The Way We Live Now: “Death of An Adjunct”

I should probably put a trigger warning on this, for anyone who’s ever worried about dying alone because they’re too proud to ask for help. Via commentor Manyakitty, Daniel Kovalik, senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers union, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

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…

While adjuncts at Duquesne overwhelmingly voted to join the United Steelworkers union a year ago, Duquesne has fought unionization, claiming that it should have a religious exemption. Duquesne has claimed that the unionization of adjuncts like Margaret Mary would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Catholic values among its students…

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 to the salary of Duquesne’s president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits…

According to the student newspaper, Duquesne University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry Daniel Walsh has contested the details of Kovalik’s “alternative agenda“.

In a just world, a proud person like Professor Vojtko would not have been reduced to choosing between medical treatment and self-sufficiency. In this world, let me just remind everyone: It’s a mitzvah (or in the Catholic tradition, a minor gift of virtue) to ask for help when you need it, even if you think “nobody wants to know”.






85 replies
  1. 1
    LanceThruster says:

    “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” ~ Mark Vonnegut

  2. 2
    WereBear says:

    I urge everyone to read the article.

    she was not even clearing $25,000 a year, and she received absolutely no health care benefits. Compare this to the salary of Duquesne’s president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits…

    Sounds like such a familiar pattern.

  3. 3
    BGinCHI says:

    Maybe the Pope will call the university and remind the administration that they are going to hell.

  4. 4
    Dave says:

    Fuck everyone, including university administrators and professors, who have actively or passively allowed adjuncts to live this way. Lots of people whom we’re supposed to think of as fancy and respectable political allies have contributed to this horrorshow.

  5. 5
    Tommy says:

    A number of years ago I almost died. Caught this like one in ten million virus. I’ve always had health care, but for a few weeks I didn’t. I was scared to go to the doctor, so I didn’t. Ended up cut from ear to ear and in the ICU with a tube down my throat for seven days. I was very lucky I didn’t die.

    My parents, and I realize not everybody has this option, asked me “why didn’t you ask for help? We are rich.”

    I just said I wasn’t sure how to ask for help. My parents paid that $76,000 hospital bill or I would have, gosh I don’t know what would have happened. I think about this all the time cause I know so many don’t have the support I had.

    I find this sad at so many levels I can’t put words to it.

  6. 6
    Elizabelle says:

    Article was horrifying.

    ETA: 3 cheers to Manyakitty.

  7. 7
    Chris says:

    While adjuncts at Duquesne overwhelmingly voted to join the United Steelworkers union a year ago, Duquesne has fought unionization, claiming that it should have a religious exemption. Duquesne has claimed that the unionization of adjuncts like Margaret Mary would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Catholic values among its students…

    What the fuck are they talking about? Aside from the absurdity of claiming that unionized professors would interfere with the Catholic values, the Church’s official stance on unions in this country has been highly favorable for as long as anyone can remember (even if in practice, they choose never to agitate for it – don’t want to rock the boat and upset our cozy relationship with the nation’s other elites, now).

    What a bunch of fucking frauds.

  8. 8
    Botsplainer says:

    @Dave:

    Fuck everyone, including university administrators and professors, who have actively or passively allowed adjuncts to live this way.

    Hey, somebody has to wear those tweed jackets with the patches while banging undergrad hotties for grades. There’d be less time for fun if it weren’t for adjuncts picking up slack.

  9. 9
    Anya says:

    My dad is a tenured professor and he’s very disillusioned with his profession. He’s particularly bothered by the exploitation and how universities are turning into soulless places where the influence of big money is creeping in. What happened to Ms. Vojtko is absolutely abhorrent. What kind of society lets that kind of thing become the norm.

    RIP Margaret Mary Vojtko!

  10. 10
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    How can that Daniel Walsh guy sleep at night?

    Oh, wait…like the warmongering deserting coward…like a baby.

  11. 11
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Anya:

    What kind of society lets that kind of thing become the norm.

    A Ferengi society. A society run by vampires.

    Our society. A disgrace to the principles upon which it was founded.

  12. 12
    Elizabelle says:

    Where’s all the tuition money going?

    Did Ms. V’s French students get a break on credit hours since she was paid peanuts?

  13. 13
    BGinCHI says:

    @Botsplainer: Easily the fucking stupidest comment I’ve read here this year. Congrats.

  14. 14

    @Chris:

    Aside from the absurdity of claiming that unionized professors would interfere with the Catholic values, the Church’s official stance on unions in this country has been highly favorable for as long as anyone can remember

    It appears that part of the reason they are willing to support unions is because they think they’re something that applies to other people. There are lots of good things that people are willing to support as long as they apply to somebody else.

  15. 15
    Buffalo Rude says:

    I’d read the article right now, but I’m around too many things I can throw and do real property damage.

  16. 16
    Tommy says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: It is very hard for me to understand. Look I make a fair amount of money. If I got to pay more in taxes, which isn’t really something I want to do, I would not have a problem with it if it stopped shit like this happen. I mean I want my fellow citizens to have food and health care. I don’t think that is asking too much is it?

  17. 17
    Botsplainer says:

    @Elizabelle:

    Where’s all the tuition money going?

    My alma mater:

    HODES, JONATHAN EZRA CHAIRPERSON & ASSOC PROFESSOR NEUROLOGICAL SURGERY UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $991,820
    BOLING JR, WARREN W PROFESSOR TERM NEUROLOGICAL SURGERY UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $790,000
    WALZ, JEFF J HEAD COACH VPA-BASKETBALL-WOMEN UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $775,000
    BOLLI, ROBERTO ENDOWED CHAIR PROFESSOR MED- DEPT ADMIN UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $717,136
    DUNN, DAVID LEWIS EXEC VP FOR HEALTH AFFAIRS EXECUTIVE VP – HEALTH AFFAIRS UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $712,500
    COOK, LARRY CLNCL PROFESSOR EXECUTIVE VP – HEALTH AFFAIRS UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $680,564
    NAUTA, HARING JETSE WALLES PROFESSOR TERM NEUROLOGICAL SURGERY UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $652,460
    BOSWELL, MARK VANCE CHAIRPERSON & PROFESSOR ANESTHESIOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $542,906
    MCMASTERS, KELLY MARC CHAIRPERSON & PROFESSOR SURGERY UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $535,000
    FERRAZ, FRANCISCO M ASST PROFESSOR TERM NEUROLOGICAL SURGERY UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $505,000
    PARK, MICHAEL CHANKWON ASST PROFESSOR TERM NEUROLOGICAL SURGERY UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $505,000
    GOLDSTEIN, RICHARD E. ENDOWED CHAIR PROFESSOR SURGERY – ONCOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $504,700
    KAELIN, DARRYL LOUIS ASSOC PROFESSOR TERM NEUROLOGICAL SURGERY UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE $500,896

  18. 18
    KXB says:

    My sister was an adjunct chemistry professor for several years at Allegheny County Community College. I am familiar with how they are abused and taken advantage of by colleges. In order for her to make ends meet, she also taught at The Princeton Review. Then, when that company reduced the number of courses she could teach, she found herself relying just on the college, with me helping out by paying for her electric and tossing some more on groceries so she would not have to subsist on ramen. She had no benefits through her job – she was paying COBRA through University of PItt, he previous employer which let her go. Thanks to the stimulus plan, she got a reduced COBRA payment.

    Then, they were cutting her back to one course, despite her glowing reviews, and given her youth, her willingness to take on a bigger courseload. Finally, we had to go to Plan B, which is for her to move to the Bay Area, where our brother hooked her up with a job in IT.

    She now has a job that has full-time pay, benefits, and a 401K. But she misses Pittsburgh alot. as do I. I’ve visited her in both places. While I understand that it is a minority of people in Oakland that create the headaches, I do worry for her safety to a greater degree there than I did in Pittsburgh, where she lived in Squirrel Hill. Plus, she is paying 3 times as much in rent as she did back in Pitt.

    Now, she looks at her two degrees in chemistry – all that hard work and late nights in the lab, while she works in IT, working on a project related to rolling out the new insurance exchanges. She feels her higher ed was a waste of time and money. Given that I do not use either my BA or MBA in my office, I have to grudgingly agree.

  19. 19
    PurpleGirl says:

    This kind of thing has happened for a long time. No names possible but I know of an adjunct who was let go after he informed his university that he had inoperable cancer. He would had died in a few months but had they renewed his contract at least he would have been able to continue his health care and living in dignity. I never found out what actually happened in the end.

  20. 20
    The Moar You Know says:

    If there’s a Jesus, well, now would be a good time to come back, dude. A little bit of that blazing sword of justice would go a long way these days.

    Huh, still hearing crickets. And way off in the background behind them, the screams of the dying and those who died without justice. Wonder what’s up with that.

  21. 21
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Elizabelle: You’re joking, right?

  22. 22
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @BGinCHI:

    Hey, that was a pretty good Tom Levenson impression, BGinCHI!

  23. 23
    Walker says:

    Adjuncts are fine for an occasional class. If you are teaching that many classes you should be at least hired as a (not necessarily tenure track) instructor with benefits. Anything else is abuse.

    I have long believed that AAUP does not take a strong enough stand against adjunct abuse.

  24. 24
    Chris says:

    @Tommy:

    My parents paid that $76,000 hospital bill or I would have, gosh I don’t know what would have happened.

    This boggles my goddamn mind.

    I’m looking at graduating with somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 in debt, and I’m already sort of flipping out at the question of paying it back. The idea that one medical operation could outdo the cost of my entire graduate school education, that the patient would then be stuck for years on end trying to pay it back and that this is considered normal in the year 2013 (decades after most Western countries solved this problem with no sweat) is a fucking obscenity to me.

    All hail the Market, the righteous judge.

  25. 25
    greenergood says:

    @Botsplainer: Wow, I should’ve been a doctor or a b-ball coach. Hope that team’s doing REALLY well.

  26. 26
    Tommy says:

    @Botsplainer: I live in a small rural town. Our schools are about the best in the entire state. Know how we do that, we pay teachers a good wage. So you know they want to come here to teach. Their pay is public and many of the teachers are making $75,000/year. And I don’t live in NYC or San Fran, so that is a good sum of money. It isn’t making my town “poor” or we don’t have some of the lowest property taxes in the region. It is a freaking public school and we have figured it out.

  27. 27
    suzanne says:

    Considering how Mr. Suzanne and I have student loans well into the six figures, I find it horrifying that adjuncts aren’t seeing any of it. How can college be so damn expensive and yet the professors are barely keeping the lights on?!

    Fuck academia.

  28. 28
    Tommy says:

    @Chris: I looked at the bill a lot. My favorite line item is the anesthesiologist made $12.75 a minute. l joked to my dad if I knew this in college I would have chosen another major :)!

  29. 29
    raven says:

    @Tommy: I saw you were a Leatherneck. Used to go through Forgotonia on our way to Hamilton/Keokuk to fish back in the day.

  30. 30
    Citizen_X says:

    Duquesne has fought unionization, claiming that it should have a religious exemption.

    What the fucking fuck? This is the sort of thing that made Anarchists burn churches in the Spanish Civil War.

  31. 31
    Botsplainer says:

    @greenergood:

    Men’s hoops and football are in the stratosphere, but they are huge revenue generators. These bloated med salaries, not so much.

    When you get to the 300k tier, there’s a busload of administrators across multiple programs.

  32. 32
    Chris says:

    @Citizen_X:

    What the fucking fuck? This is the sort of thing that made Anarchists burn churches in the Spanish Civil War.

    The last few years have certainly given me a new appreciation for what drove people in the French Revolution and conflicts like that to go after the clergy.

  33. 33
    Citizen_X says:

    @Botsplainer: You don’t seriously think most tenured professors are making that, do you? Well below six figures is much closer to the mean.

  34. 34
    The Moar You Know says:

    She feels her higher ed was a waste of time and money.

    @KXB: I have this discussion often with my little brother. Tenured prof at a world-famous university which will, for obvious reasons, remain unnamed. He doesn’t think higher ed, as currently constituted, will last another decade. The word is starting to get out: a degree does not help get you a job, period. Once that notion takes hold with the public at large, the game is over.

    Most people who have a degree knows this to be true. Everyone who teaches does, save for that small minority of psychopaths who think that the sun really does rise and set on them. But you can’t tell those people anything.

    Problem is, those who know are a minority. Only about 15% of the populace actually finishes even a bachelor’s.

    The rubes, the poors and the suckers all desperately want to believe there’s a way out of the living hell our society has made for them. And we gotta maintain that myth or else those folks are going to rise up in fury and despair and rip it all apart. So we keep dangling the prize in front of them, telling them that this piece of paper is their meal ticket and their way out. They keep believing. Who could blame them?

    But it’s not.

    But hey, there’s always money to be made in taking money from those who are hopeless and desperate.

  35. 35
    Tommy says:

    @raven: Yes, yes I am. Proud of it, got a good education there.

  36. 36
    Tommy says:

    @The Moar You Know: I tend to agree. My brother the first time around didn’t make it past the first year in college. He went back in his 30s, starting at a community college and then finishing at a “high-end” private school. He jokes the classes he took at the community college, for pennies on the dollar for what he paid at the private place, where far superior.

  37. 37
    Joel says:

    Universities are such a fucking mess.

  38. 38
    Chris says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    The thing is, the reason higher education’s become so popular is that it’s increasingly difficult to be guaranteed a stable living in the blue collar field. Fifty years ago, unions and the norms, rules and social contract they embodied guaranteed that you could be a worker in a field that would’ve put you at the bottom of the social order back in the laissez-faire days, and still be guaranteed a respectable middle-class wage. Unions are shadow of what they used to be, the social contract is certainly dead, and all around the country the Republicans and the MSM are telling people “don’t resent the 1% – try and be like them!”

    So, of course, everyone wants to go to college.

  39. 39
    Manyakitty says:

    Thanks, guys (and especially @Anne Laurie). This issue is near and dear to me, as I know too many people trapped in such miserable circumstances. I only recently escaped myself, and even though I REALLY like my job, I’m still making peanuts–it’s just that the environment sucks way less.

    Anyway, as I see it, more than serving as yet another diatribe about the adjunct problem, the piece illustrates some pressing issues for many people who can’t get their actual careers off the ground, regardless of the field or the circumstance. Abusing the weak has become the norm for more and more aspects of society. We, as a whole, will not progress beyond this institutionalized degradation until the public understands the real-life impact of such abuse, and moves to act on it. On that basis alone, it’s a worthwhile read.

  40. 40
    suzanne says:

    @The Moar You Know: The problem is that, while having a degree certainly doesn’t guarantee that you’ll make money, NOT having a degree almost certainly DOES guarantee that you won’t.

  41. 41
    Chris says:

    @suzanne:

    This, thanks. You put it much more succinctly than I did.

  42. 42
    Walker says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    The word is starting to get out: a degree does not help get you a job, period. Once that notion takes hold with the public at large, the game is over.

    I will believe this once HR departments start saying this.

  43. 43

    @The Moar You Know:

    The word is starting to get out: a degree does not help get you a job, period.

    Many degrees don’t help you get a job, but some do. Undergraduate degrees in STEM are pretty much the minimum needed to get a job in the relevant area. Professional degrees (e.g. JD or MD) are absolutely required to get into those professions. What aren’t very helpful in job hunting- though they may be valuable for personal development- are degrees that don’t give you specific job qualifications.

  44. 44
    lol says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    Guarantee you a job? Of course not. But a degree most certainly does help you get and keep a job. The difference in the unemployment rate is striking between educational levels.

    If anything, the difference is part of the problem with political elites because as far as their social circle goes, unemployment was only 5.1% at its worst and has come back down to 3.5% today which obviously means nothing needs to be done on jobs aside from tax cuts and deregulation.

  45. 45
    LanceThruster says:

    @Tommy:

    Some of the best professors I had were at the local JC.

  46. 46
    RSA says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    The word is starting to get out: a degree does not help get you a job, period… Only about 15% of the populace actually finishes even a bachelor’s.

    Things are bad, but not quite that bad. In 2012, for the U.S. population aged 25 or older, the unemployment rate for those with a high school degree was 8.3%, compared with 4.5% for those with a bachelor’s degree. About 30% of that group had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

    About this post: I’ve been pointed to this article by one of the adjuncts I’m friends with online. It’s a sad story. The more general situation with adjunct faculty is a scandal.

  47. 47
    jl says:

    I think the primary definition of an adjunct professor is one that does not have tenure and provides special expertise or has special duties (usually implying that an adjunct is not required to jump thorugh all the ‘university or department service’ bells and whistle.

    At certain institutions there can be associate and full professor adjuncts, and they can do quite well, If their appointment is part time, it is because they spend some time on a day job that gives them some real world expertise, which is important in professional schools more than academics. Often they might have special expertise that is lacking in the department. They may be part time or full time. Sometimes they are given that status so they can concentrate in particular areas at which they excel, to the advantage of the university.

    Seems to me we are talking about Adjunct Assistant Professors, who should be called ‘part time instructors’ but are given a fancy name by the administration to give a false impression.

    They teach the same crowded and underfunded intro and core courses over and aver, so they are not hired for special expertise or teaching skills. They do not have any other professional activity which enriches their teaching or research. They have zero chance of ever moving to Associate or Full rank, they will always be the juniorest of junior faculty. They can’t do any kind of special research that might prevent them from jumping through all the hoops needed to be tenured

    They spend every waking hour teaching, speed grading and running around to all the places they have to teach.

    I escaped that fate, but might not have. It is disgusting exploitation, and degrades the ability of a slave wages adjunct to achieve his or her potential, and degrades teaching at colleges and universities.

    And the big money hole is not just fat cat managers and superstar academics, it’s also the gradual and severe reduction in government and industry support for higher education and basic research, and associated infrastructure. I think Thoma had a graph on that aspect.

  48. 48
    Manyakitty says:

    @suzanne: I feel you on the insurmountable loan debt. I’m well into six figures myself. It’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever get them paid off on my own. Kinda thought about a Kickstarter or something…

  49. 49
    EthylEster says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: My thoughts exactly. I’m sure the other guy was jes’ snarking.

  50. 50
    Linnaeus says:

    I guess the Duquesne administration hasn’t read Rerum Novarum.

  51. 51
    Ruckus says:

    @suzanne:
    This. Absolutely This.
    Of course it is said that there are no guarantees in life but at this time this one comes awfully damn close. Right up there with death and taxes.

  52. 52
    EthylEster says:

    @RSA: Yes, adjuncts are standard. Like many things these days, they come with an inflated title. They used to be called Instructors. And, yes, they get paid shit.

    This is the second reason I think MOOCs will fail: they’ll be replacing adjuncts not expensive faculty so the savings is not that great.

    The first reason is: most students cannot teach themselves, which most online courses require. (Of course this assumes that colleges are interested in students learning and not solely motivated by greed. My doubt about the truth of that assumption caused me to leave a tenured position and flee to the private sector.)

  53. 53
    jl says:

    Below, Thoma finds a graph that shows the carnage just since 2008. This is a big reason why the shameful exploitation of part time instructors, dressed up in adjust professor titles, has increased beyond the shameful exploitation that existed before.

    Cuts to Higher Education Since 2008
    Mark Thoma, Economists View
    March 20, 2013

    http://economistsview.typepad......-2008.html

  54. 54
    amy c says:

    I work in higher ed, and the feeling that “this whole thing is going to collapse sooner rather than later” is a pretty common viewpoint, absolutely. And I agree it’s an accurate viewpoint, as well. But not because folks are viewing the degrees themselves as worthless. In a world where even entry-level clerical positions are only open to those who have Bachelor’s degrees, “you don’t need a degree to get a job” doesn’t sell very well and isn’t very accurate.

    That you shouldn’t need a Bachelor’s degree to get an entry-level job is one thing, of course. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

    People think higher ed is headed for collapse because a) folks are taking out student loans they can’t afford to pay back because they don’t have any other choice; it’s like a giant pyramid scheme b) especially because folks are paying more than ever for their housing at the same time c) while wages are stagnant d) and while states are ever-decreasing their portion of the higher ed bill, meaning that tuition always goes up and pressure is on the universities to attract anyone with a pulse who will pay their tuition…without providing the resources to retain those students e) and, federal funding for academic research is constantly under assault

    I fucking hate cliches, but, perfect storm. We need a new model. Community colleges can and should play a starring role in this. They do a lot of things right. I’d be all for getting rid of the first two years of university entirely in favor of a community-college system.

    And I know it is popular, and often accurate, to lob bombs at “administrators” for the horrible state of higher education. But I just want to point out that while our University President probably makes a sick amount of money (I haven’t checked) the Vice President who oversees my particular unit makes pennies compared to what those guys on Botsplainer’s list up there make. My dean makes what a mediocre mid-level software developer makes, and works a thousand hours a week and has a legitimately hard job that requires a lot of knowledge and skill, but to hear people talk about it she is rolling naked in hundred dollar bills sipping champagne all day. Not all administrators are rich filth ripping off the students.

    That said, the adjunct situation is both immoral and criminal. My dean might not be rolling naked in cash, but she has health insurance and paid vacation for her efforts, and makes enough to pay her mortgage. Someone who adjuncts for a living, even if she teaches a ton of classes, won’t have that. It’s disgusting.

    But you know what? I know so fucking many people who want to sign up for this terrible gig. They want to get Ph.D.s and jump on this train, either full-time or on the side/in addition to their full-time job. I think it makes them feel like…they are Certified Smart People and Have Won Some Sort of Societal Prize if they teach at a university. And the terrible adjunct exploitation is never going to change as long as just the *idea* of ~teaching at college~ makes otherwise intelligent people think that it’s so prestigious they should aspire to do it for basically free. Lots of frustration to go around here.

  55. 55
    ceece says:

    @jl:

    “They spend every waking hour teaching, speed grading and running around to all the places they have to teach.”

    you left out writing lectures and lab activities and study guides and exams.

    I had 7 classes at 3 colleges spring semester! I’m lucky I have jobs in 3 different districts so I can stay afloat financially. Doesn’t do much for my social life, however.

    I’ve been doing this for 7 years, and in that time, the 3 schools where I teach have hired a total of 1 full time person. And dozens of part timers. Budget cuts, doncha know.

  56. 56
    From Both Sides of the Pond says:

    I did the adjunct/visiting/lecturer type gig for eight years, taught the freshman courses, and got a reputation at every school I taught at for getting people to switch their majors to my subject (history). Got me zilch – every metric by which administration budgets matters is on publications and other easily quantifiable measures. So when the budget crunches came – and they always came – I always got the quiet warning to start looking for a job because mine was going to disappear.

    The stupid part? No one ever seemed to do the math. I calculated when I first started working that paying my <$50000 salary and benefits per year brought in over $300,000 in tuition at some schools when you counted up the 150 students I taught per semester. Not every place is the University of Phoenix – but how dumb does an administration have to be to cut faculty slots when there was more demand for the classes than the department could possibly fill? If you're that strapped for cash, then maybe you should cut the three-line titled administrators who keep renovating their offices and putting in place costly but ineffective new programs.

    I finally took some good advice and canned it all to go teach at a prep school. Just as many stupid hoops to jump through, but at least I get to focus on teaching for my measly pay and get valued for doing so.

  57. 57
    jl says:

    @ceece:

    ” writing lectures and lab activities and study guides and exams. ”

    You are correct. sorry. I don’t see how some of the part time instructors have time to write new lectures. I also don’t see why some of the fat cat honcho tenured faculty don’t have time either.

    When I was a TA, I found how little work some bigshots do for their classes. Some did literally nothing but show up for class and read through the same notes year after year. They read the questions the TAs wrote up for the class, and asked us to fix a few, maybe read over the answer keys and make a few edits.

    Some bigshot professors, of course, worked as hard as the TAs, worked on new lecture material with us, or had us to some research for it, got very dirty sitting in with us during the actual test grading sessions, worked with us to make HW grading easy and fast. (edit: and consistent)

    But there are so many of the former, that is one reason why anyone who did not get an acceptance from a bigshot school, I say just do some homework and find a good community college or state university nearby, then transfer after one or two years.

    This is in California. Not sure it is as easy as other places.

  58. 58
    WereBear says:

    @jl: This is in California. Not sure it is as easy as other places.

    In New York, it works that way; graduate from a CC, and get into any of the SUNY colleges.

  59. 59
    jl says:

    @WereBear: I hope they are as affordable and accessible as in California. 112 community college campuses here, and 22 general education CSU 4 year campuses, plus the Maritime Academy.

    It’s going to get cheaper with the California online texbook projects, and a huge financial aid program ramping up for middle and low income people.

  60. 60
    suzanne says:

    @jl: It is NOT that easy to do community college and then transfer to the state universities here in AZ. When I was an undergrad, I had a full scholarship to one of the state U’s, which I accepted. The core classes, which were gen-ed watered-down things, HAD to be taken at the U. If you tried to take, say, Sociology 101, it would transfer to the U, but as an elective credit only. It would not satisfy the requirement to take one of ten “Humanities Tier One” courses. Since the first two years of the U degree were mostly spent satisfying these dumb requirements rather than spending much time in your major, going to CC was not a time- or money-saver. The only people I knew of that went to CC and successfully transferred courses to the U were gaming the system (I did it, too). For example, if you sucked at math, you could take it at another educational institution, and as long as you passed, the credit would transfer, leaving your GPA at the U unaffected.

    I literally know NO ONE in my state that successfully completed two years of CC and then transferred to the U. However, Mr. Suzanne did just that in Cali, and he says it is very common there. We both did undergrad from 1998 to 2002, and he said he paid $8/credit in CA, whereas we in AZ spent somewhere in the vicinity of $40/credit at the CC. Now, of course, it is much higher. The only saving grace is the tuition at the three state U’s is relatively low.

  61. 61
    WereBear says:

    @jl: They tend to be excellent; I certainly enjoyed my stint there. And it’s a great way to get basics out of the way, and still have some enjoyable elective courses, very reasonably.

    It’s a great system. I went on to a four year SUNY, and was going to try for a Masters and switch my profession, but got an IT job offer and found myself back in my old one.

    I’m like Michael Corleone… I keep trying to get away, and they keep pulling me back…

  62. 62
    jl says:

    @suzanne: There is a big system, been around for decades that allows instant evaluation of planned transfer course credits between community, Cal State and UC campuses. Can start working an requirements to enter major you want at the 4 year places too. If you are poor, or blew your senior year, or behind for some legitimate reason (got sick, whatever), you should be able to get it all worked out in one or two relatively hassle free meetings with a community college counselor and start your first semster/quarter, whatever. on a plan that will get you transferred to one of your preferred schools.Or get an AA that will be ticket to next place, either CSU or UC. Some of the early coursework I got a community college was better than first year stuff people learned in humongous lecture halls. That was mostly for very standard things like math and expository writing.

    Edit: IIRC that ability to plan transfers and majors across all three systems was part of the old CA master plan for higher ed. Looks like it is about the only part left, unless the state can restore some of its funding cuts.

  63. 63
    Pogonip says:

    I’m going to write to the Pope. If he is made aware of this and gets enough complaints, perhaps he can un-Catholic this outfit. I’m sure they’re getting Church money, too, and the Pope can certainly threaten to bring that gravy train to a halt. Will post back if and when a Papal underling replies.

  64. 64
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    Duquesne has claimed that the unionization of adjuncts like Margaret Mary would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Catholic values among its students…

    Fuck that shit. Catholic values do include kicking the administrators in the kneecaps outside church, then asking for forgiveness and getting a very small penance.

  65. 65
    mai naem says:

    I cannot believe that this woman was an adjunct for 25 fucking years and they didn’t provide her healthcare and she made only $25K. Shit, she would have been better off teaching French in a suburban public school. Duquesne admins should be guillotined.
    I happen to live near Arizona State University which is a mega uni. I usually plan my route avoiding the college streets so even thought I live close I only see the college every few months. Anyhow, what blows me away is how many buildings they’ve built in the past few years. I took some classes at ASU years ago, so I have an idea about the campus and classes. They’ve added two other campuses in addition to all the building on the original campus. They’re planning on adding another campus in a rural area NE of Phx. I understand some growth but I just find it hard to believe that they need all this extra space. We’re talking probably the equivalent of adding a small city block’s worth of buildings on the original campus.

  66. 66

    @suzanne:

    However, Mr. Suzanne did just that in Cali, and he says it is very common there.

    It’s very common here in California because we actually have a higher education system rather than a collection of state schools that grew up haphazardly. The community colleges are intended to be an extension of the K-12 system. We actually talk about K-14 education, with community colleges as the last 2 years. Students who aren’t sure they’re ready for a 4 year college but want more education are encouraged to go to community college, and the system is structured to make it easy for them to transfer to a four year school after they get an Associate’s degree. It makes sense because the community colleges are much cheaper than four year schools, so it’s simply more cost effective to do some weeding out of people who aren’t ready for college there rather than at an expensive research university.

  67. 67
    Pogonip says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: No, actually Father will bless you for such a kneecapping.

  68. 68
    RSA says:

    @mai naem:

    I cannot believe that this woman was an adjunct for 25 fucking years and they didn’t provide her healthcare and she made only $25K.

    Apparently she started working as an adjunct when she was 58 years old. I take this story as an equal indictment of our social safety net. According to the story she was making a choice between keeping her home in livable condition and paying medical bills. (I would have liked to read the Medicare had kicked in for some of that.)

    The specifics of the story are compelling, but the bigger picture is important, too. Do we really expect people to work at the poverty level until they die?

  69. 69
    Linnaeus says:

    @RSA:

    Do we really expect people to work at the poverty level until they die?

    Maybe not expect them to, but more like don’t care if they have to.

  70. 70
    Zelma says:

    I am very sad. I gave my life to Duquesne. Between my husband and me, we had 77 years at the place. We taught thousands of students and did reams of service. And we watched the university we both once loved turn into a very unpleasant place. When I started teaching in the 1970s, the department had one adjunct who taught two night courses. And, while he didn’t need health care, he did get tuition remission for his several children. The rest of the courses were taught by full-time faculty.

    The university was once the “poor man’s” college of Pittsburgh. Thousands of students got their ticket to the middle class via Duquesne. And there are hundreds of stories about when a student couldn’t pay tuition and the priests in charge somehow made sure they didn’t have to drop out. The faculty was pretty poorly paid; I had a colleague who was hired to paint the classrooms in the summer during the 50s so he could support his growing family. But there really was something that we once referred to as the “Duquesne family.”

    There were some really tough times like when Pitt went state-related and suddenly our relatively low tuition wasn’t a bargain anymore. The year I started – 1971 – the university almost closed its doors but a student-led fund raising campaign and the response of the community helped save the place. And I still remember the VP for Finance (a priest) struggling to keep the costs as low as possible for the students. There were also tough times during the 80s when a truly incompetent president took the helm and fomented a revolt among both the faculty and the students. Things were so bad that Middle States put us on warning. But we came through and we flourished. Enrollment grew and fund-raising improved. Money was available to improve the rather dowdy physical plant.

    Duquesne was (and still is), by any measure, a relatively poor school. Its endowment was miniscule and student tuition, fees and room and board costs paid, at a minimum, 90% of its expenses. But the education the students received was pretty darn good. My daughters went there in the late 70s and early 80s, and never saw anyone but a full-time professor.

    But, like so many universities, Duquesne got delusions of grandeur. It wasn’t enough to offer a fine undergraduate education. No, the university was out to improve its reputation and rise in the US News rankings. And this meant an enhanced research agenda. Graduate programs took on increased importance and faculty publication expectations skyrocket. And all those spiffy new buildings had to be paid for. Given its limited resources, the university began to depend more and more on graduate students and adjuncts to teach its basic courses. And it was able to find people who would teach – and often teach very well – for amazingly small stipends.

    This was the devil’s bargain that Duquesne – and all too many other universities – made. We will exploit cheap labor and perhaps shortchange the undergraduates who are paying ever-increasing tuition in pursuit of the elusive mirage of “excellence” and reputation.

    By the time I retired, 50% of the students in my department were being taught by adjuncts and all my efforts to increase their stipends to something minimally fair were met with rejection. Indeed, the dean tried to reduce the stipend of one adjunct who had been teaching for 20 years because he had been given fully merited raises that gave him a salary significantly above the average. This is one of the reasons I retired when I did. I simply could not abide the attitude of disrespect for undergraduate teaching, which I continued to believe was the main mission of Duquesne. Almost no one else seemed to believe this any more.

    Given the very low stipends that Duquesne has paid its adjuncts and its refusal to consider any kind of benefits (I once had an adjunct who simply wanted to buy into the health plan, to pay the full costs, but the administration refused to consider this. They felt it would open a can of worms), I can understand why the university is so adamant in opposing this attempt at unionization. But it is an embarassment to those of us who care about Duquesne and it is one more proof that the “Duquesne family” to which I once proudly belonged is gone.

  71. 71
    RSA says:

    @Linnaeus:

    Maybe not expect them to, but more like don’t care if they have to.

    Right, I think that’s more accurate.

  72. 72
    Ripley says:

    Duquesne has fought unionization, claiming that it should have a religious exemption.

    Lie down with a death cult, you’ll get up dead.

  73. 73
    pat says:

    I’m late to the party and maybe I’ve missed something, but did she have medicare and social security, and if not, why not??

  74. 74
    Gian says:

    Last I checked Catholic teaching still includes the bit from Matthew about sheep goats and the least of these (or brothers)
    By their own teaching some administrators are going to hell

  75. 75
    Suzanne says:

    @mai naem: I finished graduate school at ASU in 2010. Michael Crow said that his goal is to make ASU as expensive as Harvard. Thankfully, the Legislature has said that AZ universities have to be in the bottom third of state U’s nationwide.

  76. 76
    ceece says:

    I’m late to the party and maybe I’ve missed something, but did she have medicare and social security, and if not, why not??

    In CA, the faculty union has a mandatory retirement fund, with adjuncts putting in a tiny bit of their tiny salaries every paycheck. This makes our salary not covered by SS for some reason. So my SS income the last 7 years has been $0. I have work history from previous jobs, but we’ll see what my SS income ends up being when I get there.

    Medicare would have helped her, but without supplemental insurance, cancer is still expensive.

  77. 77
    Ruckus says:

    @RSA:
    Do we really expect people to work until they die?
    Yes. I have even had a younger (ex)family member tell me that. Along with a credit check is a very valuable tool to tell an employer if you will be a good employee. He works in a bank. I no longer talk to him after I told him to go fuck himself.

  78. 78
    kindness says:

    I don’t intend to be cruel but it sounds like a taste of karma.

    For a university based on faith, the disparity between the high echelon and the workers seems to negate/contradict what that faith preaches.

    Sad really.

  79. 79
    cvstoner says:

    Sad story. Reminds me of the Emma Thompson movie Wit

  80. 80
    sherparick says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Technically a “Vampire Squid” run society. By the way, the whole point of “charter school” movement is to turn K through12 education over to corporations into which we will firehose huge amounts tax money for the benefit of their CEOs and inside investors/owners while paying the employees as close to the minimum wage with no benefits and exercising pretty much the power of life and death over those employees as possible.

    The comments on the student newspaper are scorching about Duquense’s administration. As several of the commentators point out you wonder if they really believe in Catholic doctrine, because they behave as if they have no fear of Hell. Perhaps they are already in it. “Mephistopheles: Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.” Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus.”

  81. 81
    Original Lee says:

    @Zelma: This. Not just Duquesne, but other institutions that used to be primarily oriented around undergraduate education, have become ugly places to work. I know of a number of colleges that suddenly decided they needed to become universities with famed research departments, and their reputations are gradually being tarnished and tenure is becoming an increasingly rare beast.

  82. 82
    Cole says:

    Important story, insipid moralizing on the part of this blogger (Balloon Juice: “dying alone because they’re too proud to ask for help.”). The adjunct did ask for help. Read the story: it’s written by a union organizer, whom she asked to help her. (“On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary….”) The union organizer wrote two letters to the university on her behalf, which were ignored. She died alone because of poverty, not pride.

  83. 83

    […] The Way We Live Now: “Death of An Adjunct” (balloon-juice.com) […]

  84. 84
    MDavis says:

    @jl:
    Wow – the chart shows 2 states actually increasing spending per student, North Dakota and Wyoming.
    North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate, with Wyoming tied for 5th place as of July thru BLS
    I wonder if there is any connection?

  85. 85
    ryliex says:

    @pat:

    Dunno in this case, but if you come up through normal PhD/postdoc path and you do everything right (get funded off of federal grants), you never pay into SS/medicare, have no retirement account and can’t even open an IRA unless you’re married to a person making a real “income.” Fed grant income isn’t considered true income for FICA purposes, even though you have to pay income taxes.

    Happy postdoc appreciation week!

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