Homeless Adjunct Activist Mounts Hunger Strike to Draw Attention to College Faculty Poverty
Action Follows March Protest at NY State Department of Education, Letter Ignored by Governor Cuomo
by T. L. Mack-Piccone
Mineola, Long Island, N.Y. – May 14, 2014 – Mary-Faith Cerasoli, an adjunct professor of Spanish and Italian who made national news by protesting her poverty-level conditions while teaching at two New York colleges, made an emergency room visit to Winthrop-University Hospital today after the first five days of a hunger strike on the campus of Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y.
In March, Cerasoli demonstrated on the steps of the New York State Department of Education in Albany, wearing a vest that read “Homeless Prof” and holding signs highlighting her lack of access to healthcare or housing while struggling with a life-threatening medical condition. Cerasoli spent the nights of May 8-13 in her car on the Nassau campus, one of two Long Island colleges where she taught seven classes this academic year. She also taught at Mercy College. Cerasoli was able to go to the hospital only because she just received access to Medicaid.
“Institutions of higher education provide working conditions that starve many contingent faculty of their livelihoods,” Cerasoli explained, “so I felt a hunger strike was exactly the right way to highlight the problem, particularly at Nassau, a college that just recently retaliated against adjunct faculty who took a stand against exploitation by striking earlier this year.”
Across the country, more than half of all college faculty are classified as part-time even if they do the same work as and teach the same number of classes, often over several institutions, as full-time faculty. According to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, average compensation is less than $25,000 per year (Cerasoli earned $14,000 last year) and rarely includes benefits. Many adjunct faculty endure expensive and debilitating health conditions like Cerasoli’s.
Cerasoli received no response to a letter she wrote to Governor Cuomo requesting a meeting. She intended to ask him to help restore her access to professional working conditions and a sustainable living.
Cerasoli is working with faculty activists in New York and around the country to force policymakers and politicians to confront the problem more directly and to begin offering real, concrete remedies. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) has been especially vocal about the need for legislators to support activists who are helping adjuncts to organize and to reform their working conditions.
Activist T.L. Mack-Piccone, who accompanied Cerasoli to Albany, pointed out that national news outlets, including The New York Times and PBS, picked up the story of Cerasoli’s March demonstration. A social media solidarity campaign ensued, featuring adjunct faculty across the country.
“It’s likely that a similar campaign will result from Mary-Faith’s latest action,” Mack-Piccone said. “We have started a hashtag (#hungryhomelessprof) through which people can follow her story. After five days of drinking only water, medical personnel have pronounced her physical and mental health sound. This will not be surprising to the adjuncts and others across the country who have been inspired by her bravery and determination.”
Distribute a photograph of your fridge/cabinets on social media with the hashtag #HungryHomelessProf
Forgo one meal
Embark on a one-day fast