Duquesne University Adjunct Professor Margaret Mary Vojtko Dies Penniless
Duquesne University Adjunct Professor Margaret Mary Vojtko Dies Penniless

It’s a really sad commentary that Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, died penniless earlier this month after teaching there for 25 years. Wednesday, Daniel Kovalik, a friend of Margaret Vojtko, wrote an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with regards to the end of her life.

It is a sad commentary that she was not only afflicted with cancer, but living in abject poverty in a crumbling home. What’s jarring for me is the fact that she spent 25 years of her life educating others as an adjunct professor at a highly-regarded university, only to be reduced to poverty:

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.

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.

Duquesne University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry Daniel Walsh issued the a statement refuting Kovalik’s claims:

“I was incredulous after reading Daniel Kovalik’s op-ed piece about Margaret Mary Votjko. 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.”

Margaret Mary Vojtko’s story shouldn’t be ignored. It speaks to the hypocrisy in the system that rewards college and university presidents with enormous salaries and benefits, while these very institutions fight against efforts of their adjunct professors to unionize. Duquesne University president Charles J. Dougherty’s salary is nearly $700,000. That’s compared to Vojtko’s measly $10,000. Talk about the 1 percenter getting over. Vojtko’s case has led to the #iammargaretmary hashtag on Twitter. Maybe this will finally shame universities and colleges that literally sh*t on adjunct professors.