Closing CSU faculty, exec pay gap not easy

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The notable disparity between the salary increases for CSU presidents and executives and that of faculty members this year continue to stir tensions and anger among some, despite the Board of Trustees’ proposal to close what is known as the “California Postsecondary Education Commission gap” for all system employees.

Despite the pay raise for CSU faculty, some still feel the pressure of the astronomical cost of living in California and seek employment elsewhere.

The CPEC gap refers to the findings of the commission, which advises on issues of higher education, that an overall gap between the earnings of all CSU employees and employees at comparable institutions nationwide exists.

There are 49.5 and 13.1 percent lags in presidential and faculty salaries, respectively, according to the commission’s 2005 report, and the raises approved for each group of employees in October – 13.7 percent for CSU presidents and 3.5 percent for faculty – are proportionally identical in the amount that approach closing the gap.

James David Ballard, sociology professor and president of the CSUN chapter of the California Faculty Association, said he believes the efforts of the Board of Trustees have come up short for faculty members.

“We’ve had three years without a raise,” he said, adding that faculty members’ raises were not adequate enough to keep up with the rate of inflation. “Inflation this year was 4.1 percent, and our raise was 3.5 percent.”

Tom Hogen-Esch, professor of political science at CSUN, said he is earning less today than he was when he was hired full time in 2002 because of inflation, and that he has had only one recent pay raise.

“Public employees all across California are really struggling right now,” he said. “As the cost of housing has risen, public employees across California are being hard hit. When you combine that with the fact that we’re underpaid relative to our colleagues in other states where the cost of living is lower, it’s sort of understandable that professors and other public employees are kind of struggling right now.”

Ballard said that while university presidents receive sizable car and housing allowances or housing is provided for them, faculty members often encounter difficulty in being able to afford rent around the areas they teach.

“Professors don’t get a car or housing allowance,” he said. “How (are the pay raises) proportional to each other when (presidents’) car and housing are provided for and faculty can’t even afford apartment prices?”

In addition to double-digit salary increases, presidents in which housing is not provided by their respective universities will now receive $50,000 to $60,000 annually in housing assistance, and all presidents will receive a car allowance of $1,000 per month, up from $750.

“If you want parity, give faculty a car and housing allowance, then we can talk about equality in pay increases,” Ballard said.

Harry Hellenbrand, CSUN provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said that he agreed with Ballard, but sees solutions as being difficult to come by.

“I agree with (faculty) wholeheartedly,” he said. “There’s been a three- year salary freeze, and there’s a significant gap between the salaries for CSU faculty and their peer personnel (at other institutions). This is compounded by the cost of living in Southern California.”

Hellenbrand said that whether the plan to bring all employees equally up to national levels of compensation succeeds depends on budgetary provisions from the state.

“The plan to bring everyone up to the national average over the next five years requires funding support from the state in order to pull it off,” he said. “That’s the wrinkle.”

Hogen-Esch said that due to the dire state of California’s budget situation, handing out regular raises might not be feasible, despite intentions to do so.

“Just as housing costs have sky-rocketed, cuts to the CSU system have been instituted,” he said.

Regardless, the loss or potential loss of faculty has been a debilitating problem system-wide and compromises the quality of education provided at CSU institutions, forcing professors to juggle more than one job, Hogen-Esch said.

“Faculty are leaving,” he said. “I know a lot faculty who have left or faculty are looking into leaving, and getting a job in academia is an extremely difficult, time consuming process. It takes a tremendous amount of energy away from a professor’s regular duties.”

Many professors are forced to teach at other schools in addition to their main institution, which also saps their energy, time and resources, he said.

“I know from data that we have had faculty leave,” Hellenbrand said. “It is increasingly difficult to recruit deans, vice presidents, and presidents in the CSU because of salary issues and the cost of living. I’m not aware of (university) presidents or vice presidents jumping ship, but there have been incidents in the deans’ ranks.”

He said he does not believe department chairs are rewarded appropriately by the CSU system or state for the amount of work they do.

“Last year, we saw a number of faculty leave or think of leaving,” he said, citing three main reasons as being salary, the cost of living in Southern California, and their workloads.

To help alleviate hardships and retain faculty, Hellenbrand said some actions and planned actions are in the works for CSUN, including a faculty and staff housing project that he said should break ground in the 2006-07 academic year.

“Loans or low-cost housing options would be one approach to a solution,” he said.

Hellenbrand also said that the schedule of pay for summer school has changed so professors that teach over the summer receive the regular academic year rate. In an effort to increase their earnings, he said many more people are trying to work over the summer.

“I think the long-term thing to get commitment from the Legislature to get ahead of the problem instead of always chasing it,” he said. “Secondly, although it’s not a popular position, we have to take a look at how to bring up pay levels for assistant professors,” adding that that may entail compression of salaries of senior university employees and a bargaining process.

He said, however, that unlike newer faculty, many of the university’s older, tenured employees have had the advantage of buying into California real estate a number of years ago, when it was more affordable to do so.

Hellenbrand said that higher education issues are not at the top of the Legislature’s list of priorities.

“Higher education is seen as an elective, not a necessity,” he said.

The state will likely address health care, attend to its law enforcement, and pave its roads before it sees to its public universities, he said.

“Overall, this is a problem that the state in both public and private sectors is going to be faced with,” Hogen-Esch said. “How can you attract talented people to do the work for California but then ask those same people to live a life style that is sub-middle class?”

Bethania Palma can be reached at bethania.palma.45@csun.edu.