Two More Inches of Rope from Which to Hang Us Up as Examples of Detritus Teachers

we huff and we puff and we complain about wages and the quicksand death of higher and public education but all of life is a stage for the Daily Show

The funeral Mass for Margaret Mary, a devout Catholic, was held at Epiphany Church, only a few blocks from Duquesne. The priest who said Mass was from the University of Dayton, another Catholic university and my alma mater. Margaret Mary was laid out in a simple, cardboard casket devoid of any handles for pallbearers — a sad sight, but an honest symbol of what she had been reduced to by her ostensibly Catholic employer.

Any number of stories like this in the real world of Amerika for, by, because of, in cahoots with the corporate pigs and the economic hit men and women, unfortunately, you can read daily on blogs, on non-traditional media outlets and in a few of the fuzzy fake news organs still chugging away in America-the-Callous.

We’ll get to Margaret Mary, but I recall my own early graduate student days in Tex-ass. Adjunct, writer, young, able to scam the hotel happy hours and get gobs of free food with purchase of one 12-ounce Shiner beer. Free popcorn and hot sauce and Parmesan cheese with that hot tea. Hell, I even had Seventh Day Adventist name tag and a bible for some places where they let me drink tea for free AND course through the all-you-can-eat happy hour free buffet.

Sure, a few more of us had exotic second, third and fourth jobs trying to supplement $1250 a class to teach senior level business writing, or advanced ethics or philosophy, or even one of the STEMs — biology. There were folk that delivered pizza and subs, others worked at K-Mart, and still others did go-go dancing and strip ‘o’grams. Sure, then there were some big honchos in the big ADMIN class at the UT parties — that’s Longhorns of Tex-ass, the big UT system, including my own El Paso/ UTEP — who demanded Valium for their down time after bumping up with coke. Baggies of weed and snort. Heck, I even brought over the borderline — Juarez-El Paso (yep,  false bottom in my Datsun Pickup truck) quarts of rum, vodka and other Mexican spirits and sold them to local bars. That’s 30 quarts at a time of Patron or Cuervo Gold. Some of us obliged the defense attorneys and car dealers their little Peruvian dust. An adjunct has to do what an adjunct has to do to make ends meet, thanks to the Elite Class, smarmy deans and goofy presidents and pathetic provosts!

The life of the adjunct, and I was working as a reporter, and teacher, teaching 9 classes a semester, and still writing novels and messing with a NYC literary agent. Those were the halcyon days, when you could hitchhike through Mexico with a little mordida — the bite, AKA bribes — to placate the corrupt federales and border cops.   “I don’t need not stinking college degree.” The days when apartments went for $200 a month. Grocery bills still under a hundred a month. But, really, $1250.00 a class, teaching writing, reading stacks of papers, grading, work-shopping, acting as our students’ first line of defense and sometimes only real ear for their own fears and foibles.

You can’t buy smoking a doobie with Willie Nelson or doing shots of whiskey with Bum Phillips or eating peas with Cormac McCarthy, all of which I did, and more. That’s a real education. Sure, tons of stories bigger and more complex and “sexy” than those, and they will die with me, never to see the light of the glowing screen. Not that I don’t have the wherewithal to write them, but this is a world of hipster-metro-sexual-quasi-self-enlightened crap, and, oh, everyone is a scribe, everyone a literary or memoir star, everyone amassed to bring to the world a million words of mush, each and everyone of those aspiring writers.

I dare say most people don’t want to read those hard-bitten, at-the-edge, real, and syncopated to magic realism, stories. I learned what Master of Fine Arts writing is all about, and I rejected it BIG time.

And paying the price, as  adjunct. Shit whisperer, like the horse whisperer, always able to tame the shit and control the BS.

In Tex-ass, sometimes, adjuncts just up and leave one day — book MIA, all of them burned out/bummed out by the bad pay, bad Administrators, bad conditions, bad treatment all around. Some even had the balls to take the grade book with them. Chutzpah. There Friday, gone Monday . . . in the middle of the semester!

I remember the days of Enron, and the aftershock of some teachers, retired, who ended up committing suicide after their measly retirement funds vanished over night.

Suicide. And unemployment. Suicide and underemployment. The stories are bright and crisp each and everyday in the “news” (sic). This long-term unemployment, underemployment, shit employment, well, for the guys and gals over 40 or 45, it’s life threatening. As in suicide by self-inflicted wound. Booze and pharma. Here, adjunct faculty in Korea killing themselves.

Antiseptic title, but worth reading: “Long-Term Unemployment and Suicide: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Or, try, Propaganda Broadcasting System, PBS, here — “Suicide and the Older Unemployed.”

Count TEN suicides that we know of —

sign says: “Development dictatorship in Asian countries educated workers to be tamed to oppression & low-wages and trained technocrats to oppress workers and democracy.”

Fair for All. Suicide note of South Korean adjunct professor:

A 45 year-old adjunct professor of 10 years committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his home on May 25. The man, Dr. Suh had been an adjunct professor for Chosun University.

As reported by Hankyoreh News, his 5-page will, written to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, criticized the corrupt process of hiring tenure-track professors and the lack of job security. His will elaborates that during his 10-year attempt to be hired as a tenure-track professor, he was timelessly asked to pay nearly 60 to 100 million won ($50,000-$85,000) for employment.

A former colleague of Dr. Suh mentioned that, “It is a well-known secret that monetary payment for professorship is one of the last requirements to be hired. Through this incident the treatment and hopelessness of part-time lecturers as well as the corruption among professors needs to be revealed.”  Unfortunately for Dr. Suh, he didn’t have the economic ability to pay the cost for a professorship.

Where is this leading me? Well, back to adjuncts in America:

Yet Obama and Biden have completely neglected the huge income disparity on college campuses between the comparatively well off tenure-track faculty, such as Jill Biden who earns $82,000 annually, and the deplorable situation of the nontenure-track faculty, whose plight is so bad that last year the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story entitled, “From Graduate School to Welfare:  The Ph.D Now Comes with Food Stamps.”

Indeed, one million college professors now teach off the tenure-track with poverty-level wages that have long-rivaled Wal-Mart and MacDonald’s workers.  With the recent clamor for higher wages for unskilled labor, should our nation’s highly skilled “contingent” professors also receive the minimum wage for each and every hour they work, and time and a half for overtime?

Colleague and friend, Keith Hoeller, has his two cents out at Counterpunch: “Do College Professors Deserve a Living Wage?.”

Listening to National Putrid Radio, just minutes ago, the insipid American reporter (sic) Melissa Block was doing the typical slum tour interview of a working class family, in Brazil (why Brazil — well, Olympics and World Cup). Hard working man, two daughters, and a history of their parents working hard as farmers, barely making ends meet. They gross $900 a month, and are considered on the third tier of middle class by Brazilian planners and demographers and economists  — working poor, really. One dream is to buy a house. But they pay as much for rent, $130 a month as they do to put their one daughter through school, a private school.

What is the message from the two girls’ parents and the father’s parents? Study, Study, STUDY! Get educated.

Ahh, that’s what we try to do as adjunct faculty, as the majority, STUDY (as in analysis-paralysis) :

According to the American Association of University Professors, there are now one million—three of every four–professors teaching off the tenure-track.  Unlike their tenured counterparts–who have professional salaries, great benefits, summers off, sabbaticals, private offices and lifetime job protection in the form of tenure—these “contingent” faculty have none of these things, and little hope of ever obtaining them.

Oh, heck, what about the unions? We hear a lot about unions at DV!

Could unions help?  Actually, these terrible conditions exist even in unionized colleges where the teachers unions (NEA, AFT, and AAUP) routinely negotiate inequitable contracts that force these insecure part-time workers into the same unions with the tenured faculty, who often serve as their supervisors, interviewing them, hiring them, assigning them classes, and firing them.  Adjuncts who have spoken out against the two-tier system have faced retaliation, sometimes initiated by union leaders.

But the story is about Margaret Mary.

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.

Oh, do I say more? Just read the piece on Margaret Mary:

Death of an adjunct
“Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French for 25 years, died underpaid and underappreciated at age 83”

Read Keith’s piece at Counterpunch.  Remember the Alamo. All those fat-faced Repub-demo-litionary politicians laughing all the way to the bank …  to the book deal … to their consultancy work (sic) …  to their vaunted fake jobs as college presidents, deans, chancellors and start faculty …. Laughing all the way to board rooms, to their lobby jobs, to their triple-and-sometimes-quadruple-dipping from the US taxpayers’ coffers.

For us, the 80 Percenters? Sub-minimum wage, food stamps cuts to the tune of $40 billion, government running out (sic) of money, another stupid day listening to Mr. Jon Leibowitz (AKA Jon Stewart) har-har-har spinning his insipid chuckle charm. You know, his bro’s none other than Zionists’ r’ Us Larry Leibowitz , chief operating officer of the New York Stock Exchange! Other  high positions in the financial mafia —  Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley.

Remember the Margaret Marys and Korean professors offing themselves because they get shit for pay and more shit for treatment. Teaching the next and the next generation. So they might not be stuck in the first gear of a working poor half-ton pick-up leaking tranny fluid and smoking with worn-out rings …  in debt, sure, with tons of scholarly work, but in that precarity class while the Leibowitzes of the world laugh all the way to their banks.

Margaret Mary:

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.**

**Daniel Kovalik  wrote the essay on Margaret Mary, and he’s the proud senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers union.

Note: Oh yeah, my apologies to you all if you link to Jon Leibowitz’s mind-numbing episode here on chess program and school. I wonder if his brother’s helped Jon-Boy “invest” his multi-millions in, oh, some of those privatizing corporations, or the ones leading the call to gut public education? Ya think! Daily Show.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Paul Haeder said on September 18th, 2013 at 9:44pm #

    Subject: “Death of An Adjunct” by Daniel Kovalik

    Daniel Kovalik of the United Steel Workers has given me permission to send out this piece which appeared today in

    Thanks to Dan for writing this memorial for Mary Margaret Vojtko.

    I believe it highlights the meanness of the two-track system. We all know that many graduate students leave college only to find few or no tenure-track jobs, after spending years and thousands of dollars getting a degree. They face student loans and a dead-end career. If they accept a part-time job, they have little hope for advancement, and may live in poverty. If they are let go, they may be denied unemployment.

    But should they reach retirement age, they will end up in poverty. Social Security payments depend on the amount you earn over your lifetime. Low pay means low social security benefits. They may not have any other retirement. But if they do, it will be low too, since it is also dependent on how much they earned while working.

    Tenure-track faculty meanwhile can usually expect to retire with high social security monthly checks and a hefty TIAA-CREF annuity account worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some even retire with a million dollars in their retirement accounts.

    Obamacare, fully known and supported by the unions, will be devastating for health for union members, and especially for part-time workers like adjuncts. I recommend reading, “Labor Leaders, Obamacare, and the Fate of the Unions,” by Shamus Cooke (Counterpunch).

    Cordially, Keith Hoeller

  2. Paul Haeder said on September 20th, 2013 at 12:41pm #

    Oh, shoot — so much more to discuss around the Death of an Adjunct, not the least being the priest Walsh attacking Daniel Kovalik’s essay.

    Quoting that human wart, the un-reverend Walsh:

    Duquesne acknowledged that its part-time instructors receive no benefits, and it did not dispute the details of Vojtko’s employment. But the university said that its priests did reach out to offer help, and it released a statement from Rev. Daniel Walsh, university chaplain and director of campus ministry, who said he was “incredulous” after reading Kovalik’s piece.

    “I knew Margaret Mary well,” Walsh said. “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.”

    In an interview, Kovalik said Vojtko needed and deserved a “living wage,” not just “intermittent charity and prayers.” He added: “They’re not really disputing my account at all.”


    And, so this retort on the adjunct faculty list serve and appearing other places. His words hold up without any more of mine thrown in:

    Hello — I posted this just now in Commonweal. I’m very pleased, and I think it honors Margaret Mary, who I didn’t know personally, that were creating a big ruckus. Here’s my commonweal bit- you have to register to comment but you can see other comments.

    I discussed this matter for a short period this morning, with my Fordham University anthropology students, in a a Comparative Cultures class. We were scheduled, in any event, to discuss how death is managed, or was
    traditionally, in a number of Melanesian tribal societies. One theme here has been that, in death, obligations of various sorts are highlighted, and marked by gift exchanges and other rituals, between the kinship groups that are the building blocks of such small societies.

    A strong finding, by anthropologists in this field, is that the rituals around death are crucial to restoring and perpetuating the important links between all the groups that interact, and constitute by their interaction the very fabric of society–that’s a familiar phrase, isn’t it, the fabric of society, even perhaps something of a cliche?

    But it’s useful, and the care and maintenance of that fabric does indeed seem to involve serious community investment in many societies. The death of any individual, anywhere, disrupts social functioning in that person’s network of associates and kin, to use the driest sort of social scientese.

    Ok, as an adjunct, I feel close to Margaret Mary, even though I did not in fact know her personally, and I think one can see that close feeling even more clearly, in Dan Kovalik’s article. Dan Kovalik is one of Margaret Mary’s people. He knew her, he tried to be helpful to her. He is also senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers union, which has recently and successfully organized Duquesne adjunct faculty, something that has been resisted fiercely by the university’s administration.

    Now, Rev. Walsh has objected to Dan’s article, claiming that Kovalik is serving “an alternative agenda” in a “sadly exploitive” way. Rev. Walsh also wants us to know that he too knew Margaret Mary Votjko, and that he
    and other Spiritan priests knew her and visited with her regularly, and tried to be helpful.

    So, I guess we’re arguing, aren’t we, about what this death really means. My personal view is simple. For forty years now, higher ed has more and more exploited an ever more adjunctified faculty, and I don’t think that end-of-life pastoral attention, no matter how well-meaning or comforting, even begins to substitute for the thoroughgoing soul-searching that needs to be done about an exploitative labor system that violates the church’s basic social teachings. In fact, I think that Rev. Walsh should be ashamed of himself, for so grossly ignoring the very obvious system of exploitation that so very obviously structured the death, in poverty, of a devoted Duquesne faculty member.

    Now is the perfect time to discuss these things, not at all an “alternate agenda,” and, “shameful”? Really? And, by the way, the person who, in this string, wrote that Margaret Mary Votjko was “well paid by adjunct
    standards,” that person should also be ashamed. At the end of her quarter century of teaching she was limited, by the university, to teaching a couple of classes only, so that her annual income–annual income–was below $10,000.

    But, it’s ok, even good, by “adjunct standards”?

    What kind of standards are to be set, and by whom, for the adjuncts who do most of the teaching in higher ed in the nations colleges and universities, including the “religiously” based institutions whose spokepeople so often claim the moral high ground?

    Margaret Mary Votjko died, she died after long service in higher education, she died in hard circumstances, she died in poverty. Yes, we’re going to use her death, that’s our “agenda,” to reveal intolerable and unsustainable forms of exploitation, and to fight against them. I think this is far from “shameful.” We honor Margaret Mary by doing this work.

    Alan Trevithick,
    adjunct, Fordham University,
    Westchester Community College,
    LaGuardia Community College;
    board member, New Faculty Majority.

  3. Paul Haeder said on September 20th, 2013 at 3:59pm #

    And, as always, a great clearing house of articles and posts and references and such around Adjunct Faculty and Education.

    A is for “Adjunct”, or that Scarlet Letter . . . . Taratino a la Hawthorne style

  4. Paul Haeder said on September 23rd, 2013 at 2:44pm #

    In Memoriam

    Dear Friends and Colleagues,

    It has taken me a few days to process all the goings-on of the past weeks.

    The devastating news of another contingent professor, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French at Duquesne University for over 25 years, really hit home. Time and again I have read of cases where dedicated teachers get turned away after years of service, but I refuse to believe that a Catholic institution can be so callous, that all institutions of Higher Education refuse to pull their head out of the sand and acknowledge the elephant in the room. We must do something immediate to stop this devastation. And yet what have we done? What do we keep doing?

    Duquesne University denies any wrongdoing. All universities refute they are doing wrong.

    It may be too late for Margaret Mary Vojtko, but there are over 1 million contingent faculty today, and the numbers keep growing. This is now 75% of the academic workforce in Higher Education. Many of us are growing old, and lots have no recourse to healthcare, to savings, to any form of help, just like Margaret Mary. Many of us are prideful, just like Margaret Mary. Yet she went to Duquesne’s door and, though they gave her charity, they denied her a living wage.

    We are all being denied.

    How many years have we been in battle? How many years have we tried to get recognition? How many years have we been swept under the rug, covered under as Higher Ed’s dirty little secret? So what are we doing as charitable human beings? Where is our caritas? Is there only silence to greet us?

    Duquesne, you are not alone in this sin. All universities are. But it is a sin. Think on it.

    Please sign our petition for Adjunct Justice. Sign it and share!

    In sol(idarity),

    Ana M. Fores Tamayo
    Adjunct Justice