When Adjunct Professors Drop Dead…My Career as a Canary

An electronics engineer uses visible lasers to...

An electronics engineer uses visible lasers to align various optical components. (Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

Margaret Mary Vojtka, an adjunct professor of French at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania dropped dead on her front yard earlier this month.  This reminds me of that tree falling in the forest question…did she make a sound when she died?  Did anyone really care if some part-time educator died due to university/corporate profit margins and sheer neglect?  Guess not much, if at all.  She wasn’t worth health insurance, one of the advantages of employing adjuncts to teach everything from 101 classes to PhD courses.  Her $10,000 per year “job” didn’t afford her enough excess moneys to pay for heat, and in Pittsburgh during the winter, no heat can kill.

Ms. Vojtka had other problems inconvenient to Duquesne also….she had been battling cancer.  She had been a bit of an embarrassment, sleeping in her office for the heat, and they felt firing her would be the best answer to the situation.  That’s what had happened before she dropped dead on her lawn of a heart attack.

Duquesne officials argued their side of the story, or course, insisting they pay adjuncts more than most schools do, but admitting those same adjuncts are underpaid.  (“The least that an adjunct professor could be paid is $3,500 per course, or $7,000 for a given semester,” Duquesne Provost Tim Austen told NPR Radio.  “Whether those are appropriate in a larger context is…a matter that the academic world has not yet found a decisive answer”).  I loved that quote…the Provost is a major part of the academic machine, and exactly what is the “larger” context?

Ronald E. Powaski has lectured at Cleveland St...

Ronald E. Powaski has lectured at Cleveland State University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The new corporate/educational model of America is to hire part-time employees….don’t have to pay prevailing wages, or offer medical insurance, or any respect.  It’s kind of like being a tenant farmer.  The school owns the field, the adjunct works it for next to nothing, and the school reaps huge rewards.  The school may award another year, if the professor was tame enough, and the professor is eager to work, knowing there’s not much call in the real world for many of the subjects they teach…except in a well-rounded education.  Adjuncts make up 60 percent of the Duquesne faculty, and about 75 percent around the country.  I was one once.

Cleveland State University kept me, among many others, at one teaching credit below the level where they would have to pay us as full-tiime employees with benefits.  They were very good at this process, creating one or two credit classes to milk the most out of us while keeping us that one credit below the dividing line.  They never seem to quibble about paying athletics coaches $200,000 or 500,000 a year, or building multi-million dollar stadiums, but pay a teacher a living wage?

Before I left the “profession” the president of CSU was Michael J. Schwartz.  He had been the president of Kent State U. for a bit, and spent three years at CSU.  During that time he initiated a grandiose building binge that had the university tied up in warning tape and re-routes for the entire three years, spending millions and millions and millions of dollars.  I knew his secretary…we’d meet outside every now and again, where we adjuncts exchanged info on where to get low-cost medical care at teaching hospitals, or free coffee and donuts at homeless institutions set up for indigents.  We would see Schwartz leaving work in the early afternoon hours, dragging his fat ass out of his comfy president’s chair and waddling off to his status symbol of a car.  He always had a queer smile on his fat face.

Around this time I was using the financial angle to encourage a student to apply herself to her work a bit more diligently.  I asked her if she really felt her work was earning her an education worth around $750 a class, which is what most tuition had been when I was attending the same university.  She looked at me quizzically, then told me she was paying over $1,100 a class.  It seems tuition had been going up a bit.

When Schwartzy retired the same year I left, I found out he had gotten a $600,000 golden parachute.  One check, more than all the adjuncts at the university made for the whole year.  Then I understood why he had that smile, like the proverbial cat that ate the canary.

I was one of those canaries.

Now I have escaped a country where teachers are not worth a good point guard on the basketball team, or a president who sits in his tower office, in a chair that costs more than a student’s tuition for a semester-long class.  Imagine that…give me my Third World country.  Every time I think about my experience teaching the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave I want to puke…and I can’t believe any human being would not want to puke after hearing the story of Ms. Vojtka.  Thomas Hobbes, that great capitalist thinker who proposed that if we just ignore the poor, the non-winners in this great crap shoot of lucre, proposed that if we don’t feed or care for the poor they will just die off, then…the problem of poverty would be solved.

It seems to have worked for Duquesne University.

A Pre-Post, or Post-Post Apology, Depending on How You Read These

tamarindo estuary playa conchal atenas 409To my six dear, loyal readers.

I do apologize for the jumbled, discombobulated effort at an articulate post about my on-going bout with Dengue Fever, my Costa Rican Scam Artist of a Lawyer, and that Friggin‘ thief of a taxi driver whose window I had to crawl into to wrestle my change out of his grubby hands.

Anyone who reads my posts must know by now that I don’t re-read my posts before I post them, when it might be of some help…only after I post them, and then it’s usually my wife who tells me how badly written they are.

I have a completely valid excuse.

The mosquito that gave me this bout of Dengue Fever has given me a gift that keeps on giving, for a few months at least.  It seems that this more virulent strain I picked up this time causes such an internal buildup of heat on the brain that normal functions take two to six months to recover full operational mode….so, my last post contained even more misspellings, syntax problems, clarity trouble, and just downright nonsensical rambling.

I guess I should have given myself another couple of weeks before I subjected CyberLandia to the crap coming out of my over-cooked brain, but I wanted to see if I was back to my normal levels of poor writing now that I’ve passed though the hemorrhagic fever stage.

Guess not…..

Here’s to fully functioning brains…and to roasting that S.O.B. of a lawyer of mine…I’m coming for you, Pacheco !

Later….

Mosquitoes, Costa Rican Lawyers, Taxi Drivers to Huacas, and Other Blood Suckers

English: Stegomyia aegypti (formerly Aedes aeg...

English: Stegomyia aegypti (formerly Aedes aegypti) mosquito biting a human. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just checked into my WordPress site and noticed I had not published anything in exactly three weeks.  I guess I have no real obligation to post anything, but my few followers have become somewhat of a social group – sort of.  I even saw a few comments from a week – or weeks ago – inquiring as to my health, or my degree of slow, degenerative demise.  How sweet.

About this Non-Posting thing.  It started out as a conscious choice – I Was Busy…with a Costa Rican residency lawyer who was backing out of a legal agreement when the going started getting rough.  The mosquito-borne Dengue Fever happened soon after, and the taxi driver thing…well…that’s been going on since the first gringo got off the plane in a Third World Country.  (Oh, yeah…the politically correct term now is Developing Nation, and since the Cold War was exposed for a colossal scam to fuel the ammunition and armaments biz…screw it – Developing Nation it is).

 

Costa Rica Arenol Hans Scott Char 226I am so pissed at my lawyer he is going to get his own post soon as I feel a bit more feisty, and it ain’t going to be pretty folks.  For now, though…let’s just hit the hi-lites.  There was a small glitch in our – my wife and mine – application for residency.  We put her down as the main name on everything.  Nothing much became of that during our initial proceedings, but when it came time to sign up for the socialized medicine aspect of our residency, our lawyer became one M.I.A. dodge of an S.O.B. – hanging out with his buddies in the pool at The Scamming Bastards Club in San Jose, no doubt.

The socialized medicine here is written into law, sometime around the new constitution of 1948 when Costa Rica abolished it’s military to focus on more important matters, such as education and free medical for all the citizens of this tiny, unimportant little Developing Nation.  But…something that hasn’t changed in this D.N. is that it is a patriarchal, Catholic-informed domain, and the man’s name should be on every document, application, or other such scraps of paper.  My wife and I were wondering why our lawyer had so expertly handled everything from our dealings with the American embassy to our finger-printing at the fortress-like San Jose police station.  All we got was an e-mail telling us to get hooked up with the CAJA (literally box, but an acronym for the Social Security here) for our medical, and a gentle demand for the rest of his legal fees.

Whoooooaaaaa, I thought.  Let’s see how all this plays out before we go depositing $1,200 in his account with no assurance of success in a land where anything legal moves glacially, and there’s always a hook or sixteen.  And why had he abandoned us at this seemingly simple (and final) step before we got our Cedulas which made us residents?  BECAUSE, grasshopper…with my wife’s name first on our application, and mine listed as a dependent, we had to get a letter from a Costa Rican accountant verifying that anyone would be silly enough to list a woman’s name first on their application.  After several trips to Manana-Land with our lawyer (we have no car, so we have to beg or borrow rides, paying for gas at around $6, or paying $50 taxi rides).

We finally got to an accountant in a small town down a muddy, rutted road to Huacas.  He wrote the letter out wrong, using one he had prepared for someone else.  The names were in the wrong places, and the occupation was wrong.  It took several rides to the Vientesiete de Abril CAJA office to get a human to talk to us (using up our goodwill and money each time) until we got a bitchy little man to laugh in our faces and tell me the accountant’s paper was useless.  (It was around this time I woke up one morning with a fever that had sweat dripping from me, my clothes as wet as if I had just got out of a swimming pool, and shaking from chills so bad I couldn’t push the buttons on my phone).

To make a long and painful story short, so I can get on to the next one, we had to make four trips to Vientesiete de Abril, two trips to the canton capital of Santa Cruz, and two to the provincial capital of Liberia trying to get someone to show up for the many appointments we made trying to rectify the bureaucratic problem of a woman’s name being on top of a man’s in the great paperwork pile of life.  $$$$$$$$ and GoodWill all gone, it was taxi time, folks.  The lawyer who dicked it up in the beginning…remember him?  The only replies to our e-mails for help was his Sincere disbelief that such things were happening to us, and calls for our final moneys to be deposited QUICKLY.  And, the accountant who could have repaired our application, but dicked it up worse?  He refused to answer his phone, and his beefy secretary blocked all attempts to enter his office.  And, you have to remember, each move costed…and costed…

A TEM micrograph showing Dengue virus virions ...

A TEM micrograph showing Dengue virus virions (the cluster of dark dots near the center). Español: Partículas maduras del virus del Dengue-2 replicándose en un cultivo tisular de cinco días. La magnificación original es de 123,000 veces. Deutsch: Eine TEM-Aufnahme, welche Dengue-2-Virus Virionen zeigt (schwarze Punkte in der Mitte). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, this Dengue Fever thing.  It just got worse and worse.  Dengue Fever is transmitted by several types of mosquito within the genus Aedes, principally Aedes Aegypti, from Africa.  It is pretty much confined to tropical areas, but has been reported as far north as Southern Florida.  The virus has four different types; infection with one type usually gives lifelong immunity to that type, but only short-term immunity to the others.  I got the least of the virulent type almost one year ago exactly when I was living in San Jose.  It was a week of one of the worst flues most people will ever get, and then it was gone.  No big deal.  This was a different bug altogether. Subsequent infection with a different type increases the risk of severe complications, so Wikipedia says…and that’s what I got.

Dengue Fever is also called Breakbone Fever, since the muscles get so constricted that it has been blamed for broken bones in the very young, or very old and brittle.  Every bone in my body hurt…every muscle in my body hurt…the headache settles in behind the eyes, like the worst hangover headache time 100…chills rattled my bones….sweat poured from every pore, soaking my bed nightly…it hurt to turn my head…my fingernails hurt…my hair hurt…any sustained thought is impossible.

Most people, with insurance or family to pay for hospitalization do it, since it kills off the white blood cells, and when they drop from @250,000 count to under 85,000, the patient is in serious danger of a life-threatening stroke after it hits the hemorrhagic fever stage. No one is paying my doctor’s bills, and the insurance thing…that’s where I started this little rant about Bloodsuckers.

My self-prescription was staying in my smelly, sweat-soaked bed, drinking pure grape juice (builds up the white blood cell count) and trying not to move my eyes or touch my hair.  But, every few days the wife and I had to venture out and try to get the medical insurance thing straightened out…and write my lawyer a quick “Piss Off and Die” e-mail.

English: A positive tourniquet test on the lef...

English: A positive tourniquet test on the left side of the image in a person with dengue fever. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m getting known in town a bit by now, but there are still a few taxi drivers who think every gringo can’t count when the colones get up into the tens of thousands.  One of these Bloodsuckers tried to take of with a few dollars of change after another ride back from another disappointing ride to a disappointing half-day spent in an non-air conditioned office where another gringo-hating hack laughed at me for having my wife’s name above mine on our application papers.  I guess the taxi driver was used to confused, passive gringos who think just because the money has lots of numbers on it, and pretty colors, and pictures of monkeys and toucans, that’s it’s not real.  WRONG !

Despite my debilitating disease, for which I should have been in the hospital for, under a doctor’s care, I climbed through his window, grabbed his skinny,

old wrist, and wrenched my money our of his hand…tossing him a few coins, before telling him to go and have sex with his mother in Spanish, which probably surprised him more than a man as sick as me doing what I had just done.  At least he had something to talk about that afternoon with the rest of the boys at the cab stand….and my standing as the craziest gringo on the streets of Tamarindo shot up like Apple stock after the release of the newest iPhone.

There’ll be more when I’m feeling a bit better…lot’s more…I promise.  Pacheco, you’re lawyering days are going to take a serious spike downward.  Don’t screw around with writers…they have audiences, and they’re articulate enough to cause a bit of a ruckus.

Later…

Road Tripping Down the Dead Road

I’ve got these back problems, you see.  When I was working as a tour guide in Mexico I broke my back.  It never gets better, but I got some advice from a local directing me to a “real chiropractor” out on the barren road to Langosta Beach.  And, this local said she was cheap.  We all have different standards.

My wife and I got lost, finding ourselves on a side road.  I asked a fisherman about a doctor for backs, and he pointed to a walled compound where a sign warned of dangerous dogs.  Walking around to the front of the chiropractor’s office I came across the dangerous dogs, asleep in the heat.

Chiropractor Dogs

A metal pad at the side of the doorway had an “Empuje” sign above it, so I impujed.  An elderly woman appeared, told me she was with a client for the next hour, and to come back later.  One dangerous dog opened an eye, the other raised his head, looked me over, then let his head loll back against the iron fence.  What to do?  The Tamarindo Municipal Park was across the street.

Manglar Parque

Turkey Vultures

I loved the name of the park…in gringo…Mangler Park.  The park was a desolate, dry, dead place, as every place is during the dry season.  The sign advertised a Fitness Course, and I’m always in need of some more fitnessing.  We wanders in to find the only two creatures in the park other than ourselves were two full-grown Turkey Buzzards.  They weren’t leaving, no matter how close we got to them, and I urged my wife forward with her camera…telling her they must have some carcass they were working over or they would have flown.  She got within ten feet of the pair before she started complaining of the smell.

 Female Turkey Vulture

The male had been standing guard…the female was busy mangling what was left of an Iguana.  The male flew up into a tree, but the female was not going to leave her small, smelly piece of the food chain.  She kept to her mangling.  We decided to wait outside on the dead, dusty road to Langosta and the Ghost Hotel.

 I began to have second thoughts about our little health excursion down the Dead Road, and suggested we walk back up the road to where I had spotted some ancient ruins…ancient for Costa Rica.

Yes, the remnants of a long-dead culture.  The ruins of the first building boom brought on by the gringo invasion of the 1970s, gone bust when the colonists abandoned their dreams, deciding that dry seasons, rainy seasons, high season for tourists, and low season for tourists were not the extreme variations they were looking for in their search for Paradise.  The strong – Los Brovos, survive here…the weak go home, if they have one to go to.  I don’t.  I’m thinking of changing addresses from the Ghost Hotel to the Ancient Ruins by the Beach.

Costa Rica Ruins