Recently, a longtime adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University died after suffering a heart attack. Although she had taught at Duquesne for 25 years, Margaret Mary Vojtko died nearly penniless and without health benefits. She was not even earning $25,000 a year for the courses she taught at the university, not atypical for a contingent professor. Margaret Mary had spent years being paid by the course. It is not unusual for adjunct professors to earn an average wage of $2,700 for a three credit course. Margaret Mary Vojtko’s situation is not uncommon. Colleges and universities, like the rest of American economy, has seen large growth of low-wage and precarious employment in recent years. In fact, that’s the meaning of adjunct, by its very nature: insecure, contingent, precarious, and uncertain, as far as job security goes. Like many adjuncts across the nation (including yours truly) she received absolutely no health care benefits. Compare this with the reputed salary of Duquesne’s president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits.
By 2009, according to several sources, three out of every four faculty members at two- and four-year academic institutions were adjunct instructors.
Let me be frank. At my age I’ve simply accepted this. My future could be like Margaret Mary’s. Or not. At least there’s the ACA and they seem to want to give me access to Medicaid. I have accepted that I very well may not find full time employment in academia. My age. My gender plus my age. My attitude. I don’t know. My students seem to like me. I certainly enjoy teaching. I also do independent research and am always willing to include my students in the work. I’m grateful that I even had this job when my reversal of fortunes came to pass.
Yes, I’ve followed through on many job suggestions of my friends. I’ll continue to do that until I don’t. I’m fortunate that the part time job I have, I truly enjoy. That goes a long way toward giving me solace in this acceptance.
There is something else I’m doing. I’m spending time contemplating what the last stage of adulthood might look like for a woman like me. I’m considering what it might look like in a way that is not “mere” acquiescence. What it might look like in a way that isn’t typical, yet isn’t dreadful and certainly doesn’t inspire pity. No pity. I refuse pity. I want to occupy this life in a way that makes sense to me.