Much like the typical student, the typical CSU professor is underpaid and overworked, both trying to balance the demands of work and school, not to mention a social life, relationship pressures, and family obligations. In many ways the plight of the professor in front of your classroom resembles your own: they are stressed, they are asked to work harder than a mule, and they have had no breaks from the relentless pressures of economic life and the cost of living in L.A. these last few years.
While student tuition has risen in recent years, professors have not had a raise. Just as students have had their income cut to pay more tuition, faculty income has been cut due to a lack of attention to the very real inflationary pressures everyone is feeling in urban centers like Los Angeles. In fact, as student tuition has risen dramatically, faculty take home wages have dropped. It is as if both of our dreams have stagnated.
Some facts are helpful here. Professors in the CSU are underpaid in relationship to their colleagues at other similar institutions. We make these comparisons based on what is known as the CPEC gap calculation: CSU professor salaries compared to those of a group of institutions that roughly approximate the size and function of this educational institution. Full professors, associate professors, and assistant professors all make significantly less than their counterparts around the country.
The salary structure of professors should be of concern to students since it affects the classroom. For example, the CSU has had an increasingly harder time finding, retaining and maintaining faculty – so not only are students getting less course offerings, the faculty who care for you in and outside the classroom are being asked to do more work for less pay and without hope of additional help in the near future to relieve this burden. The result is that faculty have less time to help students, have less ability to do what they love (teach) and may be forced to consider ways to leave this institution for better working conditions. Think how they, like students, are thought of as a burden to the institution they empower with their blood, sweat, and tears.
Many of these professional educators have toiled long and hard to get the degree that is the foundation of their educational creditability. They paid tuition, they owe enormous debts as a result of seeking that knowledge, they entered the workforce with high expectations, and they expected to be treated as the highly skilled intellectual workforce they are. In many ways they mirror what you as a student expect when leaving CSUN – you expect a decent job, a good life, and the respect of those who you work for.
What can be done?
Salaries are a serious issue for faculty because they are not up to standards, they are not keeping up with inflation, and because they have become increasingly politicized. To be effective and to better serve your needs as students, faculty must be recognized for their contribution to students, the institution, the community, and the profession.
Some enlightened administrators understand the importance of treating faculty equitability – many of them right here on this campus. Their efforts are appreciated and admired by faculty, but still the few can not overcome the problems we face as an institution.
So where does the problem lie?
•Is it the fact that budgets for the CSU were cut so dramatically over the last few years and only this year refunded for a portion of these cuts?
•Is it management of the CSU system that devalues the contribution faculty make to the success of the campuses?
•Is it the structural issues associated with how states run their finances and how faculty collectively bargains for salary?
•Is it a result of politics in Sacramento and the inexperience of this administration?
A simple answer is to start by reordering the priorities of the institution to focus on the human capital, the faculty, that is the heart and soul of the CSU. It could continue by addressing the very real needs for reform of administrative accounting practices so that faculty and the public have a real idea of exactly where the institution’s general fund and other revenue (like parking income), and of course your tuition, is spent. For example, if we know such accounting information easily we could ask why are some administrators getting salary increases while faculty are given none and being offered less than inflation for years in the future. Reform must also include a process whereby politicians are asked for the resources needed to run the CSU, not only for salaries but for more classes.
While most of these things are out of the hands of students and faculty since they are structural, you can still help. Not with additional tuition (remember faculty opposed increasing your tuition), but rather by supporting the faculty in the forthcoming budget and contract negotiation fights (between their union and the administration of the CSU). The next time you see a faculty member in the hallway or after class, let them know that students support their need for respect, students understand their need for recognition, and students encourage their request to be shown these by means of a salary increase commiserate with their hard work and dedication to the job of education.
James David Ballard is an associate professor of sociology. He is also President of the Northridge chapter of the California Faculty Association and a member of the contract bargaining team negotiating a new contract between the CSU and faculty.