10,000 signatures reached
To: Duquesne University President Charles J. Dougherty, Board of Directors, and Corporation
Tell Duquesne University’s Administration to Respect Part-Time Faculty
We ask that you stop refusing to recognize your part-time faculty’s democratically elected union, and bargain a fair contract in good faith with the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers. Part-time faculty deserve a fair and living wage, access to affordable healthcare, and secure contracts.
Why is this important?
My friend and colleague, Margaret Mary Vojtko—an adjunct French professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA for 25 years—died recently at the age of 83 from a heart attack.
This past year, cancer which had been in remission returned. She was homeless because her furnace broke, and she was too poor to fix it, due in part to the poverty she faced as a result of being denied a fair wage at Duquesne. In the spring, she was fired by the University without any due process or solid explanation, despite a recent peer evaluation that proclaimed she was a “meticulous teacher.”
I refuse to allow Margaret’s death to be in vain. She’s a symbol for why adjuncts need to organize, and why schools like Duquesne need to recognize our right to do so. She gave 25 years of teaching excellence to Duquesne University and—with no severance, no way to pay her medical bills, and no real income—the university just let her go. Her story is a tragedy that could have been averted.
Margaret strongly supported the adjunct faculty union because she knew that over 50% of adjunct teachers at Duquesne, and at least 70% nationwide, are poorly paid. Adjuncts can make $14,000 a year at Duquesne, while students pay upwards of $30,000 a year to attend the school. President Dougherty, however, makes over $700,000 a year, football and basketball coaches make over $300,000, countless administrators make $200,000 or more a year, and Duquesne is continually buying property and constructing new buildings. Despite this disparity, Duquesne refuses to recognize our union and bargain a fair contract.
Even while undergoing chemo treatments, Margaret never missed a class. Chemo makes a person weak and sick, so she was forced to rest and nap from time to time in her office and on the sofa in the common area of her department. She was caught sleeping over night at one point, and the campus police escorted her off campus. As a dignified and private person, she was embarrassed by this. The Spiritan Priests at Duquesne offered her temporary housing, but the walk from that building was too dangerous—Duquesne is a hilly campus and she was prone to developing blood clots, so she was afraid of slipping and falling on the ice. Instead, she spent many nights at Eat’N Park, where she would rest and catch up on schoolwork.
She sought me out, as an organizer of the union and co-worker at Duquesne. Our union lawyer at the United Steelworkers, Dan Kovalik, wrote multiple letters to the administration asking for Margaret’s reinstatement, but received no replies. A wrongful termination and age discrimination lawsuit were pending at the time of her death.
A system that would treat someone like Margaret with such disregard is unjust, which is why adjunct faculty decided to stand up for ourselves and organize. On May 25, 2012, the Duquesne administration agreed to a National Labor Relations Board sanctioned election, which we won overwhelmingly. Without cause, the administration did an about-face, hiring a union-busting law firm and reneging on their contract with the adjuncts. They continue to tie up this decision in the courts. But, as Martin Luther King said, “the time is always right to do what’s right.”
Georgetown University, another Catholic-affiliated school, has recently done “what’s right” by voluntarily recognizing their adjuncts’ union citing their “Just Employment Clause” rooted in Catholic Social Teaching that defends the right for workers to organize and the right to a living wage.
Duquesne’s President, Board, and Corporation can follow Georgetown’s lead and do what’s right too. They can raise the bar for ethical labor practices—and actually abide by Catholic Social Teaching and its own ecumenical mission: “to serve God by serving students”—by recognizing our democratically elected union. After all, how are teachers supposed to serve their students if they’re making poverty wages with no benefits?
Recently, an op-ed featuring Margaret's story received national attention. With the spotlight on Duquesne, we can continue building pressure on Duquesne to finally recognize our union by speaking out through this petition. Together, we can honor Margaret, and set an example for adjuncts organizing for better treatment across the country by showing that they too will have our support.
Please sign this petition to send a message to Duquesne’s administration.