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After 25 Years of Teaching, Professor Dies Broke

After a quarter-century teaching at the university level, 83-year-old Margaret Mary Vojtko died impoverished. A friend says her death highlights the plight of adjunct professors, who endure abject penury despite teaching at some of the top universities in the nation.

(Photo credit: WarmSleepy / Flickr)

That friend, Daniel Kovalik, wrote an op-ed about Duquesne University professor Margaret Mary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, using her story to highlight the bottom-rung salaries and economic conditions of the people who teach at some of the nation's most prestigious schools.

Kovalik writes:

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 with the salary of Duquesne's president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits.

Things only got worse as her health declined, he continues:

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.

The woman's story spawned its own social media movement. Go to Twitter under the hashtag #iammargaretmary to see stories of others like her, teachers who endure low pay teaching at some of the wealthiest schools.

 

The university, by the way, disputes Kovalik's account. But nationwide statistics back it up. We recently wrote about a study on the nation's growing adjunct crisis, which found that despite taking eight years to qualify to teach, adjunct faculty earn, on average, just $20,000 a year. Many of them rely on food stamps to survive.

 

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Do you think adjunct professors should be paid more? Leave us a comment or join the conversation on Twitter.

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