His Holiness, Pope Francis
PP. 00120 Via del Pellegrino
Citta del Vaticano
Dear Pope Francis:
I do not know how to begin this letter, so I will just let you know what is happening, in general, with the faculty in Higher Education here in the United States, as in the rest of the world; I will then comment on the particular case that has brought me to ask you for your much needed intervention.
As a person raised in the Catholic tradition, but lately as someone who has been losing faith, I ask you to help me restore it, especially after the disillusion I feel. I have witnessed outright inaction and at times even harmful interventions from entities associated with the Catholic Church here in the United States, purporting against its social doctrine.
My name is Ana Maria Fores Tamayo, and I have been working part-time for a Catholic newspaper in North Texas since 2007, the North Texas Catholic, helping them with their translations and Spanish language section. At the same time, I am a university instructor, but I have no regular employment so I work anywhere that will hire me. I was dismissed from my last teaching job —which paid a pittance, by the way: $1800 per course, or $14,400 a year without benefits such as health insurance— even though I was starting my fourth year. I taught, however, because I loved my students, and I liked to encourage them to explore, to expand their intellect, to discover, to learn new things. My dismissal had nothing to do with my pedagogy; as a teacher, the administration was pleased with me.
My removal, in large part, was due to my activism. I was trying to create public awareness of the plight of the professoriate: today, the number of contingent faculty in the United States reaches more than 1 million. 75% of us have no fixed contract, and many of us do not receive a living wage (as was my case); we cannot survive like this. When salary levels should take into account our academic training and professional experience, in many cases we are arbitrarily paid minimum wage or worse. The national average for an adjunct or a “freeway flyer” is $ 2,700 per course, with no health insurance or other benefits. In almost no metropolitan area in the United States can we live on compensation such as this. This is why I say we are in crisis in this country: we cannot see light. As a member of the board of the New Faculty Majority, a non-profit organization that advocates for all contingent faculty, I believe and follow this activism, inspired by an idealism based on what I think should be professional equity for all teachers.
But this advocacy work is difficult when universities —even Catholic ones!— ignore us, and the media remains silent. Who will listen?
This is not, however, the real reason I write, not directly.
I have just received the devastating news of another instructor, someone I did not know, but one of ours, who even though she spent the last 25 years of her professional life at a Catholic university in the metropolitan area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania —Duquesne University—succumbed to an indigent death following a heart attack. This Catholic university should follow the principles of justice promulgated by the Church’s social doctrine, yet this university abandoned her; included at the end of this letter is a link to the article reporting the case.
Margaret Mary Vojtko was a Catholic woman who was dismissed, denied by that same Catholic university to which she devoted the best and most productive years of her life. Again and again I read of such cases, rejections after long years of service, but I refuse to believe that a Catholic institution can be so cruel. And although Duquesne University is not solely responsible for the suffering caused to this woman —because all universities are guilty of the treatment they give us, just like the socioeconomic system that does not provide the social safety net we all require— we as Catholics must do something immediate and radical to halt this devastation.
It is too late for Margaret Mary Vojtko, but there are more than 1 million contingent faculty today in the United States, and the numbers keep growing. This number now comprises, as I said earlier, 75% of the academic workforce in higher education. Many of us are getting older; many of us have no healthcare; we have no savings; we have no kind of help. If you would like to see further samples of academics and workers in need of help, read the many comments from colleagues signing my petition for Adjunct Justice: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/better-pay-for-adjuncts.fb1?source=c.fb&r_by=426534
What are we supposed to do as merciful human beings? Where is our Caritas? Is there nothing more than silence to greet us?
I hope —with the news that has spread throughout the United States and many other parts of the world about the life and death of the adjunct Margaret Mary Vojtko, and by default the treatment we, the contingent faculty, are suffering— that you, Holy Father, will find a place in your heart to help us. With the great respect you show for social justice, I have faith that you will find occasion to highlight not only the suffering of Margaret Mary Vojtko and others like her, but also of all contingent faculty, workers without permanent contracts. Please, we need your help! I hope that your show of support, your words of faith to move forward in our fight for equal pay, will be a way to bring justice and redemption to every person like Margaret Mary Vojtko. Your words will bring us hope and perhaps, soon, one day —with your message— we might understand that we can achieve this equality, which now appears so false.
A few days ago I read what you said about the youth of today, your Holiness, that they have no hope, that this is the most urgent problem facing the Church today. But I wonder, and I respectfully ask you, Holy Father: how can young people have hope, if their teachers have none? Please help us during this difficult time. As you said during your sermon on March 16th of this year, “do not forget the poor . . . ”
Ana M. Fores Tamayo, ABD
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AdjunctJustice
New Faculty Majority, Board of Directors
Link to original newspaper article: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/perspectives/death-of-an-adjunct-703773/