Most readers aren't familiar with the name of Margaret Mary Vojtko, but they should be. After all, Vojtko (even in death) symbolizes the newfound plight of adjuncts (part-time American college instructors). She also represents the newest contingent of the American underclass: the well-educated.
As the September 18, 2013 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes, Vojtko was a part-time French professor who had taught at Catholic-affiliated Duquesne University for 25 years.
Duquesne Panorama by Wikipedia
Despite her many years of faithful service (and despite glowing evaluations from appreciative students), administration officials offered her neither a full-time position with the institution, nor any benefits. Despite such setbacks, she labored on bravely, apparently convinced that, through her dedication and impeccable educational credentials, these officials would finally provide her with a livable wage. (After all, that is the American Way, isn't it? Hard work and high educational achievement are supposed to be rewarded in the United States).
By the time that she realized that the university had no intention in doing this, it was too late to try to seek gainful employment elsewhere. By then, she was elderly, and was considered virtually worthless on the job market. Then, the officials began slowly to relieve her of her responsibilities. Thus, towards the end of her career, she was making less than $10,000.00 per year. When they discovered that she had been recently diagnosed with cancer, they abruptly fired her, with no severance pay. On Sept. 1, she died at age 83. She lived in squalor.
The article also notes that Duquesne's president makes over $700,000.00 annually, with full benefits. By comparison, President Barack Obama makes only $400,000.00 annually as leader of the free world.
Vojtko's grim story is not unique in American higher education. The increasing reliance on adjunct instruction now constitutes its dark underbelly. According to the Sept. 22, 2013 edition of GPB News , part-time workers provide a distressing 75% of college instruction. They receive no benefits and no security. The pay is dismal. At one state college in Alabama , instructors are paid less than $1,800.00 for teaching a course. To make ends meet, some instructors must work two or three jobs, leaving them exhausted and demoralized. The quality of instruction inevitably suffers because of such dire conditions. GPB News also writes that a few such part-time professionals are now peddling their plasma just to put food on the table.
Their numbers are only growing. Traditionally, adjunct teaching served as a temporary trial period for beginning, inexperienced teachers. If they proved themselves as adjuncts, they were rewarded by being given more responsibilities. Thus, after two or three years, they became full-time teaching professionals, with good salaries and benefits. Those days are coming to an end. Now, higher education is becoming corporatized. To administration officials, adjunct instructors became a seemingly irresistible source of cheap labor. Thus, many such workers toil faithfully for decades, and never achieve full-time status.
Tea Party supporters have rushed to the defenses of Duquesne's well-heeled administration officials. None of their arguments hold water under scrutiny. They ask why Vojtko did not ask for more public assistance, implying that employers should not be held responsible with paying their workers livable wages. Such a stance is deeply hypocritical. Employees--especially accomplished, well-educated ones--deserve decent pay for their labors. Besides, aren't Tea Party supporters quietly engaged in a covert war to eviscerate public assistance programs like Medicare and Medicaid?
Tea Party supporters also maintain that the pitifully low salaries meted out to adjuncts are simply market forces at work. There's a glut of academic professionals out on the American job market, they claim. Because of this glut, they can expect to receive low salaries. The statistics, however, don't support this contention. According to the U.S. Census Bureau , only about 8% of Americans in 2012 held a Master's degree, and a puny 3% of Americans held a doctorate-level degree (most instructors must have at least a Master's degree to teach). Advanced degrees are still a rare, much needed commodity in the U.S.
Finally, they contend that American universities cannot afford to pay their part-time faculty members more money. How could that be the case? College enrollment is booming, and college costs are soaring. The yearly costs for each student at Duquesne University add up to $41,232. Where is the money going? High school teachers receive decent salaries, and these decent salaries aren't breaking the bank.
Don't buy these dishonest arguments from Tea Party supporters. There are market forces at work here, but they are artificial ones being imposed by vulture capitalists who want to transform proud professionals into wage slaves, all in the name of easy profits. We are talking about teachers. They are vital to American society, and they deserve better treatment from the people who employ them.