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Injustice in Catholic Academia

Story ID:9260
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Pittsburgh Pennsylvania usa
Year:2012
Person:Margaret Mary Vojtko
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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 when
they completely ignored my concerns re 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, that 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 that she 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 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 that 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 then tried to
catch some sleep during the day at her office at Duquesne. When
discovered, 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 given her like a nice severance pay
and health benefits.

Despite all her trials, poverty, nnd 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.

To further stress her, she had received a letter from Adult
Protective Services telling 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 as well.