Adjunct Professors Are Struggling to Make Ends Meet and It's Really Depressing

Image via AP.
Image via AP.

Adjunct professors are having a very hard time paying their bills on their meager salaries. Profs are ending up homeless, increasingly relying on public assistance or taking on side jobs, including sex work, to make ends meet, The Guardian reports.


The trouble of underpaid adjuncts is largely at odds with the way many of us view academia: lean days as a starved grad student are supposed to eventually pay off with a tenured position behind a mahogany desk with a Tiffany lamp. In fact, 25 percent of part-time college academics are enrolled in programs like Medicaid.

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

Like many industries, universities have learned that hiring fistfuls of part time staff is more economical than paying full-time professors, who require benefits and support for their personal research. Adjuncts, on the other hand, are just another addition to the multitudes already enjoying the existential terror of “precarious employment,” which is just what it sounds like it is—part-time work that frees employers from the contractual hassle of awarding basic rights to those in full time positions.

In exchange for doing fulfilling, if insultingly underpaid work, many of these part-timers are turning to side gigs like sex work. As one professor told the paper:

“This is something I chose to do,” she said, adding that for her it is preferable to, say, a six-hour shift at a bar after teaching all day. “I don’t want it to come across as, ‘Oh, I had no other choice, this is how hard my life is.’”

Advertising online, she makes about $200 an hour for sex work. She sees clients only a handful of times during the semester, and more often during the summer, when classes end and she receives no income.

“I’m terrified that a student is going to come walking in,” she said. And the financial concerns have not ceased. “I constantly have tension in my neck from gritting my teeth all night.”

Others are simply struggling along. Mindy Percival, a lecturer in Florida, lives in a “shack in the woods in the middle of nowhere.” Ellen Tara James-Penney lives out of her car with her husband, and grades papers from the light of a headlamp. Caprice Lawless, meanwhile, makes only $18,000 per year teaching English composition, and as such lives in a 1100 square foot house she can only barely afford.

“I live paycheck to paycheck and I’m deeply in debt,” she said. She was unable to take time off even after her mother died, since losing her home would mean losing her only asset.


Adjuncts are, of course, far more likely to be female than tenured professors are.