty and prompt colleges to hire greater numbers of full-time faculty. Each of these consequences benefits us full-timers, both by fattening our wallets and improving our access to other 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.

So, Boudreaux says, if you look at the situation intelligently–as they do in the endangered-conservative preservation tank in which he swims frustratedly, all day long, at GMU–you see that raising wages or otherwise raising costs of employment (you know, by giving benefits or protecting the workplace rights of professionals) is actually bad for workers!

Yes, Socrates, I’m convinced. The first 144 characters didn’t do it, but that absolutely brilliant postscript was an original and unanswerable broadsword to my intellectual vitals.

(And if I weren’t completely finished off, I certainly would have been by reading this selection from your Ideas on Liberty (“Dear Mom and Dad, Thank You For Being Blue-Collar Folks Who Taught Me Civility to My Betters and Not Resentment of Wealth.”)

This sort of thing–why, son, y’all know I pay your people ev’ry penny I kin afford; you’re hurtin’ yourself with all this agitation, and it pains me to see you tho’ away your bright future–doesn’t generally merit a response.

Nonetheless the folks over at ADJ-L (join) discussed it, most not knowing GMU’s reputation as a center for the paid lackeys of the speculator class.

“He doesn’t sound like an economist,” writes the usually mild mannered Thane Doss. “He sounds like the people I went to high school with who didn’t go on to college and nowadays think Glenn Beck represents sound logical reasoning:

If adjuncts cost more, the university will hire fewer because they can’t afford more, and then they’ll pay the tenure line professors more money out of the money they don’t have because they have to pay adjuncts more???? This is the same line of reasoning G. W. Bush used to use when he’d just explain that if he needed more money, he spend the same money a few more times again! If any of your kids want to study economics, DON’T send them to Non-Sequitur University,
err, George Mason University.

And Vanessa Vaile, who apparently hails from Cajun country, thought that she understood the piece correctly as a conservative gag (you know, the “Onion” for Yalies who sold their souls to Goldman Sachs), writing, “I get it; it’s a Boudreaux joke!” going on to explain the Cajun tradition of telling country stories about the hapless Boudreaux (sometimes Thiboudeaux):

Anyone you know who’s lived or worked in Cajun south Louisiana can tell you about Boudreaux jokes, tell you a few too.  Boudreaux is the classic doofus, who gets it backwards, says dumb things that make you roll on the floor laughing.

For my money, Vaile’s explanation captures this Boudreaux perfectly.

*After I posted a link to the GMU Econ website (to prove to the disbelieving readership that Boudreaux was, in fact, a paid economist and not a joke, or at least not a Cajun folk hero) the Chron’s own Steve Street followed the link to the department photo and had this to say: “Notice how many in this economics dept look well- or even overfed. All guys, too, but two not pictured, and all but two not pictured are white. At first I thought the shot was overexposed!”

FURTHER READING: Regulars know I’ve responded to the well-known labor economist and Princeton president William G. Bowen, whose well-intended but wildly erroneous work on related issues distressed tens of thousands of graduate students in the 1990s.  The argument is summarized on pages 15-27 in this free pdf from NYU Press.






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