As a California State University professor for the past 25 years, I am always in awe of the students with whom I work. Many balance school, work, family, and community commitments. They are confronted with almost yearly fee increases, campus budget cuts, and an overall disinvestment in public schools. They speak out against the attacks against them, such as unjust immigration policies and the discrimination and hostility they feel on campus and in the community. Through my work with students, I have become educated and emboldened.
Since student learning conditions are faculty working conditions, I will be joining the strike that my union, California Faculty Association (CFA), has called for April 13. Faculty are drawing a line in the sand to demonstrate to administrators that we will no longer tolerate policies that prioritize administration over students, staff, and faculty. CFA’s “Fight for Five” is part of our long term struggle to create an affordable, high quality, and inclusive CSU system.
Faculty are drawing a line in the sand to demonstrate to administrators that we will no longer tolerate policies that prioritize administration over students, staff, and faculty.
Teaching in the CSU has always been my dream job. CSU Los Angeles is where my parents first met and I was born when they were still students here. I always knew that the CSU was the people’s university, educating California’s working people to build strong and just communities. This purpose has guided my vocation in the CSU: working together with students in the classrooms to create spaces where everyone is engaged in teaching and learning—students and professor.
However, over the last three decades, the CSU has experienced a fundamental shift in priorities and students, staff, and faculty have borne the burden of these decisions. The CSU administration has reprioritized spending by investing more of the CSU budget in administration, far from the classroom and laboratory.
According to the CFA’s “Race to the Bottom” study, “From 2004 to 2014, the CSU net operating budget grew by 33%. Expenditures on managers grew at an even faster pace, increasing by 48%. In contrast, expenditures on faculty salaries grew by only 25%.“ This is a clear indication of the unequal restructuring of the CSU that has negatively affected the living standards of students, staff, and faculty.
I have seen students struggle to pay increased tuition. During the 2000-01 academic year it took 307 hours of minimum wage work to pay a year’s worth of tuition and campus fees. For the current 2015-16 academic year, this amounts to 717 hours of work. This astronomical increase is no coincidence. It has been the CSU Trustee’s desire to make students pay the full cost their education. This goes against California’s Master Plan.
Administrative restructuring of the CSU means that every year students go deeper into debt and a growing number get pushed out of the university. Many campuses are expanding their enrollment of out-of-state students in order to increase revenue while others are opting to enroll more traditionally aged students who, it is assumed, will complete their degrees faster while demanding fewer resources. The recent study commissioned by Chancellor White finds that at least one-fourth of CSU students are food insecure, they don’t have regular access to affordable and nutritious foods. The study also finds that about 12% are often displaced or homeless. While stagnant wages contribute to this poverty, there is no doubt that high tuition is also a major factor.
The restructured CSU has also unequally impacted the wages of staff, faculty, and administrators. Faculty and staff salaries have fallen significantly when measured against inflation. Given the high cost of housing in the surrounding area, many find it very difficult to pay rent and make ends meet. The CFA, “Race to the Bottom” study found that CSU faculty” lost $9,056 in purchasing power (adjusted for inflation), while CSU campus presidents’ average salaries gained $22,917 in purchasing power.” Salaries that don’t keep up with the cost of living and with our colleagues in similar institutions, limit how faculty are able to interact with students.
It is time to follow the lead of students across California and the nation who are fighting for a more inclusive and humane university system. The “Fight for Five” is part of this struggle. For years the CSU has been backsliding on its promise to students, staff, and faculty. Not taking a stand further weakens the CSU and hurts all of us. This is why I will be on the picket lines.
Republished with the author's permission from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune