Paul L. Caron

Friday, September 29, 2017

Facing Poverty, Academics Turn to Sex Work And Sleeping In Cars

AdjunctFollowing up on my previous posts on the plight of adjunct professors (links below):  The Guardian, Facing Poverty, Academics Turn to Sex Work and Sleeping in Cars:

Adjunct professors in America face low pay and long hours without the security of full-time faculty. Some, on the brink of homelessness, take desperate measures

There is nothing she would rather do than teach. But after supplementing her career with tutoring and proofreading, the university lecturer decided to go to remarkable lengths to make her career financially viable.

She first opted for her side gig during a particularly rough patch, several years ago, when her course load was suddenly cut in half and her income plunged, putting her on the brink of eviction. “In my mind I was like, I’ve had one-night stands, how bad can it be?” she said. “And it wasn’t that bad.”

The wry but weary-sounding middle-aged woman, who lives in a large US city and asked to remain anonymous to protect her reputation, is an adjunct instructor, meaning she is not a full-time faculty member at any one institution and strings together a living by teaching individual courses, in her case at multiple colleges.

“I feel committed to being the person who’s there to help millennials, the next generation, go on to become critical thinkers,” she said. “And I’m really good at it, and I really like it. And it’s heartbreaking to me it doesn’t pay what I feel it should.”

Sex work is one of the more unusual ways that adjuncts have avoided living in poverty, and perhaps even homelessness. A quarter of part-time college academics (many of whom are adjuncts, though it’s not uncommon for adjuncts to work 40 hours a week or more) are said to be enrolled in public assistance programs such as Medicaid.

They resort to food banks and Goodwill, and there is even an adjuncts’ cookbook that shows how to turn items like beef scraps, chicken bones and orange peel into meals. And then there are those who are either on the streets or teetering on the edge of losing stable housing. The Guardian has spoken to several such academics, including an adjunct living in a “shack” north of Miami, and another sleeping in her car in Silicon Valley. ...

Recent reports have revealed the extent of poverty among professors, but the issue is longstanding. Several years ago, it was thrust into the headlines in dramatic fashion when Mary-Faith Cerasoli, an adjunct professor of Romance languages in her 50s, revealed she was homeless and protested outside the New York state education department.

“We take a kind of vow of poverty to continue practicing our profession,” Debra Leigh Scott, who is working on a documentary about adjuncts, said in an email. “We do it because we are dedicated to scholarship, to learning, to our students and to our disciplines.”

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:


(Hat Tip: David Barnhizer.)

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Gosh, it's almost as if life is more complicated than pat studies showing college and grad school wage premiums.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Sep 29, 2017 11:03:29 AM

You know what'd be marvelous. Many of these ill-paid adjunct professor are marvelous teachers who know their subjects well. We need to come up with a way to shove aside that teacher ed-school credentialization madness and let them teach the subjects they know well in high schools.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Sep 30, 2017 6:14:01 AM

Or maybe this is the beginning of Neal Stephenson's Anathem.

Posted by: Jack Manhire | Sep 30, 2017 10:46:47 AM

Probably just me, but I'm not keen on sex workers teaching in high schools.
But MWP is right as a general matter.

Posted by: Mike Petrik | Sep 30, 2017 10:49:14 AM

Michael, are you suggesting that someone who obtained a Ph.D. and has pursued teaching at the collegiate level is unaware of the credentials required to teach high school? Surely if they wanted to teach HS and they have proof of their marvelous teaching ability, they could teach HS.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Oct 2, 2017 7:08:26 AM