Recently, the tragic story of Margaret Mary Vojtko, a longtime contingent faculty member at Duquesne University who died after suffering a heart attack, went viral. Although she had taught at Duquesne for 25 years, it was reported that Vojtko died nearly penniless and without health benefits: she had spent years working as an adjunct professor paid by the course. Sadly, Margaret Mary Vojtko's situation is not uncommon. Academia, like the rest of American economy, has seen an explosive growth of low-wage precarious employment in recent years.
In 2009, three out of every four faculty members at two- and four-year academic institutions were contingent workers, according to a report released last year by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce. The majority of these academic workers earned an average wage of $2,700 for a three credit course in 2010. That meant they barely made the minimum wage for each hour of their work.