Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Death of an Adjunct. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette.

More than 20 readers have sent us this link to share.


By Daniel Kovalik

Duquesne Univ.
Old Main.
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 talked to.

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.

For 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 regained consciousness.

More of this article.
Duquesne student paper.


Update printed in the Duquesne paper: 
In response to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s opinions column by Daniel Kovalik posted online today, Duquesne University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry Daniel Walsh issued the following statement:

“I was incredulous after reading Daniel Kovalik’s op-ed piece about Margaret Mary Votjko [sic]. I knew Margaret Mary well. When we learned of problems with her home she was invited to live with us in the formation community at Laval House on campus, where she resided for several weeks over the past year. Over the course of Margaret Mary’s illness I, along with other Spiritan priests, visited with her regularly. In addition, the University and the Spiritan priests at Duquesne offered several other types of assistance to her. Mr. Kovalik’s use of an unfortunate death to serve an alternative agenda is sadly exploitive, and is made worse because his description of the circumstances bears no resemblance to reality.”


  1. This makes me so sad and angry. And sad and angry.

  2. I almost sent this out myself, but thought it might be too depressing and misery-inducing. At the same time, I'm totally unsurprised, although I might have expected more from Catholic social teaching.

    Also, check out that "correction" to the student paper article. Of fucking course they are in CYA mode. Shoot me.

  3. As readers of this page likely know, there is actual inhumanity in the institution - adjunct relationship. I only hope this terrible tale will motivate people of good will a bit more.

  4. Good God. This is terrifying and awful. Inhumanity, indeed.

  5. What is wrong with people? Nobody around this woman did enough. I sometimes am so sickened by our culture's inward turn. I see it in my students, even in previous generations. Obviously in me as well at times.

    I wish her Godspeed, some place better than this rock.

  6. If the Spiritan priests were such upstanding fellows, why didn't Margaret Mary ask them to contact Adult Protective Services? And what the hell does "several other types of assistance" even mean? I'm guessing it wasn't cash for medical bills or to pay her mortgage.

    Fuck you Duquesne. You don't seem terribly Christian to me, and I'm not one.

  7. Did y'all know that union organizing is "an alternative agenda" from a Catholic perspective now? JPII would sure be surprised to hear that.

  8. Er, what is going on here? Did she have any social security? An old lady relying solely on adjunct pay? What's the back story? Did she never work, ever, until she was in her fifties? Was there no social security from the meager adjuncting? Medicare?

    This seems too easy.

    1. "Too easy?" First, it's not unusual for someone her age to not have worked or worked very little until later in life and there are certainly plenty of older women who found work as adjuncts. That's just speculation because I don't know her particular background; however, I do know this: senior citizens form the most rapidly-growing people in the U.S. declaring bankruptcy. My best friend is a bankruptcy lawyer and, sadly, a large chunk of her clientele is seniors forced into bankruptcy because of medical expenses. Medicare and Social Security often barely begin to cover expensive treatments, like radiation, and lifesavings get eaten up at a horrific rate. Those who don't or can't declare bankruptcy usually lose everything. So, no. I really don't think it is "too easy."

    2. This woman obviously had an advanced degree or she wouldn't have been teaching. She was also 83 years old and trust me, 83-year-olds can get confused and feel persecuted. I'm just saying that I'm not automatically going to go into pathos overload until I know more. This isn't a "news" story. It's an opinion piece.

    3. I try to refrain from speaking ill of the recently departed, but there is much more than the facts (indisputable as they are) that presented in this article.

      Math tells us Margaret Mary Vojtko was 58 when she began adjuncting at Duquesne. How did she support herself for, let's assume, the previous 36 years of her adult life? Page two of a Google search (yesterday, anyway) reveals that she was a Registered Nurse in Pennsylvania. A few pages later a link to Amazon and the book she wrote comes up. Deeper still is an article wherein she is quoted as the president of the local historical society.

      A spin piece by a union lawyer, indeed.

    4. I think it's fairly obvious that it's an op-ed, considering he's a lawyer for United Steelworkers and not a reporter for the paper. If she was an RN before she began adjuncting, she still spent 25 years making less than $25,000 per year. That's not very much to live on, particularly when you don't have health insurance.

      I also am not sure what the possibility of her serving as the president of a historical society has to do with this issue. Do you think that's a paid position? I can guarantee it's not. As for the book she wrote, I'd guess she wrote it for that same historical society or at least for the church discussed in the book. She must have really reaped in the royalties off what was surely a bestseller, especially considering it is a whopping eighteen pages long.

      It's clear that this is a spin piece, but that does not lessen the importance of the problems adjuncts face, year in and year out. Scratch that. I should say semester in and semester out because that is how our lives go by, semester by semester, trying to cobble together enough classes to pay rent, bills, often outrageous student loan bills, buy food, and, oh yeah, health care.

    5. I get that historical society isn't a paid position. But she did own her own home and was a licensed professional. This is conjecture, but if she was pro-union, she was most likely in the Nurses Union. What about that pension?

      Again, I'm not dismissing her plight but there's more to the story.

  9. Stella, your point is well-taken, but in light of the dreadful treatment many adjuncts receive, this story is painful. I am sure there is a lot more to this, but the CYA reaction of the Duquesne higher-ups is one more reminder why the Catholic Church and I have not been on speaking terms for 30+ years.

  10. It reminds me of the time that Robert Novak was driving his Corvette and hit some old guy without noticing it. My initial reaction was: "Why is this newsworthy? Doesn't he do this every week?"

    I don't mean to be flippant at the sad, sad death of this adjunct who was so respected except, notably, in her paycheck. Still, it wouldn't be difficult to find hundreds of similar sad cases. It's got to stop.

  11. It sounds like she, like many adults these days (and especially many adult women), had multiple careers/jobs, including some volunteer ones. It also sounds, from the information above (which I'm assuming is accurate; remember that names overlap a good deal, especially good Catholic names like hers),, like she served her community in at least two vital roles: nurse and teacher. Maybe it was time for her to retire from the latter role, maybe not. The fact remains that she didn't have the resources to do so, and that, however the choices she may have made at some point in her life may have helped to bring that about, the fact that she was working in a job without decent pay or benefits certainly played a role.

    Also, while I'm sure the Spiritans had good intentions, offering someone basic shelter when they're down and out because you've been underpaying them for years is a poor substitute for paying them decently in the first place, so they can maintain the independent, dignified life they prefer.