A New Norm? Elderly Adjunct College Professor Dies in Poverty

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

The name of Margaret Mary Vojtko symbolizes the newfound plight of adjuncts, part-time college instructors, in the US. As Jonathan Maxwell reports, “She represents the newest contingent of the American underclass: the well-educated.”

Vojtko was a part-time French professor who had taught at Catholic-affiliated Duquesne University for 25 years.  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.

By the time that she realized that the university had no intentions of ever hiring her full time 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
Duquesne University 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 in squalor at age 83.

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.

Source: Jonathan Maxwell, “Death of Impoverished Pennsylvania Professor Illustrates Plight of Adjustments”, OpEd News, October 9, 2013,

Student Researcher: Devin Elliott (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Laura Berger (Monterey Peninsula College)