Recently, the statewide union for California State University system faculty announced a 23-campus, five-day strike. If CSU leadership cannot offer a fair salary, 26,000 professors, lecturers, coaches, counselors and librarians will suspend work in mid-April to demand a modest 5 percent raise. That’s a mere down payment on the 20 percent in earning power we’ve lost over the past eight years, when we received less than 5 percent in salary increases.
Yes, faculty at Cal Poly are hurting. Like so many middle-class Americans, our salaries provide less and less purchasing power. Sure, everyone knows university faculty don’t pursue teaching for big money. But the fact is, this strike is about more than money. It’s about saving the foundering CSU.
The California State University system is the world’s largest university system, and it’s the single most important engine for opportunity and growth in our state — but it’s on the verge of being wrecked.
Since 2010, Cal Poly tuition and fees have increased by 41 percent. Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong would like us to believe that “the success of the university” results from his own hiring spree, which added $6.7 million dollars to our campus budget, most of which could have been channeled to faculty — both tenure line and lecturers. Since 2010, he’s actually raised annual administrative salaries from $18 million to $26 million.
In fact, between 2010 and 2014, President Armstrong hired 63 bureaucrats at an average salary of $107,000 each. And he gave new upper administrators audacious salary increases. He even sent the former vice president of advancement to live on the East Coast, where she was to troll for exceptionally wealthy alumni donors in an improbable alumni area — while keeping an annual salary of $150,000!
This troubling pattern continues throughout the entire CSU system, and all the while, housing costs rise, faculty salaries erode and departments increasingly struggle to recruit and retain new faculty, leaving fewer faculty to teach California’s students and leaving students without the lasting mentorship and experienced instruction they need to thrive in today’s workplace.
Further, to finance management bloat, Cal Poly’s best programs have been admitting an increasing proportion of out-of-state students — meaning that California taxpayers are paying to educate a smaller and smaller proportion of Californians in the most competitive fields.
And yet, without remorse, Cal Poly’s president and provost continue to defend their unnecessary administrative hires and salaries.
In arrogant assertions of top-down management, they also violate the standards of shared governance, an arrangement in which faculty democratically determine the heads of departments and establish curriculum. This is a proven system honored for many decades by previous administrations, but President Armstrong declares that any dean has the ethical right to appoint department heads against the will of the department.
CSU Chancellor Timothy White and Cal Poly President Armstrong have lost their way and the confidence of the people they wish to lead.
The faculty need living wages. The CSU’s recent funding decisions represent a massive transfer of wealth from California’s taxpayers, students and faculty members to overpaid administrators. The “People’s University” is becoming a jobs program for upper management.
Cal Poly faculty are ready to say “no” — and we invite the people of our community to join us.
Rob Clayton is vice president of Cal Poly’s California Faculty Association and worked for eight years as a counseling faculty member at Cal Poly. He is now a psychologist in private practice.
Kevin Clark has been teaching at Cal Poly since 1988. He is a full professor in English and a writing consultant for Cal Poly’s CFA.