Limited-scope Veils of Ignorance

I’ve been working with a colleague on a paper proposing a new way to include adjunct faculty in faculty governance, and we thought about using a limited-scope version of the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. In short: given that there are adjuncts and tenure track faculty, how would you set up faculty governance if you knew you were going to be faculty, but didn’t know if you’d be adjunct or tenure track? Part of Rawls’ justification for the veil of ignorance is that so much of our social standing (maybe all of it, at least in some readings) is due to luck. We didn’t choose to be born poor or rich, to have exceptional or minimal intelligence, etc. This is even more obviously the case in faculty placement. The background needed to get in to an elite school, the luck of having advisers who helped you apply to appropriate programs, the luck of being liked by grad school faculty so that they would focus on your work and promote your career, having a thesis topic that was trending at the time the job search began, being attractive so that hiring committees are more likely to be positively disposed towards you, etc. The difference between adjunct and tenure track is often a matter of luck.

One thing about this method, though, is that it doesn’t ask: from behind the veil of ignorance, would we create a university/college system that had two types of faculty? Would we allow the tremendous disparity in pay between the two tracks? Etc.? What we’re asking deals with that area over which faculty might have some immediate control: should adjuncts be given more say in faculty governance? We think they should be, not least because so many curriculum and educational policy decisions are made in departmental meetings and faculty senates, and the adjuncts are often the ones doing the lions’ share of the teaching. They not only have to execute these policies, they’re more able to see the immediate effects they have on students in the classroom.

But we also think it is simply fair to have proportional adjuncts representation on faculty senates, and we think the veil of ignorance exercise might help make that obvious.

We also believe that such limited scope veil of ignorance exercises might be useful in other areas where some group has the ability to decide on some given structure, even though they cannot alter a larger structure of which it is a part. So, granted that some injustices exist, of the ones we can alter, which would we tolerate if we were blind to our place in a situation where we do in fact have the power to make a change.


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