by Mary Ellen Flannery
After 22 months of fruitless negotiations with college administrators who would prefer to spend taxpayer dollars on hefty executive raises, the California Faculty Association (CFA) slammed down its foot last week.
In a series of strike votes that took place on every California State University (CSU) campus, an incredible 95 percent of union members voted to authorize what would be the largest faculty strike in United States history. Equally impressive was the turnout: 70 percent of CFA voted to send this unmistakable message to Chancellor Charles Reed.
“Today, the faculty has spoken loud and clear—we have had enough of the way in which (we) are being treated by the CSU administration,” said CFA President Lillian Taiz. “Enough of executives putting themselves above the needs of the students, and of the public university. Enough of managers using budget cuts as an excuse to destroy the quality of students’ education.”
Of course, California isn’t the only place where public higher education is under attack by Republican lawmakers and self-serving administrators. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott’s state budget, recently signed into law, will cut $300 million from state colleges and universities. As a result, the University of Florida has announced it will dismantle its computer-science department and lay off faculty and other employees.
Similarly, in Pennsylvania, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed a state budget that includes 30 percent less money for state colleges and universities. (This is on top of near-20 percent cuts last year.) If passed, it likely would force sweeping layoffs, campus closures, and other cutbacks. “This is the most irrational public policy I’ve ever seen in my life,” said state Sen. Daylin Leach.
In California, the CFA still hopes to reach a settlement at the bargaining table, and avoid the rolling two-day strikes that could result in campuses not opening this fall for more than 400,000 students.
But the prospects of a fair settlement aren’t particularly bright. Administrators continue to insist they’re financially broke, even as the system’s budget grows by millions of dollars every year. And many of the union’s proposals, which have been rejected by administrators, have nothing to do with money, but everything to do with academic quality and the union’s ability to represent its members.
Union members also have rightly pointed out that if the system really didn’t have any money at all, perhaps campus president pay wouldn’t have increased a whopping 38 percent between 1998 and 2010. (It did!) Perhaps Chancellor Reed’s own salary wouldn’t have jumped 20 percent during the same time.
Meanwhile, CSU students have experienced a frightening 106 percent increase in tuition and fees, which virtually shuts the doors to the American Dream for many of them. And, even as executive pay has soared over the past decade, the average salary for full-time faculty actually declined 10 percent.
“As a matter of consistency and honesty, you should also give 10 percent to 33 percent raises to your faculty,” wrote state Sen. Ted Lieu to Reed last week. “After all, faculty members are far more important than CSU presidents because CSU faculty members are the ones who teach CSU students.”
Visit the California Faculty Association site for more information, or help ensure students can afford higher education by sending an email to your members of congress telling them to act now to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling.