Inside Higher Ed, #iammargaretmary:
A column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Mary Margaret Vojtko, an adjunct instructor of French at Duquesne University who died sick, alone and penniless this month, went viral Tuesday, as adjuncts across the country reported seeing something tragically familiar in her story.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Death of an Adjunct:
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. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two
weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she
On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset
Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of
stress. 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. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker
the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans' Court.
a proud professional like Margaret Mary, this was the last straw; she
was mortified. She begged me to call Adult Protective Services and tell
them to leave her alone, that she could take care of herself and did not
need their help. I agreed to. Sadly, a couple of hours later, she was
found on her front lawn, unconscious from a heart attack. She never
Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective
Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the
situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a
professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement
benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of
herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker
paused and asked with incredulity, "She was a professor?" I said yes.
The caseworker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for
whom she was called in to help.
Of course, what the caseworker
didn't understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor,
meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary 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. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the
faculty at colleges and universities. ...
Duquesne knew all about Margaret Mary's plight, for I apprised them
of it in two letters. I never received a reply, and Margaret Mary was
forced to die saddened, penniless and on the verge of being turned over
to Orphan's Court. ...
Her nephew, who had contacted me
about her passing, implored me to make sure that she didn't die in vain.
He said that while there was nothing that could be done for Margaret
Mary, we had to help the other adjuncts at Duquesne and other
universities who were being treated just as she was, and who could end
up just like she did. I believe that writing this story is the first
step in doing just that.