ROHNERT PARK - Sonoma State faculty picketed Tuesday, calling attention to protracted contract talks and protesting California State University officials.
About 60 faculty members protested at the university's entrances, carrying signs targeting California State University Chancellor Charles Reed and the leadership of the CSU system, as colleagues at the other 22 CSU campuses held their own protests.
"I know we're in a bad economy. Money is tight. Our priorities are that they should be putting money into education and teachers' salaries so we can do what CSU's are here to do, quality education," Patricia Kim-Rajal, a teacher of Chicano Latino studies, said as she braved cold temperatures to picket at the entrance to SSU in Rohnert Park.
"We've been working without a contract and what we're trying to do is raise awareness about what our beliefs are for quality education and how they differ from the chancellor's," said David McCuan, a political science professor.
"This is about much more than money," McCuan said. "It's about saving higher education."
Sonoma State University President Ruben Armi?na was on campus Tuesday. He declined to answer questions about the picket line, saying he doesn't comment on job actions by unions.
Susan Kashack, SSU associate vice president, said SSU's administration values its faculty and agrees more money is necessary to better support the college system.
"We support anybody who is out there trying to get more funding for higher education," Kashack said.
"We are concerned students don't get caught in the middle of the negotiation process," she said.
Tuesday morning, with temperatures hovering in the high 30s, teachers and some students carried signs and handed out bright pink fliers outlining a range of concerns, citing skyrocketing student fees, contract clashes and a salary disparity between top administrators and staff.
The picket line is a precursor to a one-day strike at two CSU campuses set for next week. Union leaders called for the strike after CSU administrators announced they wouldn't pay wage increases negotiated in 2008-2009.
Two state-appointed fact-finding panels recommended the college system could pay at least some of the negotiated raises, said Andy Merrifield, SSU political science professor and union leader, who was on the picket line Tuesday.
The strikes will be on Nov. 17, at CSU Dominguez Hills and CSU East Bay. Some SSU teachers said they'll work around class schedules or take a vacation day and go to support their peers.
During the past three years, the cash-strapped state has sharply reduced funding to California's public colleges and universities, which has led to steep tuition hikes, course cutbacks, staff layoffs and reduced student enrollment.
For the current fiscal year, the CSU and University of California systems each lost $650 million in funding, about 20 percent, and could lose another $100 million each if the state takes in less revenue than anticipated. To offset those cuts, Cal State raised tuition by more than 20 percent this academic year.
"We students need to come out and support our faculty," said Garrett Wessel, a sophomore and political science major who joined the picket line Tuesday.
Wessel, who also is a member of the campus group Students for Quality Education, said that while students are suffering from rising fees and tuition and shrinking class offerings, teachers are not getting the support they need, a message oft-repeated Tuesday.