Stop CSU strike and reform California higher ed

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The strike threatened for this spring by faculty members at the California State University over salary issues isn’t really about the 2 percent offer vs. the 5 percent demand. And it certainly isn’t…

Graduates cheer at the CSUN the commencement ceremony, Tuesday, May 21, 2013. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)

The strike threatened for this spring by faculty members at the California State University over salary issues isn’t really about the 2 percent offer vs. the 5 percent demand.

And it certainly isn’t about the union leaders’ claim that the median salary for CSU faculty is about $38,000 a year.

That figure is reached only by including all the adjuncts, visiting guest lecturers and every other level of teacher, librarian or athletic coach in the vast system of 23 campuses, from Humboldt to San Diego, with its 460,000 students.

The lowest pay level at CSU for what most people think of as a college professor — tenure-track assistant professors — is over $72,000 a year for less than 10 months of work.

The real issue here is a fundamental one for all Californians as we try to determine what kind of higher educational system we want to have — and the question of all those part-timers who indeed barely make middle-class wages is very much a part of that discussion.

Gone is the vision of post-secondary schooling in California, enshrined in the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education from 1960, that “anyone from anywhere in California could, if they worked hard enough, get a bachelor’s degree from one of the best universities in the country (and, therefore, in the world), almost free of charge.”

Consider the predicament faced by the mothership of high-minded academia in our state, UC Berkeley, famed as much for the research and writings of its professors as for their teaching, which announced last week a $150 million deficit this academic year. Administrators there admit they aren’t at all sure what to do about the fiscal crisis, given a tuition freeze.

The CSU for years has been relying on lower-paid, part-time faculty — which make up about half of the teaching ranks — to balance student demand with increased costs and stagnant state funding.

Now the CSU faculty union says that it won’t accept the 2 percent pay raise offered by administrators, and will tell its members to strike for five days in April if the system doesn’t agree to a 5 percent pay hike.

The bosses respond that the demand would use up half of the $217 million funding increase the system received in the state budget last June, dramatically reducing CSU’s ability to maintain and improve its facilities or do much of anything else that costs money.

Yes, it’s true, college teachers’ raises have been paltry in recent years. Yes, it’s true, higher education in California would be best served by more full-time teachers.

But Cal State faculty should not strike.

Students must come first.

It’s obvious that there are problems in the Cal State system, and solutions have so far proven elusive despite campaign-trail promises.

It’s easy for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to call for universal free college tuition in our country. But how do we pay for that? How do we rein in extra-curricular costs that plague campuses, run-away employee pensions, the proliferation of vice presidents and lack of funding for professors and so much more?

The funding problems that make a big raise for teachers hard to pull off illustrate that, 55 years on from Pat Brown’s vision for higher education in the Golden State, California needs to reconvene a group of its brightest minds and figure out how to rescue our higher education system.

Nothing — not a bullet train, for instance — is more crucial to our state’s future.


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