You’ve probably heard that California State University teachers are voting to authorize a strike.
I don’t want to strike!
Every hour of classroom instruction — every hour of student interaction — is important to us. That’s why our current plan is for moderate, two-day “rolling strikes” that would proceed from campus to campus. We hope the vote itself will bring the administration back to the bargaining table.
But if we don’t get back to the bargaining table, I will strike!
Over 18 months of bargaining, CSU’s administration has met virtually every faculty offer with either a “no” or a counteroffer that would reduce teachers’ control over educational quality. Their spending priorities show more interest in executive enrichment and for-profit edu-business than fulfilling California’s Master Plan: provide every Californian an affordable, high-quality college education.
They are taking advantage of bad budget times to begin a total restructuring of CSU from what was once the gem of state college systems nationwide to a self-supporting (read: high-tuition) system with vast online offerings and a powerless, at-will teaching force.
We’re requesting modest raises, including unpaid raises promised in the last contract. Some may, understandably, find this greedy in tight budget times. Other state agencies continue paying standard raises, though, and two neutral fact-finders declared that CSU both can and should honor the promised raises.
Chancellor Charles Reed and the trustees know high salaries attract top talent: They’ve hired several new CSU presidents at significantly higher salaries than their predecessors, e.g., $400,000 per year for San Diego State University’s president.
Shortly after huge potential cuts to the CSU were announced, the trustees voted 10 percent salary increases for two CSU presidents, accompanied by $60,000 per year for housing and a $12,000 per year car allowance. Apparently, they want top talent only at the top: Numerous new professors who have moved their young families to our high-housing-cost area are doing a terrific job, yet haven’t seen a single raise since joining us up to six years ago. The only salary “offer” CSU has made is to reopen salary talks with future budgets, the main goal being reducing salaries.
Between 2008 and 2010, the administration paid $6 million in raises to management but denied already agreed upon teacher raises of about the same amount. Again, a neutral fact-finder decided that CSU could afford these raises. CSU has paid more than $7 million to an external contractor to bargain with us — even though they have a salaried internal labor relations team!
These are taxpayer dollars. But they are not benefiting California taxpayers — working- and middle-class families who want their children to have the American Dream. CSU students have had to dig ever deeper into their pockets, as tuition has risen steeply over the last decade. Where are those increases going? In 2009-10, CSU’s own audit found that only 35 percent of its budget goes toward teaching. Yet it’s cutting back on enrollment and course offerings and diminishing quality by, for instance, increasing class sizes. We now have English classes with enrollments of more than 100 students — something unheard of until now.
Not only money is at stake. Reed wants to chip away at faculty rights at the highest and lowest ranks. He’s taking aim at “shared governance” — educators and administrators working together to provide high-quality education — by proposing to move hundreds of curricular and personnel decisions from professors to the president. But no university president has time for this; more administrators would be needed.
At the lower ranks, CSU wants to roll back the minimal job security (three-year, renewable contracts) and benefits CSU offers lecturers — temporary and part-time instructors not eligible for tenure. Many of these “temporary” teachers have been with us for decades. And I bet few Californians know they teach the majority of CSU courses.
Two other administration agendas would raise costs, lower quality and create an unstable teaching force: moving CSU courses to Continuing/Extended Education (CSU’s for-profit, adult-education arm) and online instruction. Tuition is far higher at Continuing Ed, while teacher pay is far lower. Teacher hiring criteria are less rigorous. Instructors have no rights. Course scheduling can be ad-hoc. High-demand courses could be moved there, meaning that only those who could afford the high tuition would graduate on time.
Online instruction is being pushed hard; in fact, Chancellor Reed wants to develop an entire “online campus.” Certainly, online instruction serves many students well, but experience has shown that it is no replacement for brick-and-mortar higher education. Teachers spend more time, not less, teaching such courses. And rights issues arise: a teacher may spend many hours developing a course, only to lose the copyright if it is taught. The teacher may not even have the right to teach the course!
A favorite moment of my job is graduation day. Students eagerly introduce me to their parents, who thank me for helping their child grow into someone who will, in a small or large way, shape the future. Won’t it be sad if, someday soon, that day, summing up years of personal interaction and guidance, is boiled down to a diploma in PDF format that the student prints out at the end of a few years of solitary online study?
Johanna Rubba is a linguistics professor at Cal Poly and the affirmative action representative on the executive board of the Cal Poly chapter of the California Faculty Association.