Audit Notes: Adjunct poverty, Reuters flops, impact

A longtime professor at Duquesne dies in squalor

Today’s must-read is this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column by Daniel Kovalik of the United Steelworkers on the death of an 83-year old adjunct professor who had taught at Duquesne University for a quarter century.

In poverty after years of abysmal wages and no benefits from Duquesne, Margaret Mary Vojtko faced Orphans’ Court after someone called authorities to say she couldn’t take care of herself.

Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, “She was a professor?” I said yes. The case- worker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.

Of course, what the case-worker didn’t understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities…

Meanwhile, in the past year, her teaching load had been reduced by the university to one class a semester, which meant she was making well below $10,000 a year. With huge out-of-pocket bills from UPMC Mercy for her cancer treatment, Margaret Mary was left in abject penury. She could no longer keep her electricity on in her home, which became uninhabitable during the winter. She therefore took to working at an Eat ‘n Park at night and then trying to catch some sleep during the day at her office at Duquesne. When this was discovered by the university, the police were called in to eject her from her office. Still, despite her cancer and her poverty, she never missed a day of class.

Duquesne dropped her last class in the spring and has continued to battle the unionization of its adjuncts, claiming it deserves a “religious exemption.”

Aaron Bady runs some numbers on Twitter: “30 students in a classroom, each paying $30k to take 3 or 4 classes, and each of those classes only costs the university (6k) to staff.”

— Reuters has scrapped its big Reuters Next project, which was two years in the works, reports The New York Observer.

News executives Jim Roberts, who just got bought out at the NYT earlier this year, and Daniele Codega “have chosen to leave the company,” according to a staff email by Reuters CEO Andrew Rashbass:

For more than two years we have put most of our consumer-facing efforts into developing what we call Reuters Next. The project had ambitious commercial and editorial goals and the team has worked incredibly hard. As part of the project we have launched a well-received mobile app for iOS. However, the project as a whole has struggled to meet delivery deadlines and stay within its budget. Also, it does not capitalise on our strengths. We need to take advantage of the fact that we have a constant stream of high-quality, real-time news (something most news organisations lack), created by more than 2,000 journalists around the world; we need to focus on our unique photography and video to win in an increasingly visual media world; and we need to make our core strength of international news relevant to local audiences - which means, among other things, having local-language sites.

Next is a long way from achieving either commercial viability or strategic success. In fact, I believe the existing suite of sites is a better starting point for where we need to go. Therefore I have decided to cancel the Next project and put our efforts into enhancing and improving the existing sites. We will repurpose as much of the Next development work as we can for that.

Reuters had unveiled a preview of the Next project a few months ago and it looked pretty good.

The company’s management always seems to end up looking pretty bad.

— Who says Advance Publications’s doesn’t have enough impact these days?

A federal judge has overturned the convictions of five NOPD officers in the infamous Danziger Bridge killings during Katrina because federal prosecutors got caught taking to the Times-Picayune’s online comments to trash defendants in the case.

The Times-Picayune/ or whatever it’s called these days:

Engelhardt revealed that a Civil Rights division attorney in Washington, D.C., also posted comments on during the Danziger trial, and the judge made it clear that Justice Department officials were reluctant to fully expose prosecutorial shenanigans.

Just as shocking, the order cited testimony from Jan Mann, who departed from the No. 2 post in Letten’s office last fall after she herself was revealed to have posted comments on In testimony revealed Tuesday, Mann claimed she told Letten about her online posting soon after the allegation against Perricone was made, and before Letten faced the public at a news conference March 15, 2012. Letten didn’t indicate having any knowledge of another prosecutor’s misconduct at that press conference, and in court proceedings last year repeatedly said Perricone was his office’s only rotten apple…

“It’s one of the most hard-hitting condemnations of the conduct of the Justice Department and several prosecutors in the Justice Department that I’ve ever seen,” said Pace University professor Bennett Gershman, a national expert on prosecutorial misconduct. “It’s a powerful expose of sleaziness, dishonesty, misconduct, egregious, flagrant - these are words the judge uses, and he’s right.”

If you ever suspected that folks in the comment streams had vested interests in what they’re talking about, now you know it’s true at least some of the time. You’d think the comment sections would be the last place you’d find federal prosecutors.

Now I have a new theory for why nobody on Wall Street actually got prosecuted for the financial crisis: The prosecutors back east were too busy mixing it up in comments on Dealbreaker and Business Insider to do their day jobs.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,