Margaret Mary Vojtko died this month, alone, collapsing outside on her lawn, at age 83. She suffered from cancer, although a heart attack took her life. She was beloved aunt of six nieces and nephews. She was–or had been up until this summer–an adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University, a Catholic institution in Pittsburgh. For 25 years, Margaret Mary taught two or three classes each semester. Her part-time teaching seems to have been a second career, commencing when she was in her late 50’s, and her tiny income from Duquesne her only source of funds.
Puzzling, I know.
These few facts about a remarkable women have sadly become her legacy. Less than one month after her death she has ceased to be a person and has become instead a talking point in the futile efforts of adjunct faculty–players straight out of Central Casting–seeking to obtain starring roles in the theater of higher education. First to realize the potential in Madame Vojtko’s sad story was the union organizer for Duquesne’s extras, Daniel Kovalik, who wrote a cruelly exploitative account of her death. Even worse, if that’s possible, is the crass use of her death by the Ohio State Part-Time Faculty Association (OSPTFA):
Margaret Mary Vojtko, 83, died of a stress-related heart attack on Sept. 1 after being fired from her position as an adjunct professor at Duquesne University where she taught French for 25 years. At the time of her death, she was living in poverty and without health benefits.
Read the full story and share it via social media. If you tweet, please use the hashtag #iammargaretmary. We want this to go viral.
Madame Vojtko was not “fired.” Her contract was not renewed. There is a difference, a big one. To defame Madame after her death by implying Duquesne let her go for cause is despicable. To infer her fatal heart attack was related to her employment ignores the grave fragility of her health. Ovarian cancer and its treatment are relentless “stressors.” But no, OSPTFA denies Madame Vojtko end-of-life dignity.
The hashtag #iammargaretmary is a ghoulish appropriation of a unique human being’s suffering that is breathtakingly callous. No member of OSPTFA comes close to having a story like Madame Vojtko’s. Not one. They, along with all of the others seizing on this poor woman’s tragedy, should be ashamed.
Here are some of the things about Margaret Mary Vojtko those hoping to benefit from her death couldn’t be bothered to learn:
Margaret Mary Vojtko was fluent in multiple languages. She was a good colleague who helped read and improve the manuscripts of other faculty. Her interests included a deep passion for history, in particular the local history of her home in Pennsylvania. She wrote a history of her church in celebration of an anniversary, The First Hungarian Reformed Church of Homestead: Munhall, Pennsylvania : 90th Anniversary, 1903-1993. She served as president of the Homestead Historical Society, and worked to preserve a park of historical significance to African Americans. She volunteered fundraising assistance to her town. Madame Vojtko also wrote biographic sketches of Pennsylvanians that the University of Pittsburgh still uses on its website.
Margaret Mary Vojtko has a compelling life story. She is much, much more than a poster girl for overqualified academics who refuse to face the reality of a buyer’s job market or look elsewhere for more gainful employment. I hope someone gives her the memorial tribute she so richly deserves.