Homeless and on Food Stamps: The Life of an Adjunct Professor!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article on Mary-Faith Cerasoli, 53, an adjunct professor of Romance languages, who is homeless, sleeps in her car or at friend’s houses.  A graduate of Hunter College and Middlebury College, Ms. Cerasoli had been a public school teacher but had to give it up due to an eye injury.  Trying to eke out a living as an adjunct, Ms. Cerasoli travels from one college to another in the New York City area.  As reported in the article:

“Ms. Cerasoli has been an adjunct for several years at Mercy College in Westchester and several other places in and around New York City.

She says she uses film, music, culture and food to shape her lessons and to tell students, “Worlds open up to you when you learn a foreign language.”

But while encouraging students to major in foreign languages, she does not encourage them to follow her path into adjunct college teaching. The work is rewarding, she said, but not the pay:

Ms. Cerasoli, a former New York City schoolteacher, currently teaches two Italian classes at Mercy, splitting time between its Westchester and Midtown Manhattan campuses. For her, the professorial lifestyle has meant spending some nights sleeping in her car, showering at college athletic centers and applying for food stamps and other government benefits.

After being unable to keep several apartments, Ms. Cerasoli began couch-surfing a year ago, relying on friends. There was the unheated basement in Bronxville, and the room in the Bronx with no hot water. She is currently living in a small room in a Co-Op City apartment, also in the Bronx, courtesy of a friend — who is about to be evicted.

“We’re basically squatting here,” she said, while preparing for a trip to Albany for her one-woman demonstration in front of the state’s Education Department building. She planned to urge officials to improve conditions for adjuncts at public colleges as more universities save money by reducing their full-time teaching staffs.

Until recently, Ms. Cerasoli taught at Nassau Community College on Long Island, but lacking seniority, she was not assigned any classes this year, she said.

“They call us professors, but they’re paying us at poverty levels,” she said. “I just want to make a living from a skill I’ve spent 30 years developing.”

The exploitation of adjunct professors has been going on for years.  The pay is low and has not changed much in decades.  I had my first teaching position as an adjunct at Borough of Manhattan Community College in 1971.  I was paid a little more than $3,000. for a three-credit/three hour course.  This is still the going rate in the New York City area.  With the squeeze of funding at many public colleges and tuition-dependent private colleges, adjuncts have become their financial lifelines.

For shame on all of us who have allowed this to happen.



  1. I am reading this one week after the Graduate Center held a memorial service for Jean Anyon. What she so alertly wrote about 30 years ago, creating sustainable jobs with fare wages, is disappointedly exemplified in this story on Ms Cerasoll.