Hundreds of professors walked out of class last week in a salary dispute with California State University.
If it seems like a strange time for a strike, well, it is. But faculty members have reason to be angry, and so do students and their parents.
CSU trustees and Chancellor Charles Reed have granted pay raises to administrators and exorbitant salaries to new campus presidents at a time when the university is struggling to fulfill its mission: educating students.
Faculty members are unhappy that, unlike administrators, their pay has been frozen since 2007. It's not fair, but the answer isn't more raises.
A raise implies there's money to sustain it in subsequent years. In the case of CSU, that's not clear.
After years of budget cuts, state funding for the 23-campus system has fallen to its lowest level since 1998. Midyear cuts are likely to take another<QA0>
$100 million from CSU.
Meanwhile, the price of attending Sonoma State or another CSU campus has climbed steadily.
On Wednesday, one day before professors at the Hayward and Dominguez Hills campuses staged a one-day strike, CSU trustees approved a 9 percent tuition increase, bringing basic fees to $5,970 for the 2011-12 school year. Tack on campus fees averaging $1,047, and the full cost will top $7,000.
Tuition and fees have more than tripled since 2002-03, and, as faculty representatives pointed out during a recent visit with The Press Democrat editorial board, today's students are getting less for their money as classes are eliminated and many vacant teaching posts go unfilled.
"They're building a top-heavy institution," said Andy Merrifield, a Sonoma State government professor and chairman of the California Faculty Association's bargaining committee. On that point, he's right.
At a time when CSU officials should be holding the line on administrative expenses, the CSU trustees recently approved a $400,000 salary for the new president of San Diego State University. That's an increase of $100,000 over his predecessor. The new president at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is paid $380,000 a year — $52,000 more than the posted maximum for the job. Other administrators also got pay raises, costing a combined $6 million.
University officials justify those decisions by saying they must pay top dollar to attract and retain top talent. Yet Reed twice rejected the recommendations of state-appointed fact-finders who said CSU could afford small raises for teaching staff.
Faculty members say some recently hired assistant professors are paid more than fully tenured professors and want the university to rectify that as a matter of equity.
But paying for raises also is a matter of equity.
CSU's is supposed to provide an affordable education. With each fee hike, it gets further from that mission.
As a result, we can't support pay raises for the faculty at this time. Still, with their first-ever strike, the professors made a legitimate point about the university's skewed priorities. Students are sacrificing, so is the faculty. Top administrators must sacrifice, too.