My take: “Facing Poverty, Academics Turn to Sex Work and Sleeping in Cars”

Today I would like to discuss a recent article I read from The Guardian titled “Facing Poverty, Academics Turn to Sex Work and Sleeping in Cars”.

Yeah…this is an actual article.

I’ve talked about some of the classic “plight of adjunct” literature before, but this article blows any of the others out of the water.


In regards to its sheer absurdity, of course.

To be honest, the basic premise of this article is the same as all of the others on the topic.

A few sad-looking, but exceptionally qualified people are barely making ends meet as they juggle a number of what have to be the lowest-paying college teaching assignments imaginable.

To make matters worse, these adjuncts happen to possess the worst time management habits, evidenced by the amount of time they claim to spend working each week.

To top things off, these poor souls obviously have no access whatsoever to the internet since there doesn’t appear to be a single online teaching assignment mentioned nor are there any claims from the adjuncts regarding their attempts to attain online teaching gigs.

However, what makes this article really stand out from the crowd is…well…just read the tile.

Prostitution and homelessness

As current or prospective online adjuncts, we have truly hit rock bottom, haven’t we!

I certainly feel for anyone who finds themselves in situations where they feel the need to engage in activities or certain lifestyle routines in order to secure basic necessities and I certainly hope that each of the women interviewed are able to improve their current life situations.

But, as per usual, there are some red flags present throughout the article as well as the classic case of what you don’t see being extremely important.

For the homeless adjunct teaching English her salary “is not enough to afford Silicon Valley rent”.

Literally every college and university in the country offers courses in English.  Why would one willingly live in one of the most expensive areas of the county if they didn’t have to (and were low on funds)?

Another problem for this particular adjunct, she “has struggled with homelessness since 2007 (when she was 44 years old), when she began studying for her bachelor’s degree.”

“…a chunk of which (her salary) goes to debt repayment.”

Taking on a student debt…at 44 years old…to get an English degree…

I mean, who could have seen that coming??!!

“The adjunct who turned to sex work makes several thousand dollars per course, and teaches about six per semester.  She estimates that she puts in 60 hours per week.”

Overworked woman in front of a window full with notes

Truth be told, teaching six courses at once can get a little rough.

However, most online courses are in the 5-10-week range, while I’m sure that this adjunct’s semester-long courses are closer to the 14-16-week range.  As such, assignments are spread out a bit more.

Assuming 3 hours per course each week for lectures, we’re sitting at 42 additional hours each week.

Of course, she probably included commute times in her estimation (does this mean that the average commuter is actually putting in 55-60 hours a week, then?), but even if we add a generous 15 hours per week (3 hours each day), this still leaves us with 27 non-classroom hours each week.

Considering that her classes likely do not have weekly assignments to grade, due to their traditional lengths and that there aren’t discussion boards that require weekly grading and attention (these are taken care of with weekly lectures and a final “attendance grade”), I’m at a loss about what could be requiring her to work so much.

“’Many of my colleagues are unjustifiably ashamed,’ she said. ‘They take this personally, as if they’ve failed, and I’m always telling them, ‘you haven’t failed, the system has failed you.’”

I’m not going to speculate on where these adjuncts received their degrees from (none of this information is listed) or the types of experience that they have (this is alluded to, but not really expanded upon), however, without knowing these things, it is a bit difficult to determine whether these women are justified with this type of sentiment.

If they attended sub-par institutions and/or have less credentials than others in their respective fields or areas, the rise of adjunct work probably actually benefitted them in a disproportionate way.

It is very possible that in the past, the less numerous teaching positions (mainly traditional tenure-track) would have been off-limits.

There wouldn’t be six courses each term at three different universities…there wouldn’t be anything for them.

Hardly seems like a system failure to me.

Obviously, the common element in all of these pieces that really bugs me is the lack of acknowledgment to online learning or for online teaching gigs.

Truth be told, online teaching jobs can be difficult to land in some cases and obtaining these positions does take a bit of time and work.

However, all or most of the adjuncts profiled in this article have been teaching on-ground for some, if not extensive periods of time.

The teaching experience, albeit not online teaching experience, is a major factor in hiring decisions and program coordinators look very closely at this content when they are looking through resumes.

Even if these women preferred teaching in the classroom to the online environment (which is a fair preference, but, if this is the case, I’d rather not see articles like this one), picking up an online teaching gig or two would be a great supplement to income or, if they chose to replace one of their existing teaching gigs, would save them a lot of time in transit.

I’m not exactly sure why these articles decrying the “plight of academics”, specifically adjuncts have grown in popularity in recent years, but I really wish that they would tell the whole story.

Or at least ask the right questions.

As long as online teaching jobs or positions are ignored by adjuncts who feel that “system has failed” or would rather pursue a life of prostitution rather than virtual teaching, I will continue to roll my eyes at (and, unfortunately, I will continue to be somewhat surprised with) the absurdity of these pieces.

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