Editorials

CSU faculty deserve raise and students don’t deserve strike

Jennifer Eagan, president of the California Faculty Association, discusses an independent report buttressing the union’s call for a 5 percent raise for faculty at Cal State.
Jennifer Eagan, president of the California Faculty Association, discusses an independent report buttressing the union’s call for a 5 percent raise for faculty at Cal State. The Associated Press

Like so many once well-paying forms of white collar employment – publishing, journalism, the legal profession – being a college professor isn’t what it used to be.

Public university classrooms are more crowded. Tenured jobs are hard to get. Part-time adjuncts dash from one campus to the next, teaching a unit here and a unit there, like piecework.

Even before faculty salaries began to wither at the massive California State University system, teachers worried how long they’d hold onto a middle class standard of living. And when the 2008 recession hit, they got their answer: five years without raises and furloughs that slashed 10 percent from faculty paychecks.

Now the economy has recovered, but CSU pay has remained low, prompting the faculty union to threaten a system wide walkout in April. Faculty strikes are bad for students, institutions and the faculty’s image. We believe there should be no strike, and that the university and state lawmakers should meet or come closer to the union’s reasonable call for meaningful raises.

Lawmakers and drumming students joined faculty at the Capitol on March 30, 2016, to call for a 5 percent raise for teaching staff.

Demands on California’s famed higher education system have never been greater, and all sides – unionized professors included – need to step up to address the changing landscape more holistically.

Despite higher tuition and fees and about $100 million more in state money last year than Gov. Jerry Brown initially recommended, CSU says it can’t afford the California Faculty Association’s demand for a 5 percent raise, plus smaller additional increases for the 43 percent of faculty who, for structural reasons, are making less than more recently hired colleagues.

We sympathize. CSU does have a lot on its plate, not the least of which is to improve graduation rates and enroll more students.

But tenured Ph.D.s there are now making less than veteran high school teachers; in that context, the 2 percent the university is offering gilds seven years of injury with fresh insult.

CSU faculty deserve the raise they’re demanding, but imagine the difference it would make if the faculty union put forth a plan to teach more summer classes in exchange for that extra pay.

CSU should heed a neutral fact finder’s report released Monday and bring its offer closer to the union’s demand; the fact finder had some good ideas on finding the money, including delaying some projects, staggering the raises, and seeking more from Brown and the Legislature.

Taxpayers may wonder why California’s public universities seem to spend so much time with their palms out, but they, too, have faced changes, with increased population and global competition. Over time, lawmakers have shifted more of the cost to students in the form of higher fees and tuition, but there’s a limit. At some point, Californians will need to ante up for an educated workforce.

That might be easier to swallow if faculty demonstrated an understanding of the big picture. This isn’t just any labor-management issue; this is the future of California’s hallmark system of public higher education. Teaching jobs at Cal State are far from the cushy, tweedy gigs the public imagines. Full-time faculty teach three and four classes per quarter or semester, not counting office hours, grading, committee work and the research and publishing they have to do during the summer.

But the needs of the nearly 400,000 students enrolled at the 23 campuses in the Cal State system are overwhelming. Four in five are on financial aid. Many, if not most, are the first in their families to attend college. Many are holding down jobs, or graduated from high school unprepared to do college coursework.

Four-year graduation rates at some CSU campuses are abominable – 14 percent at East Bay, 9 percent at Sac State, 6 percent at Cal State Los Angeles. Imagine the difference it would make if the faculty union put forth a plan to teach more summer classes in exchange for more pay.

We’d like to see some other tweaks, too, in particular an end to the maddening “me-too” clauses that force CSU to give other bargaining units a raise when the faculty gets one. Californians should be able to offer competitive pay to professors without automatically paying more for support staff.

The union says if its demands aren’t met, walkouts will last five working days beginning April 13. That will surely cost the faculty the public’s goodwill. CSU should dig deep, and Brown should step in to avert a strike if needed. Going forward, the faculty need to become part of the solution, and think big.

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