By Julian Routh | News Editor
UPDATE (4:56 PM September 20): The Rev. Daniel Walsh spoke to The Duke, saying Vojtko was allowed to stay at the Laval House for a month with daily meals. Read the full story here.
UPDATE (1:35 PM September 19): Vice President for University Advancement John Plante sent an email to all Duquesne employees today addressing Kovalik’s piece in the Post-Gazette.
“Our defense is the truth. Mr. Kovalik has tried to frame this as an issue of human resources policy, but he is wrong,” Plante said. “The support provided and offered to Margaret Mary Vojtko was broad, involving the Spiritan community, student housing, EAP, campus police, facilities management, and her faculty and staff colleagues.”
Plante also said there are those in the university who think Kovalik’s story is “a reckless attempt” to exploit Vojtko’s death for self-interest, and those who have “no direct knowledge of the actual circumstances.”
“[The latter] have also expressed outrage, using social media to attack Duquesne based on their acceptance of Mr. Kovalik’s published mischaracterizations,” Plante said.
A lawyer for the United Steelworkers on Wednesday criticized Duquesne, claiming the school turned its back on an ailing adjunct French professor who died weeks after the school told her she would not be teaching this semester.
Daniel Kovalik, senior associate general counsel for the union, said the school should “reflect on how they treat all their employees” in the wake of the Sept. 1 death of Margaret Mary Vojtko.
Vojtko’s plight was first reported by The Duke last week. Kovalik wrote an opinions column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday, critical of the way the school handled her departure. He told The Duke Wednesday that the school could have done more to help a longtime employee who couldn’t afford to make ends meet.
“They could have kept her teaching [at Duquesne], which is what she wanted to do and what she’s fully capable of,” Kovalik said. “On the alternative, if they weren’t going to do that, at least provide her with a decent severance and retirement package for someone who worked there for 25 years.”
Duquesne University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry Rev. Daniel Walsh issued a statement in response to the Post-Gazette piece, saying he was “incredulous” after reading the story.
“I knew Margaret Mary well,” Walsh said. “When we learned of problems with her home she was invited to live with us in the formation community at Laval House on campus, where she resided for several weeks over the past year.”
Walsh also wrote that while Vojtko was ill, he and other Spiritan priests “visited with her regularly.”
“In addition, the University and the Spiritan priests at Duquesne offered several other types of assistance to her,” Walsh said. “Mr. Kovalik’s use of an unfortunate death to serve an alternative agenda is sadly exploitive, and is made worse because his description of the circumstances bears no resemblance to reality.”
The Steelworkers are in the midst of coordinating unionization efforts with the adjuncts.
Kovalik said the University “doesn’t dispute my account at all.”
“They simply claim that, in lieu of a living wage and benefits, they offered her intermittent charity and prayers as a salve to her impoverishment,” Kovalik said.
Vojtko, who died from complications of a heart attack she suffered in August, taught French courses before the school told her she would not return for the fall semester.
Family and friends said Vojtko could not afford to fix a broken furnace in her home and frequently spent nights at an Eat n’ Park. On one instance, she was escorted off campus after officials found her sleeping.