"On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83." That is how attorney Daniel Kovalik begins his story of the death of an adjunct professor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The editorial has been making the rounds with academics as Vojtko's life, teaching career and death highlight the way higher education treats — or mistreats — its staff.
As amazing as it sounds, Margaret Mary, a 25-year professor, was not making ends meet. Even during the best of times, when she was teaching three classes a semester and two during the summer, she was not even clearing $25,000 a year, and she received absolutely no health care benefits. Compare this to the salary of Duquesne's president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits.
Meanwhile, in the past year, her teaching load had been reduced by the university to one class a semester, which meant she was making well below $10,000 a year. With huge out-of-pocket bills from UPMC Mercy for her cancer treatment, Margaret Mary was left in abject penury. She could no longer keep her electricity on in her home, which became uninhabitable during the winter. She therefore took to working at an Eat 'n Park at night and then trying to catch some sleep during the day at her office at Duquesne. When this was discovered by the university, the police were called in to eject her from her office. Still, despite her cancer and her poverty, she never missed a day of class.
Here in Oregon United Academics of the University of Oregon — a union that represents adjuncts and full-time professors — excitedly announced yesterday that "Following months of negotiations, United Academics and the University of Oregon have reached tentative agreement on a historic first collective bargaining agreement!" For more information, go to the UAUO website.
Meanwhile, the classified staff (who don't teach but whose work on everything from landscaping to computer programming to course scheduling are key to the university's ability to run) is contemplating a Sept. 23 strike.