CSUN professors forced to fly to work

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It is so common they have a name for it – freeway fliers.

CSUN professors, in many cases reacting to a decreased workload as departments cut back on classes, work outside of campus, zigzagging across Southern California to other universities and community colleges as well as non-academic jobs.

James David Ballard, sociology professor and president of the CSUN-chapter California Faculty Association, said for some professors, there is a stigma attached to working at other campuses, particularly community colleges. And although teaching or working outside of CSUN is in most cases not against university rules, for professors trying to earn tenure, it can be seen as keeping them away from the scholarly work and teaching requirements they need to earn the coveted tenured positions.

Ballard said, faced with rising cost of living expenses, more professors are working outside of campus and others are giving it serious consideration.

“I met a person (who) teaches 11 classes at four different universities,” Ballard said.

“How can you really teach? If I’m driving from one end of the valley (to the other) and to Long Beach, who gets shortchanged? The students.”

“Think about having to teach that much to make house payments, car payments. That’s like a student taking 11 classes. That’s nuts.”

“I know that the balance between our professional lives and our personal lives is changing,” Ballard said. “And for many, the economic pressures are increasing.”

Ballard mentioned the 3.5 percent salary raise faculty recently received.

“People say, ‘Good for you,’ but cost of living (has) risen 4.1 percent,” Ballard said.

“I’m going backwards.”

Since part-time professors and lecturers have the least job security and are the first affected when budgets are cut, Ballard said part-time professors and lecturers make up a good percentage of the freeway fliers.

Part-time computer science professor Cecile Bendavid said she and her part-time colleagues share an odd similarity – an unusually full vehicle trunk.

“The (car) trunks of all the part-timers look the same,” Bendavid said, as she sat in her fourth-floor office in Jacaranda Hall, with two large satchel canvas bags full of class materials and a laptop computer lying at her feet. “Look at all this crap I have to carry around all day. I look like a homeless person. When I leave here, I have to go to Pierce.”

Not that she’s complaining. Bendavid enjoys teaching, making a point to attend teaching seminars and conferences whenever she can. She also serves as political action chair for the campus’s CFA.

Bendavid has taught at Pierce College for about 12 years – before that she taught at Mission College. She has taught at CSUN in various departments for about 10 years.

With well over 20 years of teaching experience in universities, community colleges and high schools, Bendavid can never become a tenured full-time professor at CSUN. Although she has a master’s degree in business and created her own computer company in 1988, she never earned a doctorate, a requirement for permanent staff.

“I work three jobs,” Bendavid said. “I still work at my computer company. I sold a computer yesterday. I fixed one on Tuesday. You have to do that to support yourself.”

A year ago Bendavid taught four classes at CSUN. The next semester she was allotted two. This semester she is teaching five classes. She expects that number to drop.

“This spring, hopefully, I’ll get one or two,” Bendavid said. “(Part-timers), you have to work, you have to survive. Last fall when my salary was cut in half, that was hard.”

Bendavid empathizes with those professors who, unlike she, do not have another way of making money.

“Not everybody has a company where they can put hours in,” Bendavid said.

Bendavid said she thinks the department chairs are doing their best to keep as many faculty members working as possible, but have little recourse when facing significant budget reductions.

“The part-time faculty gives more flexibility, as far as the budget goes, because (department chairs) can let us go,” Bendavid said.

In an e-mail response, Biology Department Chair Larry Allen, said how the budget cuts in his department have affected part-time staff.

Allen said that nearly $200,000 was cut last year from the department’s part-time allocation fund, which in part helped pay for up to 20 part-time faculty, including lecturers. He said that the fund also paid for graduate-student teaching associates and graduate assistants and that both major and non-major courses were reduced, and in some cases, class sizes were increased.

“The prognosis is for an equivalent cut next year as well,” Allen said. “(The) number of classes available to our part-time faculty has reduced and, yes, some have had to increase their loads at other institutions including the surrounding community colleges.”

Kristyan Kouri, sociology professor and CFA co-vice president, said even though she is a full-time lecturer with a three-year contract, she worries about job security.

“I have a three-year contract, but I’m still a contingent faculty member,” Kouri said. “What that means is my work here is contingent on money to hire me and students to teach. (Our) jobs are very tenuous. I worry every semester if I’m going to get my classes or not.”

“Most of the lecturers here are freeway fliers.”

Kouri said the biggest threat to job security for lecturers is the increasing practice of hiring graduate students, hired as teacher’s assistants for less pay to teach some classes.

“I’ve had several calls from people this semester who lost their classes to T.A.s,” Kouri said. “The union is filing grievances when this occurs.”

“I believe (teaching assistants teaching classes) erodes the quality of education,” Kouri said. “You come to college to be taught by professors, people who have taken years of their lives to study their particular discipline. There’s a place for T.A.s,” Kouri said, mentioning she was a teacher’s assistant while studying at USC.

Except when their particular discipline requires that they teach, Kouri said teacher’s assistants should be limited to grading papers and occasionally serving as guest lecturers.

“But I don’t think they should be teaching classes,” she said.

One professor, who requested not to be identified, has not yet sought work outside of CSUN – but he is close. A year away from receiving tenure, he said experienced professors are teaching lower-division classes to make up for lost classes as budgets have been greatly reduced.

“There is a moral effect,” said the professor.

Another financial issue for tenure-track professors is the so-called salary compression, where incoming professors are sometimes paid more than professors already established at the university.

“The only way you can get a raise, is to go out and get an offer first (from another university),” the professor said. “I don’t think it’s ethically right to go interview for a job I don’t want.”

“Sometimes they match it, sometimes they don’t.”

CSUN Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Harry Hellenbrand said in a past Sundial interview that the university is working on fair solutions regarding salary compression.

This professor is not convinced.

“The reality is they have a problem on their hands,” the professor said. “They just haven’t done anything about it.”

Despite salary issues, the professor still publishes articles, serves on thesis and other committees and is discouraged when other professors scoff at full-scholastic and academic participation on their part.

“Young faculty (with bad attitudes) don’t want to serve on committees,” the professor said. “It’s not the student’s fault we don’t get paid enough.”

The professor expressed concern with what he said is a recent push by the university to se
cure research money, a proposition that can earn money for both the professors receiving the grants and the university.

“Why are we strongly encouraged to go out and apply for external money?” said the professor. “I find it odd. It takes us away from the mission of the university (which is to teach). That’s why (the professors) are here. We like to teach. It’s taking us away from the students.”

The professor said he came to CSUN because it was full of students who were the first in their families to go to college, students who had to work while they went to school. He wants to stay and teach those students.

“I don’t want to leave.”

Lately, he has been considering joining the freeway-flier crowd by finding “a part-time job to make it a little easier for my family,” said the professor. “But I haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

He mentions he has bartending experience.

“I have a friend in another department who waits tables at a restaurant,” said the professor, before mentioning the name of his friend, a well-liked and respected professor.

Currently, the CFA is in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the CSU.

All concerned hope a fair agreement can be reached.

In the meantime, it is entirely possible that one of the most talented professors on this campus is spending time away from enlightening the students of this university with his brilliance to serve a party of five chicken wings.

Rick Coca can be reached at features@csun.edu.