Sunday, September 13, 2015

Keith Hoeller Gives Tribute to David Heller, Adjunct Philosopher who Meets Death Too Soon

David Heller, an adjunct philosophy instructor for years, just died at the age of 61 from complications from an untreated thyroid condition. Longtime adjunct activist Keith Hoeller wrote a few words about him  and with his permission  I wanted to share his words with you here, so that all could see and thus also share. 

Make sure you also read about our colleague in the linked article, because we are all in this together... 

Rest in peace, David Heller.  

David Heller stands in front of the bookstore where he worked
Photo Credit by Charles Fischer

Joe Berry's COCAL Update included several stories about Washington state. I wanted to highlight one of them that deals with the death of an adjunct at 61: 

"Adjuncts Struggle to Balance Dreams of Teaching with Low Wages"

It is about the death of David Heller, who taught philosophy as an adjunct at Seattle University. My colleague Jack Longmate is quoted in the article. 

This website has financial info about Seattle U, where total costs run about $50K a year for undergraduates (tuition alone is $37K):

Like the author of the article, I knew David because he used to work at a major used bookstore near the University of Washington. He lived in the "U-District" near the university and I ran into him all of the time at the University Bookstore. I have had scores of conversations with David over many, many years. It was in the bookstore that I found out about his death: the store had put up a photo of him announcing his death. 

As the story points out, David earned only $18K a year teaching several philosophy courses each semester. When I talked to him, he was constantly worried about how many courses he would have and if he would continue to be rehired. Seattle University changed some of its core course requirements, and several philosophy adjuncts were let go. David was one of the few retained, however. 

I have not been able to find out why David had an untreated thyroid problem that ultimately killed him. I don't know if he had been diagnosed with it and somehow not gotten treatment. Or if no doctor had discovered it until he went to the emergency room. $18K a year does not leave a lot of room for health care. 

David was a kind and good man. He was extremely well-read and knowledgeable in philosophy. He appreciated my political efforts on behalf of adjuncts, which we often discussed. But like most adjuncts, he never got politically active himself. 

The article is a reminder that the multi-track system has negative consequences for hundreds of thousands of contingent faculty. Indeed, we have a multi-billion dollar higher ed industry that is run like a chain of sweatshops. 

Cordially, Keith 

P.S. I thought David deserved a few kind words and some recognition. 

Aging adjuncts face new indignities. David died a year before he would have been eligible even to begin collecting social security (age 62).

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