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The ‘Whipping Boys’ of California Higher Education, CSU Faculty Say Strike Vote is About Getting Respect For Their Work, Protecting Students

As they enter the final day of voting to authorize a work stoppage, California State University faculty say they’re tired of being “devalued,” and they demand competitive salaries, improved student services and better leadership of the nation’s largest university system. 

Voting by California Faculty Association members at all 23 CSU campuses started March 8 and continues through today. Should the final poll results, to be issued on March 21 after the League of Women Voters in Los Angeles count the ballots, favor a strike, the system could see a two-day rolling strike this spring.

The CFA vote comes after 22 months of negotiations with CSU chancellor Dr. Charles Reed failed to produce a satisfactory agreement.

“We have very, very significant disagreements with the chancellor in the way he is establishing his priorities and spending the public trust at CSU,” says Dr. Cecil E. Canton, president of the CFA’s chapter at CSU-Sacramento. “He has chosen to spend money on different things that we disagree with, and we are taking action.”

In January, CSU trustees approved a 4 percent pay raise for 27 executives, which stoked tensions between faculty members and students and the administration. Canton says the faculty must stand up for students, who will pay 10 percent more in student fees next fall. Trustees, who approved the fee increase yesterday, said CSU still has the most affordable tuition among comparable universities nationwide.

“We are telling the legislature we are not looking for new money, the money is in the system. It already exists. It’s about the chancellor understanding that the faculty, staff and students are the priority,” says Canton. “We believe the chancellor and the trustees have not been good stewards of the CSU system.”

He says it’s becoming difficult to retain faculty systemwide.

 “We are losing young faculty at an alarming rate. The administration seems to think that these are acceptable losses, but we see an effect on the quality of education, and our class sizes are increasing,” Canton says. Meanwhile, a new report shows about 40 percent of CSU’s most recent freshmen class arrived ill-prepared for college-level math and 45 percent needed remedial help in English.

Faculty have also complained that their salaries are not keeping pace with the increased course loads. The last pay increase was 3.5 percent in 2002.

Gene Lamke, the vice president of CFA’s chapter at San Diego State University, says tension is mounting between faculty members and the administration.

“There are some full professors who haven’t had a pay increase for five years,” Lamke says. He explained professors who were hired and contracted to earn $90,000, which is at the top of the pay scale, they will most likely not get a raise once they obtain the faculty position. “People keep marching to the top salary, but you don’t move,” he says, referring to the practice as salary compression.

As cost of living expenses continue to rise in California, salary inversion has become a consistent issue among the faculty. Lamke says salary inversion is when the most recently hired faculty members receive salaries that are current with the market, receiving higher salaries than faculty hired five or 10 years prior.  For example, professors who were hired five years ago with a $55,000 annual salary are getting paid $10,000 less than a newly hired professor, Lamke says. 

 “I think the faculty is really tired of being devalued. The chancellor is not willing to pay us what we are worth,” Lamke says.

Dr. William Nericcio, an English and comparative literature professor at San Diego State University, says the problems facing the CSU system don’t exist at the University of California or in the state’s community college system.

 “CSU student fees are skyrocketing, and the community colleges are flushed with money as they keep getting augmentation and a slash in fees,” he says. “The CSU [faculty] are the whipping boys.”

Dr. Diane M. Blair, an associate professor in CSU-Fresno’s department of communication, can attest to the salary difference between community colleges and CSU.

Although she holds a Ph.D., Blair earns a couple thousand dollars less annually than her husband, who has a master’s degree and teaches at a community college.

“I would get paid more if I worked at a community college, but I’m vested in the CSU system. I want to see it succeed,” Blair says. “That’s why I’m willing to strike.”

If the strike is approved, CSU and the CFA will enter a blackout period and attempt to agree on a new contract. But if those last ditch negotiations fail, the union plans to orchestrate a two-day rolling strike this spring.

“We are the largest state university system in the nation and have over 400,000 students,” says Lamke. “We are talking about 25,000 faculty members stopping work for a small period of time. That’s a huge impact on the state and the students.”

In a statement released March 5, CSU officials said they are committed to reaching an agreement as quickly as possible.

According to the statement, “the CSU has made a fair offer to the faculty union that provides increases of more than 24 percent to be paid over the next three years.  We hope to come to an agreement with the union, so our faculty can receive, sooner rather than later, the salary increase they deserve.”

–Molly Nance

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