Cal Poly promises pay hikes for teachers in wake of critical report

An entrance to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.
An entrance to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

The California State University system isn’t keeping up with faculty salaries and it’s hurting the lives of teachers at all of its campuses, according to a new report by the CSU faculty union.

At Cal Poly, faculty members say they struggle to pay bills and raise a family on their incomes for the academic school year.

“It’s very difficult to put into words the level of frustration and disappointment among teachers at Cal Poly right now,” said associate political science professor Anika Leithner.

But Cal Poly administrators said Friday that the university is committing $2.5 million for faculty and staff salary adjustments over a four-year period, including this fiscal year that ends June 30.

“We have many pressing needs on our campus, but none more so than faculty and staff salaries,” Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong and university Provost Kathleen Enz Finken wrote in a Thursday letter to all Cal Poly faculty and state workers on campus.

The California Faculty Association distributed the latest paper in a four-part series this week, titled “Race to the Bottom: Losing Ground and Losing Faith.”

The report surveyed more than 5,500 faculty members, including 411 Cal Poly instructors.

The survey took place between Feb. 6 and March 16 and asked a series of questions about their personal economic situations. Eighty percent of faculty responded that their income level was negatively affecting their lives.

Sixty percent said they can’t afford to live in their own campus community; 43 percent said their income has prevented them from buying a home.

“We haven’t had a decent raise in seven years,” said Graham Archer, Cal Poly’s faculty union president. “It’s really difficult to attract new faculty and to keep existing faculty from leaving if they’re not paid what they deserve and what they can get elsewhere. Yet the cost of our administration has risen dramatically in the past few years.”

The report also showed that:

  • 95 percent of lecturers take home less than $4,000 per month; 43 percent take home less than $2,000 per month.
  • 72 percent of assistant professors take home less than $4,000 per month and 52 percent of associate professors take home less than $4,000 per month.
  • The average salary for CSU professors would have been $63,000 in fall 2014 if all worked on full-time contracts; on average, CSU faculty, including part-time teachers, collectively earn $45,000 per year in pay before taxes and other deductions.
  • Those percentages were calculated based on the average of both full-time and part-time lecturer positions. Associate and assistant professors are all fulltime, tenure-track positions.

    In their letter Thursday announcing the $2.5 million commitment, Armstrong and Enz Finken said the raises would be given out in four steps: $500,000 this fiscal year, retroactive to July 1, 2014; $1 million next fiscal year; and $500,000 in both 2016 and 2017.

    “This year’s plan is just the first step in a multi-year local compensation program,” they wrote.

    Armstrong and Enz Finken wrote that faculty salary adjustments this year will bring fulltime assistant professors up to a minimum target salary of $65,000, assistant professors up to $71,000; and full professors up to $83,000.

    “For staff, we are starting with the lowest paid workers on our campus who are significantly below CSU averages for their classification,” they wrote.

    Cal Poly’s faculty received no raises for six years, until a raise of about $80 per month in 2013-14. The raise amounted to an average of 1.34 percent.

    Another increase of 1.6 percent for most faculty was given this fiscal year, with a small number of lower-paid faculty members given a hike of about 3 percent.

    Archer said Friday that the announcement is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t address underlying “structural problems” with inadequate compensation.

    He cited an estimated $5 million divvied up among Cal Poly administrators this year alone, a number the union calculated using CSU data, but that it is still trying to confirm based on a public records request.

    Archer also said the $2.5 million commitment over four years won’t significantly help most faculty to improve their financial situations in significant areas such as ability to afford a home, saving for their children’s college tuition, and saving for retirement.

    “We aren’t looking a gift horse in the mouth,” Archer said. “It’s a step in the right direction. But we’d gladly swap our $2.5 million for the administration’s $5 million.”

    Cal Poly’s administration didn’t respond to questions from The Tribune on whether the administration received $5 million in raises.

    Leithner, the Cal Poly associate political science professor, said she makes about $67,000 per year and has taught at Cal Poly since 2006, working an estimated 55 to 60 hours per week, plus conducting research in the summer when she has time, to fulfill her job description.

    With her husband’s income, she said they have been fortunate to be able to pool their money to buy a home in Paso Robles.

    But she’s disappointed that her salary has stagnated in recent years, and that she is unable to save money.

    And she’s had to reduce her 3-year-old daughter’s childcare supervision from five days per week to four this year to save money.

    “I don’t know anyone who becomes a college professor to get rich,” she said. “But we’re constantly talking about the same challenges and frustrations. There used to be an energy that went into our job, and people would stay late and talk about new ideas. Now, many just do the task at hand. Everybody just does their job, but I’m not seeing people go the extra mile.”

    Cal Poly mechanical engineering assistant professor Steffen Peuker said he took a 10 percent pay cut to teach in a more prestigious program at Cal Poly because of its emphasis on its teaching model.

    “I think if Cal Poly doesn’t catch up with pay, it’s going to cause some faculty to leave, and that’s going to weaken its programs because it won’t be able to attract the best faculty,” Peuker said. “Students will suffer four, five, six years down the road.”

    Armstrong and Enz Finken noted in their letter that “we know that years of salary increases have taken a toll.”

    “But we can’t help but feel optimistic about the future,” they wrote. “As you heard during planning and listening sessions, we are seeking new sources of revenue that may allow us to increase salaries beyond what the current budget allows.”