If one obscure college professor dies, does it make any difference? If you're Margaret Mary Vojtko, yes.
Margaret Mary died last summer at age 83 — and her death has turned her name into an emotional rallying cry for adjunct college teachers who're seeking justice from their schools.
Vojtko had taught French classes for 25 years at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, earning high marks from her students. Their praise helped make up for Duquesne's poor pay and lack of respect. Like most teachers there, Margaret Mary was part of the adjunct faculty — a group that now teaches more than half of all U.S. college courses, yet has no tenure or bargaining power, thus allowing schools like Duquesne to take advantage of them. And, boy, do they ever!
As with other adjuncts, Professor Vojtko was unsalaried, instead paid a low rate for each course she taught. This provided no reliable income, for she was never told until just before a semester began whether she'd be teaching three classes, one ... or none. Even in good years with full teaching loads, her pay was below $25,000 — with zero benefits.
Margret Mary's last year was certainly not a good one. Duquesne had cut her to one class per semester, reducing her income to under $10,000. Also, her cancer returned, piling huge medical bills on her back. With no savings or university pension, she'd become so pauperized that she couldn't pay her electric bill, effectively making her homeless that winter. Her stress level was off the charts, yet she never missed a day of class. Until last spring, that is. That's when Duquesne fired her.
In August, this proud professional educator was found sprawled on her front lawn, having suffered a massive heart attack. She died penniless, jobless ... and literally heartbroken, having been thrown away by the university that had used her for 25 years.