ADJUNCTIFICATION

This story about Margaret Mary Vojtko, a recently deceased former adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University ($32,000 annual tuition, exclusive of room and board), made the rounds on the internet late last week. Eventually NPR picked up on it, which makes perfect sense. It's a hanging slider in the strike zone of NPR's core demographic, touching on higher education, poverty, and people falling through the cracks of society.

I am glad this story has gotten exposure. The "adjunctification" of higher education has happened rapidly and mostly in the shadows for the past twenty years. Some estimates now suggest that half of all college courses are taught by adjuncts or other non-permanent faculty. For the unaware, adjuncts reside on the bottom of the academic totem pole. They have no formal affiliation at the schools where they teach. They are paid a flat rate per course with no guarantee of future employment and no access to the benefits available to full-time employees. They are essentially migrant workers; they often spend careers wandering from place to place and it is not unusual for adjuncts to make ends meet by teaching at multiple institutions simultaneously. An adjunct who picks up four courses per semester and perhaps another two in the summer might clear $25,000-30,000 before taxes without insurance, retirement plan, or transportation costs.

There are many reasons one becomes an adjunct. Many adjuncts are outstanding teachers who end up adjuncting because of bad luck, bad timing, or family factors (i.e., the need to stay in a city where no jobs are available because of a spouse's job). Others could not finish their Ph.D. and thus are limited in the type of employment they can obtain in higher ed. Some are adjuncts because they're not very good at their job. In other words they are like the workforce in any other industry: some are outstanding, most are average, and some are bad.

From administrators' perspective, adjuncts are great. They have no power, they cost next to nothing, and undergraduates rarely know the difference among the various "classes" of faculty. Hiring adjuncts saves valuable resources that administrators can spend on their own salaries, more administrators, new buildings, and other non-essential, non-academic things. The number of adjuncts is somewhat limited at prestigious institutions, as their presence hurts the school in magazine rankings and overall reputation. But at schools that don't care about prestige and operate on volume (especially the kind that teach non-traditional students (read: grown ups with jobs) adjuncts can make up almost the entire faculty. Words like "extension", "online", "night classes", "branch campus" and any adjective indicating a direction on a compass are a giveaway that few permanent, full-time faculty will be found in classrooms.

In a world in which we have "permanent temps" in the workforce it's not surprising to find quasi-permanent adjuncts as well. Vojtko was at Duquesne for over 30 years. The school was probably glad to have her; she taught essentially a full professor's courseload for 1/3 the total cost. She was probably glad to have, at least informally, regular work in one place. Between the low pay and lack of benefits, it is neither unusual nor surprising to hear that a lifetime adjunct in her eighties died in poverty, especially given that she had cancer. You can read the sad story in the original op-ed piece.

With all that said, two things jump out at me as I read and re-read this story.

First, the implication that the university should have continued to employ her is dubious. I can count on zero fingers the number of people who teach effectively at age 83 in my career. A small percentage of professors teach well into their late seventies and beyond, but they are outnumbered by the ones who should have hung up their spurs years ago. In Vojtko's case I can't imagine that an 80+ year old with cancer – a person who probably belongs in an assisted living facility – was effective in the classroom. I don't know her. She may have been a good teacher. There is reason to be skeptical, though.

Second, where are Medicare and Social Security in this story? As far as I understand these programs, an 83 year old should have been more than a decade into her eligibility for both. Social Security certainly doesn't provide for a luxurious lifestyle, but it's enough to keep the power on. Medicare might not be the finest insurance plan on the planet, but certainly it should have given her access to hospital care and prescription drugs. How was this woman completely uninsured?

A few odd details aside, this is a story that needs to be told. Academia is not different than the rest of the economy, constantly drifting toward the elite utopia where salaries are low, job security is nonexistent, benefits are a dream, and the people at the top are rewarded ever more handsomely for their combination of stinginess and sheer ignorance. It's a world in which the people who do the actual work are treated as disposable and the con men in Management require ever-growing compensation to keep doing the grueling work of cutting costs.

This is the future. We have seen it, and it blows.

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42 Responses to “ADJUNCTIFICATION”

  1. Will Says:

    I spent a small amount of time adjuncting after my physics phd, and its a horribly depressing affair. I met so many bright, hard working people living in utter poverty, some trying to raise kids. Its heartbreaking.

    Whats more heartbreaking is the extent we inflict it upon ourselves. I went out on a limb to get a technical writing job for a friend of mine who needed to get her kid some medical insurance, and she turned it down because "its not my dream." If your dream is putting you into crippling poverty, its time to get a new dream.

  2. middle seaman Says:

    The importance of seeing the economy as a speeding train approaching modern serves as the main take away from this post.

    Many academic departments are subject to accreditation that makes them limit the percentage of adjuncts in the department's teaching team. Accreditation typically applies to undergraduate studies only.

    Adjuncts aren't only paid pennies, they aren't part of the department. I don't even know the adjuncts that teach the courses i am responsible for. Why would a person smart enough to have a PhD live a life of an adjunct rather than find a full time job outside academia is unclear to me.

  3. Talisker Says:

    where are Medicare and Social Security in this story? As far as I understand these programs, an 83 year old should have been more than a decade into her eligibility for both.

    I can think of two or three possible explanations.

    Refusal on principle: Vojtko might have had an extreme degree of pride and self-reliance; she had always looked after herself and wasn't going to take charity now, that sort of thing. An ideological objection is less likely but also possible; she was an extreme libertarian, or wouldn't accept money from the government that bombed Iraq / permitted gays to marry / whatever. It's unusual for anyone to take it to this extreme but not unheard of.

    Fear: She had something shady in her past and didn't want to come to the attention of the government. It wouldn't matter if the government really knew or cared, just whether she thought it did. This could be anything from unpaid taxes to having murdered her husband, we don't know.

    Immigration status: If she was not a US citizen, could she have been somehow ineligible for Social Security and Medicaid despite living and working in the USA for at least 30 years? I have no idea if this is possible, but if so it would be an explanation.

    Other things might have explained the poverty — a drug or gambling habit, sending money to relatives, and so on — but that wouldn't account for the failure to claim Medicare.

    No matter the reasons, it's a desperately sad story. A social worker might have helped ensure she got the benefits to which she was entitled; but those services are being cut to the bone in the current climate. The few who remain are overworked and it's all too easy to overlook one old lady, especially if she insists she doesn't need their help.

  4. Seth Says:

    Ed, just wanted to say thank you for providing a model of what it looks like for academics to explain adjunctification to a non-academic audience. The work of putting this practice to its death is proceeding slowly, and it's going to take a lot of more us (including people who want higher ed to be cheap but refuse to pay their fair share of taxes, for example) to make a real dent in it.

  5. wyldpirate Says:

    Middle Seaman sez:

    "Adjuncts aren't only paid pennies, they aren't part of the department. I don't even know the adjuncts that teach the courses i am responsible for."

    Wow. Just fucking wow.

    You sound like you're destined for the stars of academic administration.

  6. c u n d gulag Says:

    I was an adjunct for 6 1/2 years, in the late 90's. It was at the same college I had graduated from, in 1981.

    When I was a student, I was a commuter at a school that was full of kids who were the first generation in their families who had gone on past HS to college.
    It was a blue-collar college, and I was a blue-collar student. Having a car helped me make friends, because few if any of the live-in students had cars, and if they did, they were often like mine – old, run-down hand-me-downs. So, a commuter friend with a car, was a valuable commodity on a campus full of kids stuck in dormitories, car-less.
    The professors and the few administrators, had newer cars – no luxury ones, but newer ones.
    If I had, or wanted to, talk to my dean, I'd go to his office, and schedule an appointment with his secretary. And often, he'd see me that very minute.

    Now, flash forward to 1994, when I was brought in to teach acting and theater arts – my car, and car of other adjuncts were the worst ones on the lot.
    The full-time professors had decent cars. But now it was the kids and administrators cars which were nice, and new, with a lot of luxury vehicles.
    It was no longer a blue-collar college – these kids had some serious bucks, and were spending some serious bucks, to get a no longer inexpensive degree – from what used to be a very reasonably-priced private college.
    And there were now several layers of administrators between the students, and the deans.
    Kids would come up to me, and practically beg me to get them an appointment with their dean. I told them, 'what could I do, I was only a lowly adjunct?'
    The students had to work their way up the academic food chain, to finally get a chance to talk to their dean.

    I left in 1999 for a better opportunity in NC, being a Customer Service Training Manager for a division of a large telecommunications company. I left that company at the end of 2008, because they had finally frustrated me to the point where I couldn't take it anymore, and my parents, still in Upstate NY, were getting older.
    Bad timing, clearly. Leaving at the beginning of The Great Recession.
    But I digress.

    I went back for a college reunion a few years ago, and met some of my old professors.
    A few were still teaching, and they said it was now worse than ever. The kids were far wealthier than the kids of my generation, and more entitled, and now there were even more levels of administrators between the students, and their deans.
    My car was one of the poorest on the lot, and so were theirs.
    The parking lots were full of nice new cars, many of them foreign luxury cars – and those were driven by the students and the administrators.

    The lesson I learned, is that my Alma Mater had grown a lot. But that that growth came from jacking-up tuition costs to near Ivy-league levels, and that the money was spent on administrators, and new facilities to house their ever-growing number.

    You want to know where your college kids money is going?
    New gyms, with rock-climbing walls and Jacuzzi's.
    Dormitories, that are broken up into suites, with every kid having his/her own room.
    And new buildings, to house sub-deans, sub-sub-deans, etc.

    The education of the young adults, is secondary to their "college experience."

  7. Ahab Says:

    For a depressing look at the plight of adjunct faculty, take a look at this infographic at Camels with Hammers.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2013/08/adjunct-exploitation-an-infographic/

    When I started grad school, I planned to work in academia after earning my degrees. Upon seeing how suffocating and exploitative academia is, I soon changed my mind and took another career path. Thank God.

  8. grumpygradstudent Says:

    Yeah, this is one of the many reasons I may be headed for the exits of academia. Teaching 6 courses a year is very much a full time job. If you're gonna have a full time job, might as well find one that actually pays you.

  9. quixote Says:

    I wouldn't, and haven't, recommended a career in academe to any of my students. After about the mid-1980s, you might as well tell them to become migrant farmworkers. The hours, benefits, pay, and serfdom are very similar. Yes, less dirt and it's much less backbreaking.

    About that SS and Medicare: depending on how the adjunct's job is classified, contributions for those are not necessarily deducted. (Think graduate student teaching assistants. They too pay no SS & M because teaching is part of your education.)

    If no deductions, then the pay check is larger in the short term without costing the university anything. Cool for everyone except the permanent temp.

    And, when the "temp" hits old age, they may have literally zero benefits of any kind. We're going to see more and more of this as the most exploited adjuncts of the last few decades hit the wall.

  10. Xynzee Says:

    It appears that academia like other industries, has those as Steinbeck described them who will work for 20¢ rather than holdout for 30¢ to feed their kids a bowl of mush.

    As a former contractor I can relate. Some times it's a bit like an abusive relationship, where you hope that if you put in the hours they'll notice you and put you on full time. But they won't as the situation suits them just fine.

    As my mum used to tell my sister, "Never do a boy's laundry for him until he marries you. Why would he buy the cow when he gets the milk for free."

    Same can be said of employers too.

  11. Rustonite Says:

    @quixote

    that might have been true a long time go, but now grad students pay payroll and income taxes just like everyone else. I'm probably taxed at a higher effective rate than my professors, since I don't have a mortgage or hybrid car to deduct.

    It is true that some employees at some public colleges don't pay into SS, but only if they're covered by the state pension.

    I can't imagine this women wasn't eligible for SS and M. It's a mystery why she wasn't on them. It's possible she didn't understand them- academics are only smart about their disciplines, not necessarily anything else.

  12. Number Three Says:

    I had the same reaction to the Social Security and Medicare issue in the NPR story. I have been a long-term adjunct, although I teach a night class to supplement my full-time salary (non-academic position), so I'm not in poverty or anything. (Why do I do this? Because I love grading! j/k)

    They sure as hell do take Social Security and Medicare taxes from an adjunct's salary (unless you are part of a state system that has a separate retirement system for state employees, but I digress, and that doesn't apply to Medicare, just Social Security, I think). So she would've been eligible for both (barring some kind of very unusual circumstance; it's very unlikely she was an undocumented alien who worked for the same university for more than two decades).

    Not sure why this was not addressed in the radio story.

  13. Big dog Says:

    I taught at Indiana University for almost thirty years and this experience underlined the fact that people who opt for administrative jobs are very much like those who opt for political positions. Really smart people don't want to do either, so they fob off these responsibilities to those who use this opportunity to enrich and empower themselves and do everything they can to exploit and/or ruin the smart guys. This is how the tea party jerks end up taking over local and state political systems, because the smart guys can't be bothered.

  14. Andrew Says:

    $32,000 sounds like a low salary, but if you get room and board on top of it, that sounds like a much higher salary. If you're only required to work 3/4 of the calendar year to collect it, it's higher still.

  15. quixote Says:

    Yes, for a lot of adjuncts, SS & Med are deducted these days. I'm just saying it hasn't been in some cases. (I'm glad to hear it's less common now, but I _still_ hear about cases.) Anyway, my point is that it might have been this particular 83 year-old's case. It would be useful to know the facts instead of assuming she didn't take benefits available to her.

  16. grumpygradstudent Says:

    Room and board? Who the hell gets room and board?

  17. Chase Says:

    Ed, thanks for writing about this. I've been an adjunct for years, and I'm at the point where I can't continue like this for another year without having a serious financial crisis. I don't have a PhD, only an MA, but I do as good a job at teaching as many full-time faculty. When I'm at my best, I'm as good or better than many of the best professors who taught me. But it hardly matters, either to students or to administrators. Too many students are just marking time in the lower level courses that I teach. I understand why. In some cases, perhaps in many cases, it's not their fault or not entirely so. But in effect, they don't want what I'm paid to do, while administrators don't want to pay me to do it. In the long run, how could this possibly result in good educational outcomes?

  18. Sarah Says:

    $32,000 sounds like a low salary, but if you get room and board on top of it, that sounds like a much higher salary. If you're only required to work 3/4 of the calendar year to collect it, it's higher still.

    Dude, $32,000 is the tuition. That's the money that Mommy and Daddy pay per annum to send their precious little Johnny or Mary Jane to Duquesne for the honor of getting an undergraduate degree there.

  19. T.W. Says:

    The college I work for is reducing the amount of adjuncts because of Obamacare. They have a goal of 60% full-time faculty within the next two years. If this trend spreads, it does a lot of good…but at the same time makes it harder for fresh grads to get their foot in the door.

  20. mothra Says:

    Okay, so here's an explanation of the SS and Medicare conundrum. Quixote may be correct that they weren't always deducted from her wages, but she would have had to pay when she paid her taxes. Self-employed people have to pay the WHOLE contribution to FICA. However, since she made shit for wages, that contribution to SS would have been small. She probably made more teaching than she could have been eligible to collect on SS, so that's why she kept working so long. And, if you work while collecting SS, you can only earn so much or have your benefit reduced or go away. As for Medicare, you guys DO know it isn't free, right? People on Medicare have to pay a premium quarterly. It isn't huge, but it is to people who have no money. Plus, Medicare doesn't cover EVERYTHING for free. That's why you hear the AARP pushing additional coverage insurance for people on Medicare. If you don't have it, you'll end up owing for meds and medical treatment–which will quickly become unsurmountable on a tiny salary.

    Poor lady was just screwed up one way and down the other. Please don't forget that she was 83. Women of that age were often accustomed to being taken care of in one sense or another–and often weren't taught the basics of financial management. She probably thought she should buy a house and have a place to live, but no one sat down with her and discussed how, on her salary, she could expect to keep that up–or even sat down and discussed with her other options. And, respectfully, Ed–assisted living is for rich folk. Yes, there are nursing homes for the poors, but it doesn't sound like this lady was quite ready for the nursing home. Assisted living requires a fair down payment and ability to pay rent month-to-month–something it doesn't sound like this lady had.

  21. Jerry Vinokurov Says:

    Just wanted to say that the hands-down-best professor I ever had in college was a guy who taught graduate-level physics at the age of 80, and while afflicted with Parkinson's. The guy was just absolutely incredible and his classes were hard to get into because he had such a reputation as an amazing teacher.

  22. burnt Says:

    My wife has been an occasional adjunct for more than 20 years at a Big Ten school. However, she's from the old-school of adjuncts. She's an architect and owns a firm. Architecture is one of those professions where it is common for professors to never actually practice. So as a sop to students the school will bring in someone (or maybe two) each semester from the professional community to teach a class or give a seminar.

    The students like it because they get to interact with people who are designing things and getting them built. The adjuncts get to give something back to the profession by teaching the upcoming generation of architects (yes, of course, it's not completely altruistic; they are paid the usual adjunct pittance). In addition, it's an opportunity for students to impress their adjuncts and maybe get a job offer–I know my wife has hired at least three former students after they graduated.

    In other words it's nothing like the usual adjunct serfdom as commonly practiced. Now let's start a thread about post-docs.

  23. Nancy the math teacher Says:

    I am an adjunct, have been an adjunct for about 20 years now. I work at two schools. I missed the boat on full time hiring due to those "family concerns"- I stayed home with my kids until they went to school. Now, I've given up looking for full time work because I'm too old (and white). I will not be eligible for Social Security as it is not deducted from my pay- that is the law here in California. Maybe I can get some of my husband's SS, who knows. I have a "retirement account"- about $20,000 currently. At 57 I should have 7 or 8 more years of work left. My retirement prospects are poor.
    I wanted very much to be a full time instructor (community college level) and worked to that goal for many years. I've applied for hundreds of jobs and interviewed dozens of times, only to see those who were younger- or a more desirable ethnicity- hired instead. I always loved teaching and wanted to "give back". I didn't choose to be a low-status, low pay, disposable employee. But that's my reality. It seems there just aren't enough full time jobs for those who want them. It's easy to say I should get a non academic job- the reality is that it's not at all easy, probably not possible at this point.

    I've had to accept my second class status. This is life.

  24. guttedleafsfan Says:

    This is sad and appalling. I earn more annually teaching fewer hours (and I'm sure working less hard), with a lower degree, at a lower educational level, than the Best and the Brightest supposedly nurturing the future Best and the Brightest.

    Go Unions.

  25. Doctor Rock Says:

    *that* school is 32 large a year? Look, if you don't get into, say, MIT or Harvard and a few other places (just for the connections and whatnot), go to your state school.

    When I see someone who went to a mediocre private college when there's an as good or better state school, and no indication of a scholarship, I question that. Like going to American University-what an expensive school. If you're from Virginia, maybe you can't get into UVA necessarily but save your money and go to VCU or something.

  26. Doctor Rock Says:

    My old advisor Ted Lowi is still teaching at Cornell (one undergraduate course and advising graduate students/teaching seminars). He's 82-I saw him recently and he is freakin *spry*. But he's definitely the exception.

  27. Doctor Rock Says:

    @ Will: that is sad, and it is hard to accept something that's not what you've spent over a decade scratching and clawing and working your ass off for. But you don't get to have dreams that conflict with providing for your family. It's hard, it's cruel, but that's the bottom line.

  28. Kansas Man Says:

    @ Doctor Rock it's also selfish if you're single. Presumably if you are poor you make use of various social services. I'm of the opinion that those are for people who have no other options, not people who have the opportunity to take other jobs but turn them down because it's not their "dream."

  29. Doctor Rock Says:

    @ burnt Law school is very similar. Most professors don't practice (although some do, Orin Kerr at George Washington takes the occasional case, but that's uncommon. Not rare, uncommon). Then you have adjuncts, mostly for highly specific electives. They're practicioners teaching an evening class after work in something like say Telecommunications. Some of them, learning about some of their private sector jobs I can't imagine that they either need extra money or that adjuncting is the most efficient and lucrative way of earning more (some probably supplement a government wage but even still all the adjuncts I ever had or heard of at my school had very good day jobs).

    Then you have Professors of Clinical Law. They are sort of quasi-academics (although calling anyone with just a JD an academic is generous). I don't know if there's a formal pay difference. I took a clinic that was co-taught-one a Full time clinical professor who also did a few seminars. The other was an adjunct with a very successful practice-I think he just liked teaching.

    So yeah, coming from the law school perspective the title "adjunct" doesn't carry the same baggage. Although I'm sure they're looked down on by some asshole faculty members. The difference is it's generally not out of desperation that one seeks an adjunct position-they generally want successful practicioners and it's very competitive because *sometimes* (although it's rare) it can lead to becoming an actual faculty member.

  30. Bitter Scribe Says:

    Isn't Duquesne a Catholic institution? It really annoys me how "liberal" Catholic clergy and others talk a great game about worker dignity, living wages, the right to unionize, etc., but seem oblivious when a Catholic school treats its own employees like crap.

  31. Rev. G Friesen Says:

    Will things get better?

    I hope so.

    But I don't think so.

  32. Area Man Says:

    @Talisker:

    Dementia or Alzheimer's also would explain why she wasn't in the system.

    In Pennsylvania, you can't 302 someone unless they're a threat to themselves or others, so she was essentially a street person.

    I suspect it was known on the Duquesne campus that Professor Vojtko was getting "eccentric" in her old age, but in fact, she was losing her cognitive ability, and needed to be in a home. Duquesne can't necessarily talk about that without violating HIPAA regulations (although I'm not sure that applies after her death) and her family may be in denial.

    Of course, in our Brave New Market-Based World, mentally ill people have the "freedom" to choose to starve to death if they're unable to sign themselves up for benefits. Because … America!

  33. Area Man Says:

    Oh … sorry … "302" is police parlance for "involuntary commitment."

  34. Khaled Says:

    As someone who has lived in Pittsburgh, this hits kind of personal for me. First, someone above posted about SS and work- you cannot work full time and get SS benefits- it's either from hours or pay- I don't know the cut off, but one of my employees (I run a drug store) has to make sure she doesn't go over so many hours per week (~25) so she can keep her SS income. Also, SS is based upon what you put in- if she made very little, she would have gotten a minimum payment- which keeps you fed, but not exactly much else. Depending on how much you make, you can qualify for both medicare and medicaid, but she would have had to quit to get those- even making 32k at 83 means she's not "poor" enough to get medicaid, and makes enough where medicare won't cover as much.
    I've never understood why people spend the money to go to Duquesne, when Pitt is literally right next door, and provides a better education for less money. I know why people go to Carnegie Mellon- they will be designing the robots that will make my job irrelevant in a few years. I remember getting ready to graduate from a Big Ten university with my degree in History, figuring a grad school application in a year or two would be in my future- professor, here I come! I spoke with one of my professors, and she assured me that the jobs coming down the line in the university system would be far and few between- only one of their recent grads with a PhD had anything like tenure track or full time employment, and that was at UNLV. Oh, and he was way more brilliant than anyone else I knew. So, yeah. I found another career path.

  35. Talisker Says:

    @Area Man: Yes, she might well have been suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia by the time she died. Having those conditions at age 65, when she was first eligible for retirement benefits, is possible but a lot less likely. So I suspect something else was a factor.

    @quixote: Just for the record, I'm not assuming that she refused to claim benefits. It may be that she was wholly or partly ineligible, as you describe. But "refusal to claim" does happen. In at least some cases the person might be talked around to changing his or her mind, but that requires someone with the time and patience to do so.

  36. fidelio Says:

    Here's what the Social Security Administration has to say about working while receiving retirement benefits. [For further information, see the Senior Citizens' Right to Work Acts of 1996 and 2000 (Public Laws 104–121 and 106-182)]. So for at least the last 12 years before Duquesne let her go, Ms. Vojtko would have been able to work and receive Social Security retirement payments without penalty.

    It's worth noting that for many years some public employees weren't eligible for Social Security, because they presumably had pensions through the jobs; school teachers were among these (IIRC, through 1983, they could opt-out, but all public employees were covered by 1990). So, depending on what Vojtko did before working at Duquesne, she might not have been elgible for Social Security through that job. Assuming that Duquesne was taking FICA taxes out of her checks, she wasn't making much there, so if that was her only source of payments into the Social Security system, her retirement benefits from that would have been fairly small. Other pension benefits from previous employers might also have had earnings offsets which affected what she was able to get, if was qualified for such.

    Most of the time she worked at Duquesne, she probably didn't qualify for SSI benefits (the current cut-off for earnings is around $750/month, I think), and she may not have known to look into that; many middle-class people (that is, people who see themselves as middle-class) are only vaguely aware of SSI and who might qualify for it.

    As for the home ownership question: She likely owned that house for many years (or even inherited it), and, as is not uncommon with older properties, the upkeep became more and more expensive and the property taxes and utilities went up and up and up…what may have been an excellent choice in 1973, or 1963 could easily be unmanageable now.

  37. cmadler Says:

    An 83-year-old would have been born in 1930. For anyone born before 1937, full retirement age for Social Security was 65. Beginning the month a person reaches their full retirement age, Social Security payments are no longer reduced by earned income. In other words, she could have been both working and receiving her full Social Security benefit (assuming she was eligible) with no reduction for the last 18 years.

  38. Ed Says:

    It is a sad story, but it didn't need to be. Huge out of pocket medical expenses for a poor 83 year old?? Medicare and Medicaid should have taken care of that. Owning a home but unable to pay for electricity?? No Social Security?? She clearly made a lot of financial mistakes.

    Worse yet is students paying 32K to get an 83 year old cancer patient as their teacher.

  39. Carrstone Says:

    You say, 'undergraduates rarely know the difference among the various "classes" of faculty.'

    That says more about the quality of you and your fellow tenured staffers than it does about the adjunctified.

    Having just shot yourself in the foot, there's always time to pull your socks up, lad! Or are you happy just colluding in increasing student debt?

  40. human Says:

    I am about to lose my temper with people just assuming that the reason she was in this position is that she screwed up and/or was doing it wrong.

    Maybe? but maybe not. The social safety net in this country is hardly adequate. And if you think that there is something out there for everyone who has needs like this you are fooling yourself. Look around you, talk to real people who are struggling to make their lives work and sometimes failing. There are a lot of us.

    As for social security, there are a lot of public employees who STILL do not qualify. Working for the state in Louisiana does not get you credit towards social security benefits. My dad retired early from the state. He then took another job and that is the only reason he now has social security benefits after retiring from that job. He still gets his state pension too, but one of them — I forget if it's the pension or the social security — gets substantially reduced because he is getting the other. Both of which are benefits he earned. He's over 65, too. He still works weekends so he can pay his wife's medical bills. Fortunately his job is not physically demanding.

    As for me, I make too much money to qualify for food stamps but my rent is high and I had to borrow money a couple weeks ago to buy groceries. otherwise I would have had literally nothing to eat except a couple of packs of chicken breasts from my freezer. Plain chicken with nothing on it, doesn't that sound like a great thing to nibble on and stretch out for a whole week?

    So screw you people with your "but there are programs so what was wrong with HER" comments.

    Actually I guess I'm no longer "about to" lose my temper. $&#*.

  41. VALIS Says:

    I teach writing at a state university, as an adjunct. I have it better than most: full benefits for myself and family (wife going to library school with tuition waivers). I teach 5 classes a semester and gross 50k a year. I have a 3-year contract.

    I have those things for one simple reason:

    I have a union.

  42. Carrstone Says:

    That's nothing to be proud of. You were either compelled to join a union in which case they probably undersold you or you felt yourself obliged to join a union because you knew you were under-qualified or too weak to be able to negotiate your own emoluments.

    One thing seems certain – you lack any shred of ambition. If you had any, you'd be clamoring to improve your situation. I'll bet there are thousands like you who outshine you, all far too busy to write comments in Gin and Tacos' rabblerousing blog. And before you say it, I'm entitled to say this as I'm retired, with enough self-earned means to be able to indulge myself reading Ed's nonsense and getting a view how the other half whine.

    Another thing is certain, the union are not going to improve your lot; they're only interested, with a minimum effort on their part, in receiving your contributions for ever.

    How's my writing?