Originally Published March 23, 2006
While the California State University system is bumping heads with the California Faculty Association at the bargaining table, experienced professors are struggling to get by on their salaries. Some are frustrated as new faculty begin teaching with entry salaries close to their present pay.
The CFA is bargaining with the CSU to develop equity to the way salaries are set.
Some teachers who have been teaching at CSUN for several years are only making slightly more than what newer faculty earn. In some cases, some professors even make less because there are more funds available now than in the past. This is called salary inversion.
Gina Masequesmay, Asian American Studies professor, said she is upset about how faculty salaries are determined in the CSU. She said after five- and-a-half years of teaching at CSUN, she is still living paycheck to paycheck in a one-bedroom apartment.
“I really like it here,” she said. “I like my students and colleagues, but the pay sucks. The pay is so much under what my other colleagues in the same institution are getting.”
Masequesmay is due for a tenured position this year, which comes with a 7.5 percent pay increase. She said when she calculated her new salary, it matched that of newly hired faculty being paid at the first step of the salary structure.
“They are definitely not making us feel that we are valued here,” she said.
According to CFA statistics, the average salary for the CSU system in 2004-05 was $69,327, which was slightly lower than the average community college salary at $70,233.
The CSU figures for the same period, however, list the average salary of professors at $72,176.
Even though community college professors have to teach more classes each semester, full-time university professors have more tasks required of them than teaching, several professors said.
Tenure track professors have to publish on a consistent basis, be a part of committees for their department and for college- and university-level committees and do community work, said David Diaz, a professor in the Urban Studies and Planning Department.
Part-time faculty, however, do not have these obligations.
“The CSUs educate the majority of the population in the state of California,” said Herman DeBose, sociology professor. “To not pay faculty a comparable wage to other institutions across the country that do the same thing we do, I think, says a lot about those who determine the pay and what value they place on what we do.”
DeBose, who has taught at CSUN for 12 years, said that if he had to start his career all over again he would not do it at a CSU school because it would be financially impossible to live like he does today. Before he came to CSUN, DeBose was working for Los Angeles County, making more money than what he was offered by the university.
DeBose, however, wanted to teach, so he accepted a small pay cut. He was able to do this because he and his wife owned a house in Los Angeles.
“If I was coming from some place else and knowing what the house market is now, I would really have to question if it is economically feasible for me to come here,” DeBose said. “You can’t afford anything close to the institution, so that means you’re going to be living 30, 40, 50 miles away, and what does that mean for the relationship with your family?”
For many teachers, it is financially tough to live a comfortable lifestyle if they rely on their income from the university to support their family.
Scott Appelrouth, sociology professor, has been teaching at CSUN for six years and said if his wife did not work it would be hard for him to provide for her and their two children.
“My salary alone would not afford the type of comfort that I think a Ph.D. from an elite university should provide for somebody,” said Appelrouth, who graduated from New York University.
Appelrouth said he has occasionally considered leaving CSUN for a higher- paying job, but “other universities are not going to pay significantly more than what we make here,” he said.
“The catch is that it’s very expensive to live here and the salaries do not reflect that reality.”
Appelrouth said students and his colleagues at CSUN, along with not wanting to uproot his family, is what keeps him at this university.
“There is much to like, but the problem is that it boils down to salary,” he said. “New hires in social sciences are making less than what I make, but they are coming in at a salary much higher than when I started ? and they will soon make more than what I make and that’s an unpleasant reality.”
Appelrouth, like some professors, does not like salary inversion.
He said it has hurt the morale of the faculty because it is upsetting to see a new faculty member earn almost as much as an established professor on their first contract.
Appelrouth acknowledged that to attract new faculty, CSUN has to offer higher salaries because of the high living costs in Southern California. He said at the same time, however, that higher salaries would discourage teachers who have been at CSUN for several years.
“When we look at what they are making we are just kind of shaking our heads,” he said.
The new way the CSU wants to determine faculty raises has not gotten a positive response from some CFA members.
Now, faculty are given raises based on either how long they have been teaching, their merit, or if the cost of living has gone up, said David Ballard, CSUN’s CFA chapter president.
Ballard said the CSU wants to replace that with discretionary pay, which would allow the president of the university to decide who gets a raise and how much it will be.
Ballard said professors who were hired at a low entry-level salary can file for an equity adjustment if they feel like they are not being paid fairly compared to other teachers.
The university allotted $200,000 for that purpose, but Ballard questions if all of that money was ever used up because most professors he has heard from only received an additional $500 to their yearly salary.
President Jolene Koester got a $47,580 raise in 2005, which gives her an annual salary of $255,020.
There are some discrepancies between the two sides as to what has been said at the bargaining table. The CFA is interpreting that the CSU’s proposal wants to raise faculty salaries by increasing student fees, which is something many professors said will pit the students against the faculty.
Clara Potes-Fellow, spokesperson for the Chancellor of the CSU, said that is not true.
She said the CSU is working with the state Legislature to provide a salary increase for faculty over the next five years, and that salaries are 80 percent of the CSU’s budget.
Sam Strafaci, vice chancellor of the CSU, said the CSU is willing to pay faculty raises from the general funds if it is available, and that in 2005 faculty received a 3.5-percent salary increase. He also said it is untrue that the CSU is trying to link faculty raises with student fee hikes.
Ballard said in August 2005, faculty received approximately a 3.5-percent raise after not receiving any raises the three previous years.
Diaz said President Koester “cynically and manipulatively” has tried to put a wedge between students and faculty by linking faculty raises to student fee increases, which he said contradicts her strategy to improve graduation rates.
“(Students) have already experienced an unprecedented and unparallel increase in fees and yet (Koester) is saying that they have to suffer more and then the faculty can get a pay raise,” Diaz said. “If students don’t get a fee increase, then the faculty suffers, so basically it’s a contradiction of us trying to be in the best interest of the students and at the same time saying we have to punish them too.”
Diaz, who said he used to be a supporter of Koester’s graduation rate improvement policy,
has now become disillusioned that the president is trying to “harm students” because they are already overburdened financially and raising their fees will only make it harder for them to graduate.
Appelrouth said as long as students are on the faculty’s side, the administration has something to worry about.
“If you can divide the students and the faculty in terms of developing a common interest ? then you can go a long way toward defeating the ambitions of the union,” Appelrouth said.
He said pitting students against faculty is a smart political move on behalf of the CSU, but he does not think it is financially necessary.
“It’s a way to get students to develop antagonistic interests relative to the faculty,” Appelrouth said.
Jon Luskin, senior sociology major and CFA intern, said he does not think students will see the faculty as their antagonists by linking their salary increases to student fee hikes. He said he is more upset about Koester’s pay raise, which he does not think she deserved.
Several teachers at CSUN are hoping the CFA can strike a more lucrative contract with the CSU that will pay them more equal to the professors in the rest of the country as well as within the university.
“I don’t think anybody does this for the money,” Appelrouth said. “The problem is that we are not getting raises and newer people are coming (with) salaries that are comparable to those who have been here for several years.”
Johan Mengesha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.