Monday, February 3, 2014

an #adjunct reflects on living

Dear Mr. Atkinson

I am one of the Adjuncts you speak of in your editorial “The Invisible Professor” published in the Boston Globe on February 2, 2014. As part or full time instructors, we want to be able to participate in our own departments. We want a chance to be recognized for our contributions as human beings, as highly skilled teachers who put every ounce of our energy and passion into our vocation as university educators. 

The funeral is the end of the story – what comes before is more important to me.  It’s the living part that you missed. We want to live.

How could I be offended by your very supportive and heartfelt piece? It’s not what you said, it’s what you didn't say. Have you heard of a teacher named Margaret Mary Vojtko?  Perhaps you have and the Boston Globe editorial board cut out the paragraph about her tragic death this past November. A professor who was fired at age 83, she suffered from cancer and died penniless.  

I quote Wikipedia: “At the time of her death, she had recently become unemployed after Duquesne declined to extend her contract. Particular attention has been paid to the university's labor practices following her death. She was removed from campus by police and dismissed from her work after sleeping in her university office; she was unable to heat her home due to medical bills incurred through taking chemotherapy to treat her ovarian cancer; lack of pension benefits had forced her to continue working until the age of 83 on a full or nearly full-time basis.”

In the long run, on a daily basis we have more important issues than funerals to attend to. When my own father (a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School affiliated with Harvard University) died, I flew home and was there by his bed until he died. Worried about missing too many classes and the possible effect on my job “security,” and even before his funeral arrangements could be made, I jumped back on a plane to Chicago (and managed to get into a car accident pulling into a parking place in front of my house). When I saw my Department Chair after teaching he said, “What are you doing here?” He was shocked; he had no idea why I had returned to teach my Thursday classes.

Mr. Atkinson, we have been invisible to ourselves, invisible to our friends, coworkers and extended families. What is visible is the toll our job situation takes on our physical and mental health.  Our workplace community remains unaware of our personal life passages: the death of a parent, marriage, the birth of a child, these events are not marked or supported. 

We need the media’s attention while we are alive and struggling. We need support now and not when we’re dead.  Margaret Mary Vojtko woke us up: there is no turning back.

MM Strikes Back

Guest post by "MM Strikes Back," February 3, 2014. Image: Joan of Arc, 100 Years War (cc). See also, Kareme D’Wheat's "Invisible, in Life as Well as Death" at Modern Disappointment.

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