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Life Arts    H4'ed 9/22/13

Injustice in Catholic Academia

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Message Suzana Megles

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What effect, if any, will the passing of Margaret Mary Voijtko, an underpaid adjunct professor at Duquesne have on this Catholic University?
Personally, I hope they will be ashamed that one of their long time employees, 83 year old Margaret Mary Vojtko, died in abject poverty while just trying to make ends meet. 
I can relate to her in quite a few ways.  I got my Bachelor in Education from Duquesne.  I too am 83 years old, and we both share a Slavic ethnic background. My middle name is Margaret.  Dear Margaret Mary, your story is tragic and incomparably sad. Rest in peace.  You certainly deserve it.
I read her story on Alter Net.  It was first published by Daniel Kovalik for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. The article started out with the announcement of her death: 
"On Sept.1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at age 83.  She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before." 
I couldn't believe that she was still working at 83.  I had retired from my job at Cleveland City Hall in 1996 at age 66, and here she was compelled to work still at the age of 83. I retired with a pension and health benefits.  She had neither.
When she shared her story to Daniel Kovalik, she told him that she had recently been let go from her job at Duquesne WITHOUT severance pay or retirement benefits. As an adjunct professor, she was not well-paid as were tenured professors. 

Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester with no job security and no benefits. Per Kovalik, adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty of colleges and universities.
Even though adjuncts at Duquesne overwhelmingly voted to join the United Steelworkers union a year ago, Duquesne fought unionization saying that it should have a religious exemption. 
In my opinion, their justification defies logic.  They claimed that the unionization of adjuncts would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Catholic values among its students.  If so, I don't think much of these Catholic values.  Were they implying that unions are unethical?
The good news is that at least one univerity, Georgetown, has just recognized its adjunct professors' union which they said would be in keeping with the Catholic Church's social justice teaching which favors labor unions.  What took them so long?  But I'm glad they finally have.  How many Catholic institutions are there still out there like Duquesne?
Kovalik placed Margaret Mary's salary injustice in perspective:
"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." 
I don't know about you, but I was shocked to read at how little Mary Margaret was paid and how lavishly Duquesne's president is compensated.  No equity here at all and indefensible.
I have sadly distanced myself from Duquesne for years now after they completely ignored my concerns regarding the need to incorporate teachings of compassion for animals in their religion courses.   
I imagine they are so wedded to the "utility principle" teaching of Thomas Aquinas that nothing else is needed in their opinion.  But in MY opinion, this 'teaching' which says that animals are made for our use is largely responsible for the mistreatment and suffering of animals worldwide. So, it shouldn't be a surprise to me at all that, in ignoring  animal suffering, they may well treat people like Margaret Mary without justice and compassion as well.  
Whether true or not, I have heard it said that if you treat animals well, you will also treat people well.  The reverse is generally seldom  true.  
I still can't get over the fact the woman needed to continue working at age 83.  Her  teaching load had been reduced to one class a semester, but she really needed more work - not less to keep body and soul together. This meant she was making well below $10,000 a year. 
She had called Daniel Kovalik, who I presumed to be a friend or an acquaintence to tell him that she was under an incredible amount of stress and to inform him she was also receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had returned. 
To make matters worse, she was also now living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep of her home which had fallen into disrepair for lack of funds. Sadly, most of her salary had gone to  pay the huge out-of-pocket bills from UPMC Mercy for her cancer treatment which left her in abject poverty. 
What about this Catholic hospital as well?  Were they not aware of her indigence?  If so, could they not have been more helpful in this regard? 

Now, she couldn't even keep electricity on in her home which, of course, became uninhabitable during the winter. She, therefore, took to working at an Eat'n Park at night and tried to catch some sleep during the day at her office at Duquesne.  When discovered sleeping in her office, the police were called in to eject her.  Was it her office or was it not?  If it was, why couldn't she sleep in it? 
I found the calling in the police to remove an 83 year old employee from her office as terribly insensitive and uncaring.  Is there more to this story?
If you are not amazed by this lack of compassion for an impoverished adjunct professor teaching in their Catholic University, I certainly am. I'm more than amazed.  I am saddened and disheartened.  If this university is teaching in Christ's name, they had better change some of their un-Christ like ways.   
Pope Francis was absolutely right in telling the Church at large that there are more concerns than abortion and gay rights.  And, among these concerns should have been helping an 83-year old employee trying to get some much needed sleep in a warm place because her house lacked heat. And certainly a lot more than that should have been afforded her like a nice severance pay and health benefits. 
Despite all her trials, poverty and tribulations, Kovalik reports that she never missed a day of class.  But, I could not help thinking why did she stay at Duquesne?  I certainly would not have in those same cruel and uncaring circumstances.  I can only surmize that she loved teaching.    
An even further stress to Margaret Mary was the letter she received from Adult Protective Services informing her that someone had referred her case to them saying she needed help in caring for herself.  If this came from the university, it is a pitiful gesture which only caused her more grief.  They are the ones who should have been helping her with a decent wage so that she could care for herself.  
So mortified by the letter from Adult Protective Services, she asked Kovalik to call them and tell them to leave her alone.  He did so, but sadly a couple hours later she was found on her front lawn unconscious from a heart attack which would take her life two weeks later.   
I saw her death as a blessing. God called her home, since those who should have treated her fairly and compassionately while she lived did not. She asked for no hand-outs - only a deserved living wage.  According to Daniel Kovalik's article, she never received it.   
I believe in a just and loving God.  If so, Margaret Mary must certainly be in heaven.  She reminded me of the gospel story where Lazarus subsisted only on the scraps he found under the rich man's table.  When they both died - Lazarus went to heaven and the rich man went to hell.  A sobering end for the rich man and a happy one for Lazarus, and hopefully for Margaret Mary Voijtko as well.




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I have been concerned about animal suffering ever since
I received my first puppy Peaches in 1975. She made me take a good look at the animal kingdom and I was shocked to see how badly we treat so many animals. At 77, I've been a vegan for the (more...)
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