Hunger Strike

In Philly Blog on June 25, 2014 at 1:00 am


post by Wende Marshall

I was recently invited to participate on an Anthropology Association of America panel about food and identity. I was slow in responding, and as I pondered the invitation over several days I realized that the idea of the panel was deeply disturbing to me. I realized that my experience as an adjunct struggling to survive without a full time permanent job had significantly altered the way that I think about the academy and about academic research and writing. There was a time when I might have jumped at the chance to be on the panel, when I would have been honored to have been asked to join colleagues working on issues similar to mine. But as I considered the invitation what I felt was a chilling sense of how inadequate the academic response has been to the crumbling structures of higher education and to the growing wealth and income gap.


The numbers of people awarded PhDs has ballooned in past decade, and so has the number of people with PhDs receiving public assistance. Between 2007 and 2010, people with PhDs who receive food stamps grew from 9,776 to 33,655. This is not at all surprising when you consider that according to the Adjunct Project average adjunct pay is $2397 per 3 credit course. The panel topic of food and identity reminded me of the largely hidden reality that many adjuncts struggle to feed themselves and their families. It reminded me that some adjuncts experience an enduring sense of shame about their poverty and the very low wages they receive for their work. It reminded me that adjuncts are not eligible for sabbaticals, or to apply for University based research funds, and we do not receive travel budgets. Adjuncts, struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table, can’t afford to do research.

Part of what disturbed me about being invited to a panel on food and identity is the way in which the topic was treated purely academically—in the sense defined by as “having no practical importance, not involving or relating to anything real or practical.” The whole concept of an academic discussion on food and identity that does not start from a basic understanding that almost three-quarters of college professors earn low wages, have no benefits or job security, and that many struggle with basic necessities is seriously problematic. On what ground do we pontificate about food and identity around the world, when in our own country, in the institutions where knowledge is produced, people are hungry?

I am not ashamed of my low wages or my reliance on public assistance, but I am ashamed of the complicity of tenured faculty whose own wages and powers have stagnated in the context of universities dominated by corporations. I am ashamed of administrators who value their own excessive wages over the needs of both students and faculty. I am deeply concerned about the Walmartization of higher education, and I intend to fight.

Wende Marshall is an adjunct and a Fellow with the Media Mobilizing Project ( working on public access television episodes about labor and immigration struggles.