California State University Professor Speaks Out About Pay Issue - Higher Education
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California State University Professor Speaks Out About Pay Issue

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Feeling overworked and underpaid as a faculty member?

In my short academic career, I was just a lowly adjunct. I expected poor pay and treatment. But I was surprised that some permanent tenured professors at some schools aren’t treated with the respect they deserve.

Such is the case for the faculty at California State University, Sacramento.

On the first day of school last week, they didn’t go on strike — but they did set up an informational picket on their issue.

Members of the California Faculty Association Capitol Chapter think the offer of a 2 percent salary increase just isn’t fair.

The California State University Chancellor’s Office issued a statement:

“The California State University supports and values its faculty. With contract negotiations underway at the system level, we are unable to provide additional comment.”

To find out more about the situation, I contacted Dr. James Sobredo, Associate Professor of the Asian American Studies Program in the Department of Ethnic Studies at CSU-Sacramento, commonly known as Sacramento State University, or Sac State.

Sobredo is the CFA rep of the Ethnic Studies Department at Sacramento State.

Q: What’s the rationale for the picket?

A: Faculty at the California State University system do not get a fair wage increase during good economic times, such as the one we are currently experiencing, and, in the past, we had a worst case scenario where we got a faculty furlough (i.e., pay cut of about 10 percent) during our last economic recession. All we are asking is a fair salary increase to keep up with cost of living increases and a 5 percent salary increase is a reasonable amount after years of stagnated salaries and even a 10 percent furlough.

Q: Explain the pay differentials between the UC’s, the Cal State universities and the community colleges?

A: In 2013, the average tenure-track/tenured UC faculty salary was $130,000 and for California community college tenure-track/tenured faculty it was $89,727. For CSU tenure-track/tenured faculty it was $84,339, which, as the CFA 2015 “Race to the Bottom” report noted, made the “CSU permanent faculty the poorest paid in California’s higher education community.” In general, UC professors earn more than the CSU, but a UC professor colleague told me just two days ago that UC professors are also underpaid compared to comparable national universities. However, while every UC campus faculty gained in “real dollar” salaries, in contrast, in all CSU campuses, faculty experienced an average salary LOSS in terms of purchasing power from 2004-2013 (CFA “Race to the Bottom” Report, 2015).

I think the bigger issue to address is: why is it that CSU faculty whose jobs require an advanced degree (generally a doctorate) have an average salary of $63,000 (Fall 2014 data) that is less than the average salaries of firefighters ($125,000), police officers ($97,500) and nurses ($87,000)?

Nearly everyone agrees that a college degree is important for Americans as a whole (people with higher education are less likely to be a burden to our society and less likely to end up in costly prisons and hospitals) and to remain competitive in a global economy. But there is a major logical disconnect in failing to adequately compensate university professors for their valuable work in providing this important direct service to millions of our future workforce. According to the CSU Chancellor’s office, for every dollar the state invests in the CSU, the return on that investment by the state is $5.43 (Chancellor’s Office own figures in 2010). CSU faculty are the direct service providers who carry the burden of educating our future workforce, and we just want a fair salary to adequately do our jobs as public servants.

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The reality is, none of us became professors so we can become rich, but we also want a salary that keeps us afloat and keeps up with the rising cost of living in California and something resembling a middle-class life.

Q: How did the pay structure become so unfair?

A: For the last 10 years, we have had salary compression where we were hired at the lowest level of our salary scale and were kept there as we moved up the ranks from assistant professor to associate and to the rank of full professor. This was driven by the economic crisis we have been facing in California. Then when the economy improved, we have salary inversion: entry-level faculty were hired at a higher salary level and long-serving faculty found themselves with salaries that were near at or even less then the newly hired professors. As those of us long-serving faculty have learned, we will never catch up with the salaries of our colleagues who were hired 10 years ahead of us. Thus, the average salary of a CSU faculty—including lecturers who are officially classified as “part-time” but working fulltime hours—is $63,000 in Fall 2014 (CFA figures in their “Race to the Bottom” report 2015). Remember, these are university instructors with advanced degrees, often a doctoral degree. The Chancellor’s office gives a higher salary figure of $83,000 (Fall 2013 figures), but they only include “ladder” faculty who are on a tenure‐track or tenured position.

The CFA salary figures are closer to the truth because more and more university instructors are part­time lecturers instead of tenure-track or tenured faculty. It is considerably cheaper to hire part-time faculty instead of tenure‐track/tenured faculty, and this was the prevailing model in the last ten years as the CSU budget suffered massive state budget cuts.

Q: What would be ideal solution?

A: The ideal case would be for CSU faculty to have a salary that will compensate for those 10 years of little to no salaries increases, which means an overall loss of large amounts of income due to cost of living increases. And we really need to address the salary compression and inversion problem among “long-term” faculty. Newly hired entry-level faculty (assistant professors) are making almost as much as tenured mid-career faculty (associate professors) (Fall 2013 CSU Chancellor’s office data) and the new hires make more than long‐term assistant professors. This is a bitter pill for long­term faculty to swallow.

Q: Describe your typical work day?

A: My typical work day is enjoying teaching about the subject matter that inspires me: I teach about Asian Americans and globalization, which means I have to understand and teach about the global economy and the global migration of Asians. That aspect of my job is very rewarding and fires up my intellectual soul. What is not fun is, unlike the UC system, we have to do all the grading. I also occasionally teach at a UC campus, and their workload is a world’s apart from ours. When I teach at a UC, I have a TA (teaching assistant) who does all course grading work at the undergraduate level. Consequently, all I have to worry about is the content of my teaching, which is tremendously enjoyable and fulfilling.

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At the CSU, TAs are not allowed to grade papers or exams, and I am one of those who follow this policy. So what is completely not fun at the CSU is the grading… it just consumes and zaps the intellectual energy from you. Mind you after 17­plus years, I’ve learned to be “functional” within this system. But then that leaves me with little to no time for conducting research and publication. The problem is further compounded with the fact that, although we are not a research institution like the UC where there is a heavy research and publication requirement, nevertheless our career advancement and our promotion depend upon demonstrating a research and publication record. We are penalized in our promotion reviews if we do not.

To summarize, after a full day of teaching at university, after 5 p.m. I go home and have dinner, and by 10 p.m. I am back on my computer working on either refining my lecture, doing research and double-checking my data and/or grading papers. It is very rare that I go to bed before 2 a.m.

I shall say this tongue in check: I remain “functional.” I get my job done and my teaching evaluations remain high… but somewhere in there, there is a cost to be paid and I am keenly aware of this.

Q: Sac State wouldn’t comment. Where is the process now with the contract?

A: Our contract negotiation follows a process stipulated by state law. We were at the bargaining stage. We wanted a 5 percent salary increase and we have laid out the logic and data (some of which I presented) as to why we deserve a 5 percent pay increase after 10 years of stagnant salaries. However, the CSU administration wants to offer faculty only 2 percent… so we have now reached an “Impasse.” This then moves us to the next stage of the bargaining process, which is Mediation, which involves an assigned mediator. If that fails, we go to a Fact-finding panel. And if that fails, the CFA union will consider the “S” word and the action that comes with it. Of course, given that 2015 is also the 50th anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike by Filipino and Mexican farmworkers, it is significant to note that the struggle for fair wages continues… even when those Filipinos and Mexicans now have doctoral degrees.

Q: From perspective of an Asian American and ethnic studies professor — what is your take about the pay issue and how the school values what you and your colleagues do?

A: As a California Faculty Association (CFA) union member, I believe in our union and I am an active CFA union member, as well as the CFA representative of Ethnic Studies Department. I am also very close friends with members of the CFA leadership. In the past, we had to “reform” our own union, we had to fight with some of the old guard, and it was less along ethnic or class lines and more along the lines of getting our union to address issues that were crucial to us. Today, we are all working together for fair and equitable faculty salaries.

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My take on the CSU salary issue is we have a major disconnect in American society. We encourage our kids to “go to college,” so that they can take a huge step forward in securing a chance at a middle-class future, but we as a society do not adequately invest in funding this goal. The cost to keep a typical CSU student at a university is roughly $10,000. Forty-five years ago, university “fees” (tuition) at the CSU were so low that it was effectively free. Today, in 2015, the cost of undergraduate tuition is roughly $6,000, which means that California students shoulder the main burden of funding the cost of their college education. The state has switched from funding college education, and making it effectively free, to funding other programs, especially prisons. While I was not a fan of former CSU Chancellor Charles Reed, under whose administration faculty suffered salary compression and inversion, he was however quite insightful in saying that “we are heading down the road to funding and building world-class prisons and second-class universities” (SF Chronicle, 1.24.2008). The state funds allocated to the department of corrections is now larger than the CSU budget.

Again, forty-five years ago, the CSU was effectively a free university, which, incidentally, was also part of a California university system that was the envy of the world. Today, the cost of funding that university education has been shifted to students and their families. University education has become a major financial burden to middle-class families.

All of this is the result of the state, whose officials are voted into office by the people of California, refusing to adequately fund higher education. My own view is that the cost of funding higher education has been shifted to students through higher tuition and to “long-term” faculty and staff through lower salaries.

In a recent state-wide faculty survey, 81 percent of CSU faculty respondents stated that they cannot recommend their profession as a career path, and I am one of those that holds that opinion… even after earning a Ph.D. from one of the top universities in the country. (End of interview)

Something to ponder on Labor Day, which generally marks the beginning of the school year, and gives us the time to think of why some of us do what we do.

But at what price?

Emil Guillermo is the winner of the Asian American Journalists’ Dr. Suzanne Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice. Based in California he blogs for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund at www.aaldef.org/blog

Twitter@emilamok, www.fb.com/emilguillermomedia, www.amok.com

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