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Solidarity, #CSUStrike

In a couple of weeks, California State University system faculty — over 26,000 of them — are preparing to strike for five days. This infographic does a nice job of explaining why; the short version is that CSU faculty are not being paid as much as their peers (alarmingly, most need a second job to make ends meet), and a majority of faculty are part-time. This isn’t unique to the CSU system; while the cost of education has gone up in recent decades, a decline in state funding, as well as  increased non-faculty administrative positions and an increased focus on student services, have forced budget cuts elsewhere. Often, the cuts manifest as stagnating faculty pay, or the replacement with full-time positions with part-time instructors or adjuncts who are poorly paid and may have little-to-nothing in the way of access to infrastructure or job security.

This trend hurts everyone. It hurts the PhD-holding faculty who make less than a fast food employee after >10 years of training or experience in higher education and research. It disproportionately hurts women and people of color (it’s worth noting that many CSU schools are minority-serving institutions). It hurts students who are paying top dollar for an education increasingly provided by a rotating collection of random faculty who can’t provide the same level of support as full-time faculty because they aren’t given resources, research support, offices, or enough money to get by (which means there’s no time for the kind of high-contact-hours teaching that students thrive with). Adjuncts and part-time faculty aren’t typically given a seat at the table in faculty meetings, so can’t weigh in on curriculum decisions or departmental policies that affect them or their students. They can’t hire undergraduate workers or provide hands-on job training. If you’re paying the tuition bills, you are increasingly paying more and more for less and less.


This sign from the 2011 Wisconsin Protests says it all. Photo by me.

Full-time faculty like me are not immune to these changes, and are increasingly concerned about our job security and the quality of our work experiences, too. As tenure lines are replaced with part-time positions, we lose research expertise on campus, potential collaborators, analytical services that support campus research programs, and people who can serve on our graduate students’ committees. As tenure lines are replaced with part-time positions, the message gets out that tenure-track faculty are replaceable, too (even if that message ignores everything else that’s lost with us). Add fake tenure into the mix, and the trend is sobering. Meanwhile, as support staff positions are cut, full-time professors end up taking on more administrative burden — more time doing paperwork or sitting in committee meetings means less time preparing for classes or conducting cool, ground-breaking research. There are opportunity costs to devaluing universities that cascade through the system, and affect everything from our ability to stay competitive in a global research market to the quality of training we provide the next generation of citizens.

In the immediate term, the CSU strike is going to affect half a million college students over five days. But the problem is much broader, both for California students and for academics overall. The public relations war will already have started, and it’s not like faculty have a great public image to begin with (see my previous post on the myth of the lazy professor). Students absolutely do not deserve a week-long strike interrupting their education. But they also don’t deserve to be taught by underpaid, overworked, and under-supported faculty, either.


The 2011 Wisconsin budget protests, which I participated in as a graduate student, started as a battle to protect collective bargaining rights. Photo by Justin Ormont (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

There’s not much I can do in Maine about the CSU system (I’m not a constituent, so my voice doesn’t count, politically). But I wanted to share my voice in support of my colleagues in the CSU system: fantastic scientists who work hard and care about their students, who fight the good fight for diversity in STEM and actively engage in outreach; people I consider model scientists and professors. People like Madhusudan Katti (radio show), Terry McGlynn (blog), and Sarah Bisbing (Early Career Ecologist website, Coastal Rainforest Margins Research Network). They are thoughtful, passionate, engaged, and dedicated researchers. They deserve our support.

What’s happening at CSU is happening everywhere, to varying extents, and they represent a growing culture of devaluing public universities — what Marilynne Robinson calls America’s Best Idea in this must-read essay in Harpers this month. So call your representatives if you live in California. Talk to your children attending CSU about why striking is a dignified, powerful last resort in the bargaining process. Write letters of support to combat the inevitable vitriol and misinformation. Show your support through what will inevitably be a challenging week. Because next time, it might be you, or me.



Categories: Academia Diversity Education Good Causes

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Jacquelyn Gill

3 replies

  1. John Anderson: I appreciate your commiseration – it is indeed the lot of faculty everywhere to be overworked and underpaid, with things getting progressively worse. I don’t know when you donned the holy robes to join the academic order, but given by the number of advisees you mention, I’m guessing it was a while ago. Perhaps even before the recession and the squeeze on state funding of universities over the past decade or more?

    As a CSU faculty member ready to go on strike next week, I would like to respond to a couple of things in your comment.

    1. Low paid lecturers / adjunct faculty are indeed the expedient choice for administrators when student enrollment is rising and state funding is declining. These temp-workers end up facing the worst of the market because they have no security, pathetic wages keeping them close to the poverty line, and no time for research or scholarship that may provide them a path up towards the rare tenure line position. I think it is a bit disingenuous therefore to blame them for creating some kind of self-sustaining mini-“programs” without strategic planning. Where do lecturers/temp faculty rarely have the authority or means to create programs on their own, without funding and support from TT faculty and admin? It is rare for them to be able to create programs that have significant curricular impact without approval from the more permanent members of the university. It is possible that they may be used by some administrators to float such programs bypassing TT faculty, but I’m not sure how often that happens without significant pushback. If we tenured faculty are letting such programs proliferate, that is on us, even more than on the lecturers. The kind of long-range overarching strategic planning you desire for new programs has to come from faculty who have the security of tenure (which itself is disappearing too, but that’s another front in the larger war we have to fight), and the commitment you invoke as coming from our “calling”.

    2. On the subject of the “calling” – I fully share your sentiment and would say that that calling is the reason I (like many others) have stuck to this job despite the constant struggle to keep serving my students and my scholarship active while the university’s “leaders” keep piling on more and more work while refusing to pay proper compensation. If you see the infographic from CFA linked in Jacquelyn’s post above, you can see what has happened to faculty salaries in the CSU – and that picture is likely the same across state universities throughout the US. What the CFA is demanding is a fair pay raise, in keeping with the recent restoration of some state funding to the CSU following the dark days of the furlough we endured some years ago. Even the mediator and outside arbitrator after conducting the fact-finding have agreed that the union’s demands are entirely reasonable. Yet we have the Chancellor digging his heels in and refusing to budge. What recourse do we have at this point to get any raise?

    3. The problem of stagnant wages is particularly acute for faculty like me who were hired during the last decade or so when state funds were in a downward spiral. Many of us accepted positions at low starting salaries because the job market was already tight, and many have remained stuck at those low levels even as the cost of living has gone up (and remember we are in California, which ain’t a cheap state to live in anyway). Many of us have families to support and young children who will be heading to college soon, with only the prospect of life-long debt facing them because their parents, for all their sacred commitment to university education, haven’t been paid enough to build any sort of college funds for them. The continued intransigence of admin on this issue has driven us to the brink of this strike, so how is it fair to say that the overburdened faculty are somehow violating some sacred vow by threatening to strike? Where is the administration’s responsibility in all this?

    4. Finally, I would like to submit that the university administrators know full well that most of us faculty in higher education have indeed taken up this profession as a sacred calling, making that same pledge to our students that you espouse. And administrators are therefore willing to exploit this as a weakness on our part in any negotiation because they know we care more about our students than they do, and therefore we are unlikely to do things that harm students, like going on strike. Which is why, at this point, we really must go on strike, because all other reasonable means of negotiation have failed. Just as we have pledged to do everything we can to help our students succeed, university administrators—in this case, the CSU Chancellor representing the State of California—also have a commitment to support faculty and a moral and legal obligation to not exploit faculty in the manner of service-industry temp workers. If, after years of stonewalling us, and many months of stalled negotiations during this academic year, and months of warning (we had the strike authorization vote last fall), the Chancellor refuses to budge, what would you have us do? Can we really afford to blink now? And how will it serve the students (sometimes with parents who, as you suggest, may act like they’re paying for service and demand their money’s worth) to have a demoralized faculty with even less incentive to serve them if the CFA decides to fold now, or if we have too many committed faculty like yourself feeling obliged to cross the picket lines and continue to serve students? How is that ever going to improve the poor and deteriorating working conditions you lament?

    So, I hope you will also be joining me and the CFA, like Jacquelyn on this virtual picket line, to help us win this fight which should have effects rippling out to other states and universities also.



  2. Hmmm. Jackie, what you are describing, sadly, seems to be more universal -even at your old alma mater. More and more courses taught by low-paid “lecturers” who are hired out of expediency on an ad hoc basis and then go on to create mini-“programs” for themselves without any overarching strategic planning, younger faculty bailing out in search of greener pastures, a contempt for scholarship, administrators barely staying up with last week’s crisis, donors driving college curricula to satisfy their own ego “I paid for this college, now i own it”, presidents constantly chasing after the Next Shiny Thing, more and more funding going into ‘student life” and less available for academics due to a real confusion about the appropriate role of colleges in students’ lives… Right now I have 24 official advisees, who i am supposed to work with in the same one-on-one manner that i was expected to do when I had six. I have also just this week “inherited” three more from faculty who are leaving or on sabbatical. It isn’t just CSU, it is everywhere, BUT the one thing I CANNOT do is strike. I signed on for this mad trip & a long strange one it has been, but when I did I made a commitment and a pledge to my students: i will be here for you. I will have office hours. I will show up for classes (or make them up if I am ill) I will help you with internships, I will cheer your success & try to comfort your failings. It is no accident that they made us wear robes modeled on Holy orders when we got our PhDs. Teaching is a calling or it is nothing. Striking (however justified one feels) is a blow at everything that stands for. keep contemplating mammoth, I enjoy your ruminations.


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