The bureaucrats who govern the 23 campuses of the California State University system and the California Faculty Association are in a struggle over various issues that affect your student life and your learning environment at CSUN. It is easy to define the issues as a normal labor vs.. management conflict in the everyday world of educational politics, but I will argue they are not. What is happening in the CSU is dramatic, unprecedented and directly impacts your education, your future and your life.
This opinion piece is to share one side of the story, the faculty side, about how these issues impact students’ lives. We invite the president of this university to likewise present her case in the Sundial as to why the CSU has staked its institutional life on undermining the educational integrity of our 23 campuses. President Koester is after all an adviser to the CSU system wide bargaining team and has intimate knowledge of the process, issues and reasons why CSU is doing what they are doing. She is well placed to answer these questions and to date has refused to heed that call.
Please use the information presented below to better understand what may be happening these next few weeks and to critically examine the arguments of both sides in the coming conflict between the CSU and the faculty who stand before you every day.
The first issue that must be solved is that there are not enough faculty so students can get the classes they need, as well as classes that are small enough for professors to give students adequate attention, guide student research, write letters of recommendation, and help students find internship programs in preparation for their future. The faculty are asking for more professors and better working conditions so we can help students better. The administration seems to be asking for more work from fewer and fewer faculty. In the process they are saying, “Who cares about students and their needs?”
A second issue is that more than 60 percent of the teaching is done by temporary faculty who don’t know if they are coming back from semester to semester and may have to rush from one campus to another to make a living. The CSU seems to be saying this is working and students are not being harmed. Ask yourself if that is true the next time you cannot add a class and cannot find a way to graduate on time.
A third issue is that students working as teaching assistants and graduate assistants have to pay high tuition and fees and are given heavy workloads and inadequate help and supervision because the CSU lacks enough faculty in the departments to oversee their work. The CSU side is considering the shortage of faculty, a shortage they created, as okay. Is it?
Ask yourself with these and so many other problems looming, why is the CSU choosing obstructionist tactics to address the very real needs of students? In my opinion it is a desire to lower the costs of instruction, Wal-Marting your education. They are doing this deliberately and it is not to help students get an education. It is their desire to undermine the faculty, a morally bankrupt management tactic that harms your chances of getting an education.
CFA has tried many ways to solve these problems with the CSU before being forced to turn to job actions, the more legalistic term for a strike. For example, we have gotten legislation through the California State Legislature that required CFA, the Academic Senate and the CSU administration to work together on a plan to increase the number of permanent, tenure-track faculty while protecting the current lecturers. We spent many months working together on an excellent, feasible plan to get more faculty, which the CSU has chosen to ignore and has never asked for the resources to implement it.
That was not all. Last year when the state of California was flush with extra tax revenues, we asked for additional funding to help relieve some of the problems in the CSU, but was the CSU administration there to ask with us? No. Did these bureaucrats work on your behalf to better this institution? No. It makes you wonder if they did not need extra state money last year, then why are they asking for more tuition now? The lesson students and faculty can learn from such examples of bureaucratic ineptitude is that the CSU is unwilling to take anyone’s help or advice when it comes to helping students get their education. It is the CSU’s way or the highway.
Salary is what most people think of when they look at management and faculty conflicts. How about some facts? CSU faculty members are paid 18 percent less than their colleagues in comparable institutions. We do not get raises for our hard work and we do not even get cost of living raises to counteract inflation.
Many students say, “Yes, I understand the faculty need more, but if the faculty teaching my classes gets more then I must have to pay more.” Consider this: While student fees have nearly doubled over the last few years, the faculty in your classrooms have actually lost 7.4 percent in purchasing power since we do not get cost of living increases each year (what we call GSIs) and almost never over the last few years have faculty been given a raise in the traditional sense of the word (what we can SSIs).
The CSU has offered faculty an insufficient raise in the new contract, 14.9 percent spread over four years and nothing for the years we endured no raises for the good of the institution and their students. The bottom line is that under the CSU proposal most faculty members would only get inflation increases and nothing to make up for years of lost purchasing power. If the faculty members in front of the classes are not getting paid more and if you still can not find the classes needed to graduate, where is all of the money going? The current contract offer is a slap in the face for the hard-working faculty who watched the last two years while administrators got double-digit increases in pay, on top of extravagant free housing and outrageous car allowances far above the cost of a vehicle. These excessive executive perks may be one answer as to where your money is being spent.
So, is it starting to become clear who really gets your tuition and fees for books? Not faculty. In fact faculty members have repeatedly stood up against fee increases for students and have fought in Sacramento for the legislature to rollback fee increases the Chancellor has proposed. CSUN faculty members see the toll on students who must work many hours to pay fees, along with taking on huge student loans that will hang over their head for years. We want the Chancellor to fight for money the CSU needs and then use the money wisely to support instruction and student services. Perhaps a few less perks for bureaucrats is a good starting point. Where has the money gone on this campus? We certainly have nice buildings, palm trees galore and shiny new technology abound around campus. No more classes, mind you, fewer faculty per student for sure and without a doubt our students are missing educational opportunities. These are more questions the CSU should have to answer.
Because of our deep concern over the state of the CSU, the faculty will soon be voting to authorize a strike to protect the educational mission of the university, to ensure we keep faculty who are leaving for better paying jobs elsewhere and to stand up for our students. Watch out for the notices and other evidence of a pending strike vote in early March. Please support your faculty in this difficult decision. We will do our best to help and protect students from harm by having short rolling strikes that do not prevent students from graduating.
When this happens ask yourself, why does the CSU insist on having this fight on the backs of their faculty and students? A faculty strike has not happened before in the CSU and would put the largest public university in the nation at risk and under intense public scrutiny. The CFA hopes this will not be necessary, but if it is, we hope such a strike an
d the media coverage will result in more accountability for the misuse of CSU funds by bureaucrats.
The faculty want respect, fair pay and a decent contract. Students want respect, access to classes and a high-quality education. It seems to us that we have a great deal in common. We both need to ask why should faculty and students, the two most important groups in the CSU, pay for the abuses of the few administrators in the CSU who treat your education so carelessly? That is a question we should all ask, and I would call again on our CSUN campus president to address the important issues that remain unresolved in bargaining. For over a year the CFA on this campus has asked President Jolene Koester to step up and answer faculty questions about the contract, only to be answered by a deafening silence. Since the faculty do not seem important enough to respond to, perhaps now it is time for students and the community to start insisting on such answers.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the CFA and its reasons for planning a potential strike on this campus. We stand ready to answer any and all questions you may raise. We challenge President Koester to likewise make herself available to this student newspaper in order to answer student questions about why the CSU is insisting on a strike by faculty, why the CSU is misusing funds to lavish riches on executives around the CSU, and why this university cannot provide the means for students to graduate in a timely manner.