Death of An Adjunct: A Sobering, True Story


The Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette ran a sad and galling sto­ry yes­ter­day about Mary Mar­garet Vojtko who died of a heart attack at the age of 83. At the time of her death, Daniel Kova­lik writes:

She was receiv­ing radi­a­tion ther­a­py for the can­cer that had just returned to her, she was liv­ing near­ly home­less because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was lit­er­al­ly falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received anoth­er indig­ni­ty — a let­ter from Adult Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices telling her that some­one had referred her case to them say­ing that she need­ed assis­tance in tak­ing care of her­self.

Vojtko had end­ed up in pover­ty after spend­ing 25 years work­ing as an adjunct pro­fes­sor of French at Duquesne Uni­ver­si­ty, a Catholic school locat­ed in Pitts­burgh, Pa. Until she was ter­mi­nat­ed last spring, she worked “on a con­tract basis from semes­ter to semes­ter, with no job secu­ri­ty, no ben­e­fits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-cred­it course.” When teach­ing three class­es a semes­ter and two dur­ing the sum­mer, Vojtko nev­er earned more than $25,000 a year. (A pit­tance com­pared to the pay pack­age of Duques­ne’s pres­i­dent — report­ed­ly about $700,000 per year in salary and ben­e­fits.) Mean­while, Duquesne thwart­ed attempts by adjuncts to union­ize, claim­ing that the school should have a reli­gious exemp­tion.

As Kova­lik goes on to note: “Adjuncts now make up well over 50 per­cent of the fac­ul­ty at col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.” And that sta­tis­tic is bound to increase. You can — and should — read the full sto­ry at the Post-Gazette. Read Death of an Adjunct here.

via @stevesilberman

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Comments (5)
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  • Bovee says:

    Noth­ing can be done about this. Sor­ry to hear such a painful sto­ry. But the wealthy are not in any ‘mood’ to help those who are strug­gling. Let us eat cake,… shall we? No one of us is in any posi­tion to change the views the wealthy have towards the low­er class. What can you do to force them to treat oth­ers equal­ly? Noth­ing. What can you do to force them to address the inequity in life and all the strug­gles the low­er class­es have? Noth­ing. Painful sto­ry though, amaz­ing per­son, deep strug­gles in life, and no relief. This is one of mil­lions of sim­i­lar sto­ries. The school could of paid her a liv­ing wage, and she could of kept her health, and her home, and her dig­ni­ty, instead she fad­ed out with stress and fear run­ning through her mind. Well edu­cat­ed woman, very busi­ness like, she was the pin­na­cle of hard work. And yet, she still suf­fered cru­el­ty by unjust pay and com­pen­sa­tion for her work. No Union can fix this. No leg­is­la­tion can fix this. No protest can fix this. This prob­lem is the real­i­ty of class inequity today. The wealthy, have no tears to she for the pain suf­fered by oth­ers because they live under the guise that what we are paid is fair and equi­table.

  • Jackson Von Hammerstein says:

    @Bovee:nn“No Union can fix this. No leg­is­la­tion can fix this. No protest can fix this.“nnnWell, that’s just non­sense. Union­iza­tion can make a dif­fer­ence. Leg­is­la­tion can make an even big­ger dif­fer­ence. And protests, if big enough, can indeed make a dif­fer­ence. What cer­tain­ly won’t make a dif­fer­ence is fatal­is­tic hope­less­ness.

  • Buckywunder says:

    “Acad­e­my Fight Song” by Thomas Frank in The Baf­fler, No. 23. Also, “Course Cor­rec­tions” in Harper’s Octo­ber 2013.

  • M.R.Stringer says:

    I can tell you worse — sort of … In Aus­tralia, adjuncts are paid NOTHING AT ALL. My sis­ter spent sev­er­al years super­vis­ing PhD stu­dents and con­tin­u­ing to lec­ture, dur­ing which time she received, by way of pay­ment, the glo­ry of being allowed to con­tin­ue to use the Uni­ver­si­ty’s name in her sig­na­ture file. Oh, and use of the library. And this is the norm. I am sor­ry indeed for Vojtko, and sin­cere­ly; my views on reli­gion and its sup­port­ers have been once again con­firmed.

  • Susan says:

    This is one of those sto­ries that leave me with so many ques­tions. 1. was she not eli­gi­ble for social security?n2. was she not eli­gi­ble for medicare?n3. 83 years old and been teach­ing for 25 years: what had she been doing the pri­or 25–30 years?n4. and it real­ly did seem as if she need­ed some help. Seems to me as if APS was try­ing to throw her a life line, not insult her.

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