California faculty members authorize strike to protect public higher education

Earlier this month, members of the California Faculty Association voted in favor of a two-day rolling strike at the California State University (CSU) System’s 23 campuses should the bargaining process laid out by state law fail to provide a fair contract. Of those voting, 95 percent voted in favor of the strike. CFA has been negotiating with the CSU administration for a new contract since the old contract expired nearly two years ago.

Before the old contract expired, CFA proposed that the contract be extended and that faculty and administration join forces to fight for more state funding to improve education at the state’s largest institution of public higer education.

The administration declined the offer, and instead insisted that faculty accept concessions in their new contract that limit academic freedom and radically change the concept of public higher education.

At a rally outside the May meeting of the CSU Board of Regents, Lillian Taiz, CFA president, urged the regents and CSU’s management “to get their priorities straight.”

According to the CFA, CSU’s chancellor Charles Reed is intent on remaking CSU in the image of for-profit private universities. Since 2008, student tuition has increased 318 percent and CSU’s for-profit Extended Education program, which delivers most of its courses online at a higher cost, has been expanding.

The administration has encouraged more students to take courses through Extended Education by limiting enrollment and the number of classroom courses that students can enroll in.

CFA contends that Chancellor Reed is using the new contract to make changes that expand Extended Education and make it more profitable. The contract proposed by Chancellor Reed would increase class sizes, pay faculty who teach Extended Education courses less than faculty who teach the same course in a classroom, and give campus president’s more control over the classes that faculty teach.

At the same time, it would increase the growing reliance on part-time faculty to teach courses and deprive them of their only source of job security–automatic yearly renewal of their contract.

The chancellor’s proposed contract would also freeze facutly pay, but allow wage and benefit negotiations to reopen during the course of the contract, making it possible for management to reduce wages and benefits while the contract is in effect.

While CSU management has been raising student tuition and trying to force a concessionary contract on its faculty, it has been generously doling out large salaries to its top administrators. CFA reports that since Chancellor Reed became head of CSU, executive compensation has increased 71 percent.

Executives at the very top have fared even better. Two campus presidents were recently given raises of $29,500 and $27,605 a year. In 2011, CSU hired a new San Diego State University president at an annual salary of $400,000, $100,000 more than his predecessor. At the same, it boosted student tution by 12 percent.

At a May press conference to announce the strike vote, CFA’s Taiz spoke out against the skewed priorities of CSU’s administration.  “Enough of executives putting themselves above the needs of the students, and of the public university,” Taiz said. “Enough of managers using budget cuts as an excuse to destroy the quality of students’ education. The message to Chancellor Reed is absolutely clear.The CSU faculty have run out of patience. It is time to address seriously the issues before us so that our faculty can get back to the business of providing quality higher education to the students of California.”

On May 4, two days after the strike vote was announced, CFA and representatives of CSU’s administration met to discuss a new contract. After three days, the talks broke off. CFA blamed the administration because it refused to budge from its essential concession demands. Mediation and fact finding appears to be the next step toward resolving the impasse.

If mediation and fact finding don’t yield a fair contract, a series of two-day strikes at the 23 CSU campuses could take place next fall. “There will be hundreds of faculty and supporters from other unions on the picket lines,” said Kim Geron, CFA vice-president. “ And they will be joined by students and staff who are as fed up as we are.”

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