Despite having been provided with a 5 percent pay increase that is to go into effect on January 31, 29,000 professors, lecturers and other educators across the 23-campus California State University system intend to engage in a work walkout on Monday, January 22.
“We intend to shut the campuses down, all 23 of them,” a professor told the Sentinel.
The California Faculty Association represents all faculty members at California State University’s 23 campuses – Cal State University Bakersfield, Cal State University Channel Islands, Cal State University Chico, Cal State University Dominguez Hills, Cal State University East Bay, Cal State University Fresno, Cal State University Fullerton, Cal Poly Humboldt, Cal State University Long Beach, Cal State University Los Angeles, Cal Maritime Academy, Cal State University Monterey Bay, Cal State University Northridge, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State University Sacramento, Cal State University San Bernardino, San Diego State University, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal State University San Marcos, Sonoma State University, Cal State University Stanislaus – will strike for a planned five days from January 22 until January 26. The work stoppage will disrupt the first five days of the first week disrupting the first week of the spring semester for the currently enrolled 485,550 students.
The California Faculty Association is demanding a 12 percent pay hike, smaller class sizes and more manageable workloads, additional mental health counselors for students, a more generous leave cycle to included extended parental leave of up to a full semester and what was termed “gender-inclusive” rest rooms.
According to the California Faculty Association, California State University representatives were unrealistic in their counteroffers all along during negotiations which first began in May 2023. In October, an impasse was reached, triggering a process by which an independent fact-finder initiated an examination of salaries and benefits in comparable institutions and examined the university systems’s books.
The California State University System is the nation’s largest four-year public university system, with a $12.4 billion budget with roughly $2.5 billion in reserves.
The independent fact-finder delivered findings that included a recommendation that the faculty be give an across-the-board 7 percent salary increase. The California Faculty Association balked at that compromise figure.
In early December, professors and instructors staged a one-day walk-out at four campuses to express what they called “dissatisfaction” with the university system’s attitude and pay proposals.
Unable to come to an agreement, Cal State University Officials ceased any further efforts at contract talks and unilaterally imposed a 5 percent pay increase to go into effect on January 31, 2024. The five percent was identical to the raises given to employees in other work categories than teachers/professors who work for the California State Universities.
There is a disparity between tenured professors and what is referred to as “contingent” staff in most institutions of higher learning and the difference is no less pronounced and, according to educational professionals, even more pronounced in the California State University System than elsewhere. Contingent staff, basically, means those faculty members are untenured. The overriding majority of the professors, lecturers and teachers in the California State University System are untenured. While arrangements can vary, most are teaching on a contractual or temporary basis. In some cases, contracts can specify no more than a single semester of work for a professor or lecturer. Slightly longer contracts are more common. Three-year contracts are not unheard of. In some cases, a professor can wangle a lengthier contract, with some having job security for five years. In most cases, professors have a clear idea of the courses they will teach or most of the courses they will be assigned. Some with two- or three- or four- or five-year contracts can be subject to course reassignment.
Those under contract often but not always teach a full load of five courses per semester. Despite a faculty member teaching five courses having what is by virtually any standard that would normally be applied a full-time assignment, one requiring 40 hours or more devoted to work per week, the California State University System catalogs these untenured, contingent, contract employees as temporary workers, which converts to a lower scale of pay and benefits than is provided to tenured professors.
Similarly, lecturers, adjunct professors, laboratory workers, librarians, counselors and coaches are considered contingent faculty.
Contingent faculty, in the California State University System, are not on a track, nor considered eligible, for tenure.
It is an irony that in many places outside academia, in both the private sector and in government, including elsewhere in the State of California, those who have attained degrees in higher education automatically qualify for higher salaries, with individuals holding certain positions or offices earning a master’s degree being given a mandatory five percent raise and those with doctorates getting a ten percent bonus. Despite there being requirements that professors, university and college teachers, lecturers, and librarians employed within the California State University System having to achieve degrees to be hired for certain assignments, there is no accompanying reward for accruing further academic milestones.
At present, 52.6 percent of the instructional staff members in the California State University System are part-time. In 2021, 49.65 percent of the instructional staff members in the California State University System were classified as part time. In 2010, 33.55 percent of the instructional staff members in the California State University System were classified as part time.
Typically, a lecturer with a PhD teaching a full load of five classes per semester tops out at a salary of $64,860 per year, with no prospect of achieving tenure.
Lecturers, many of whom have PhDs, draw a maximum salary of $54,360.
It is for that reason and others that the California Faculty Association is insistent upon the California State University System upping faculty pay by 12 percent.
The California State University System has countered that its salary schedules for those professors and other academic professionals who are hired full-time, including instructors on a track toward tenure, are not only reasonable but competitive in comparison to what is paid in public and private universities and colleges elsewhere.
Associate professors now average $105,226 annually, according to the university system. A senior assistant librarian is currently paid $83,120 annually before benefits. The 5 percent increase is one logically derived when considering all of the economic factors at play, according to the state system. An associate professor would receive an annual salary of $110,487, once the 5 percent increase is effectuated on January 31, according to the state’s negotiators. The aforementioned librarian would seen a jump in pay to $87,276.
State University officials maintain that the faculty union demands are patently unreasonable and that complying with them would be financially unsustainable and disastrous for the university system. The union insists that the 12 percent raises can be funded by tapping into the systems’s $2.5 million reserves.
According to Leora Freedman, Cal State University Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, were the system to comply with the 12 percent demand, the cost of running the system would increase by $380 million annually, such that the system’s reserves would be eaten up in less than seven years. That is assuming that no emergencies will manifest in that timeframe, Freedman pointed out. What is more she said, the university system has already earmarked roughly $1.734 billion of those reserves for campus expansion and other programs critical to the system’s educational mission.
The strike will undoubtably have an impact on those for whom the California State University System exists: the 485,550 currently enrolled students. Campuses are to remain open during the strike and classes are still scheduled. Technically, the professors, instructors and lecturers staging the labor action next week are yet responsible for ensuring the education of their students and delivering them the instruction and lectures and then monitoring the academic progress of their students. How they can guarantee those educational outcomes by sacrificing the time and opportunity to have their students in class the first week of the semester is an open question.
“Cal State University is communicating with students that campuses will be open to provide services to students and to check with their professors about class schedules during the strike, as not all faculty will choose to go on strike,” said California State University System Spokeswoman Amy Bentley-Smith.
It will be up to California State University faculty to provide those students who were not provided with class time or study assignments the first week of the semester an opportunity to make up for that classroom time and homework according to whatever timetable and program they deem appropriate. Under normal circumstances, if a student misses a lecture or does not receive a homework assignment and therefore does not complete it, he or she is punished accordingly gradewise at the end of the semester, which becomes a permanent part of his or her academic record. Similarly, students who because of missed classroom time see their performance on tests diminish, will suffer both in academic terms as well as missing out on instruction that it is the goal of the California State University System to provide them. While faculty members may not be inclined to hand out lower grades to students whose academic performance dipped because they were at the disadvantage imposed on them by the lost classroom time brought on by those faculty members’ willful action in going out on strike, providing those students with a way to overcome that classroom time deficit in terms of information or instruction that will not be imparted to them represents a larger moral and practical dilemma.
The California State University System Board of Trustees has scheduled 6 percent tuition hikes to be implemented over the next five years, beginning in September 2024.