So a friend of my shared an article on Facebook, "Death of an adjunct; Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French for 25 years, died underpaid and underappreciated at age 83", which apparently has been making the rounds, placing her as a poster child for the plight of adjunct professors.
The story goes like this: Vojtko had been teaching French at Duquesne University for 25 years
as an adjunct, earning up to $25,000 per year when she had a full schedule of 3 classes per semester, less when her course load was cut, as was the case for the past year, when she had only one class. She struggled to make ends meet, especially when she was diagnosed with cancer and could barely pay the bills, without health insurance from the university. She couldn't keep up the house, and the electricity was shut off, so she couldn't keep her home heated in the winter and took to spending most of her time on campus, but despite everything, never missed a class. Even so, the university fired her for poor performance, and Adult Protective Services wanted to intervene, but before they could pursue her case, she had a massive heart attack and died.
Google her and you'll find that this story has been linked to everywhere, from Huffington Post to Patheos to any number of sites lamenting the ill treatment of adjuncts, and especially the viciousness of Duquesne, leaving her out in the cold after twenty-five years of service.
But all is not as it seems.
She was 83 years old -- which means that she surely had Social Security and Medicare. She should also have had access to all sorts of social assistance, from Medicaid for non-covered medical costs to heating assistance, assuming she wasn't one of those cases of falling through the cracks by having too high an income on paper. But that's not the university's fault.
She also taught part-time -- meaning that, in the world in with universities hired instructional staff on a full-time basis instead of paying adjuncts on a per-course basis, a teaching load would have been more like 5 courses per semester, and she would have been competing for such a position against recent Ph.D.s, and likely wouldn't have been able to work full-time, anyway. (Her Rate My Professor reviews are mixed: some praised her, another said, "stay away if you would like to learn and pass French. in her own world most of the time.")
What's more, she came to Duquesne when she was 58, which got my Facebook friends and me wondering what she was up to before then. She's mentioned in some old conference programs, from 1979 and 1985, as being at Catholic University of America. She's also thanked in acknowledgements in a scholarly article in 1979, and that year also shows up in a directory of translators, according to Google Books. She's also thanked for "technical assistance" for an article in 1967. Was she teaching? Did she earn a pension? She wasn't a housewife -- she never married or had children.
But in 1988 (or thereabouts, that is, 25 years ago), she returned to her hometown , Homestead, Pennsylvania -- and not only that, but according to 1940 census records (on familysearch.org) and current property records, she returned to live in her childhood home, at 1110 Sylvan, Homestead.
And, odder yet, she didn't live alone, but with her sister Anne T. Vojtko, who's listed as age 97 according to one of the people search sites (which matches the age given in the 1940 census). Anne isn't listed in Margaret's obituary; this just says she's surived by nieces and nephews. But I can't find an obituary for Anne, or a listing in the Social Security Death Index (as shown on familysearch.org).
So I strongly suspect that there's more to this story. A blogger at Patheos suspects that she was struggling with mental illness, possibly hoarding. Or was she just caring for her aging sister? (Unless Anne's buried in the backyard? . . .)
As to the "plight" of adjuncts -- part-time teaching at universities was never meant to be something one does full-time, indefinitely, but only either temporarily, between grad school and a first permanent job, or as a second job, moonlighting, more for the enjoyment of teaching than earning a real wage. Only because of the large excess supply of Ph.Ds, especially in the humanities, did universities discover a cheap labor source and turn to them to fill their lecterns.