Approaching CSU strike a warning sign for the UC

William Pan/Staff

Most Berkeley residents have connections to the University of California. We are students, faculty, alumni, staff and friends of the university. Consequently, we pay close attention to current events at UC Berkeley — whether they be city-campus relations, construction projects, newsworthy faculty achievements or the wins and losses of our favorite Cal teams. Few of us, however, are as tuned in to the on-goings at the other large California institution of higher learning — the California State University. These campuses — Cal State East Bay, San Francisco State, San Jose State, Sonoma State — serve our community, but because they aren’t in our immediate backyard, their signals often don’t reach us.

Yet, I urge Berkeley residents, students and faculty to pay close attention to warning signs coming from the CSU system. Not only are there important developments shaping the future landscape of education in California, these shifts have indirect consequences for UC Berkeley, the UC system and educators and students all over the state. In 2005, 37.5 percent of the CSU system’s operating expenses went to direct instruction. By 2015 that figure dropped to 34.2 percent. All the while, student tuition has increased. The CSU system is out of balance.

This is why the California Faculty Association, the union representing both temporary lecturers and tenure track faculty, has been engaged in several months of contract negotiations with the CSU administration in Long Beach, California. Because of the administration’s unwillingness to budge on a 2 percent salary increase offer (the CFA is requesting 5 percent), the bargaining processes seems quite likely headed to a 23-campus faculty strike beginning April 13.

Faculty members do not want to strike, but they will. Instructors will strike because pay is just too low. According to a CFA survey reported in the Los Angeles Times, faculty are grossly underpaid, “…95% of lecturers make less than $4,000 per month and 43% of them take home less than $2,000 a month; 72% of assistant professors and 52% of associate professors take home less than $4,000, and 88% of full professors take home less than $6,000 per month.”

At the high end, fully tenured professors in the CSU system are taking home an annual salary of $70,000 – $80,000. And, these faculty members make up a tiny minority. Most instructors are lecturers on temporary contracts teaching full time for annual take home salaries less than $40,000 — rates lower than average pay for local elementary school teachers. But the hiring requirements in college are far greater. To teach at a bachelor’s degree-granting institution, most instructors receive doctorates in their field — four years of undergraduate study and up to eight years of graduate study — 12 years of hard work without pay, gaining the expertise needed to educate and research as specialists in their fields.

In Berkeley and elsewhere, we recognize how this pay is sorely below the cost of living. The implications are grave. Lecturer turnover is high — who can afford to teach year after year at those pay rates? So too is turnover among tenure track faculty who leave to better-paying institutions. Those who stay live far from campus with outrageous commutes.

And students suffer. Turnover bleeds experience in the classroom. A 50-mile drive or 15 stops on BART robs time and energy from teaching and research.

In the upcoming weeks, I encourage Berkeleyans, especially those affiliated with the UC system, to take notice. Please support your CSU colleagues and friends by staying informed of the bargaining process, communicating faculty support to Chancellor Timothy White and educating others about the issues. These canary-in-the-coalmine moments reveal how far we as a society have moved away from the purpose of higher education: education. The California State University is the CSU faculty.

Jenny Lederer is a 15-year Berkeley resident, native San Franciscan, UC Berkeley alumna (doctorate 2009) and faculty member at San Francisco State University.

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