California facutly strikes to protest chancellor’s skewed priorities

Faculty at two California State University (CSU) campuses went on a one-day strike on November 17 to protest the priorities of CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed, who granted big pay raises to top campus administrators, but refused to implement faculty raises that were negotiated in 2007.

Striking faculty were equally outraged that CSU regents recently increased student fees and tuition by 9 percent, making it even more difficult for many students to complete their college education.

The strike, called by the California Faculty Association (CFA), took place at California State University East Bay in Hayward and California State University Dominguez Hills in Southern California near Los Angeles. The strike effectively closed the campuses at both universities. Striking faculty members were joined on the picket line by students and faculty from other California State universities.

“If they don’t start giving us respect and start taking education seriously, this is just the beginning,” said Nate Thomas, who teaches film at CSU Northridge to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Nobody wants to do this. We would rather be teaching and inspiring our students.”

The CFA, which represents 23,000 instructional faculty, librarians, counselors, and coaches, has been bargaining over a new contract with CSU, which has proposed concessions that would change the nature of higher education at CSU.

CSU’s concession proposals include increasing class sizes, making it more difficult for temporary, instructors, counselors, and librarians to become full-time permanent employees, reducing pay for teaching summer and extension courses, and in general giving campus presidents more power to determine working and learning conditions on their campuses without faculty input.

CFA members have been resisting these concession demands. They believe that if implemented the concessions will lower the quality of public higher education by making working and learning conditions on campus less stable. The concessions, they charge, will also lead to higher costs for students.

But what sparked the strike was CSU Chancellor Reed’s decision to not pay equity raises that would have boosted pay for about 3,000 faculty members to the same level as some newly hired faculty members. Reed had agreed to the equity pay increase as part of a collective bargaining agreement signed in 2007.

When the equity raises were about to be implemented in school-year 2008, Reed said that money wasn’t available. He said the same thing the following year. CFA proposed several compromises that would have resulted in partial payment of the promised raises, but Reed rejected the compromise.

Two independent studies confirmed that the CSU had the money in its budget to pay the raises without increasing tuition or fees, but Reed insisted that he needed the money for other priorities.

CFA charges that Reed’s other priorities include giving $6 million worth raises to upper management and a 12 percent raise to staff who report directly to him. The $6 million that went to increase management salaries was about the same as it would have cost to implement the faculty pay raise for the same year.

CFA was especially critical of the deal that Reed gave newly hired San Diego State president Elliot Hirshman. Hirshman received a university salary of $350,000 a year and another $50,000 from the school’s fund raising foundation, plus a $1,000 monthly car allowance and free housing.

CFA also says that Reed has spent millions hiring consultants to help him implement his vision of public higher education, which includes making CSU more like private, for-profit universities that churn out online degrees at the expense of education.

Faculty members aren’t the only ones who have been hurt by Reed’s priorities. While campus presidents’ salaries have increased by 23 percent in inflation adjusted dollars since 1998, student tuition and fees rose by 106 percent.

The faculty strike was called by the CFA board of directors after 93 percent of voting members voted to authorize the strike. “All of us who voted ‘yes’ did so because we understand that we must now send the Chancellor a plain and simple message about his skewed priorities,” said CFA President Lillian Taiz while announcing the decision to strike. “We hope this carefully targeted strike, which symbolizes both our anger and our commitment to fairness, will lead to changes in his priorities and his positions. If it does not, the CFA leadership—and the CSU faculty we represent—are prepared to escalate the fight.”

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