Paying Faculty Fairly: Massive Strike in CA Averted

california faculty strike avertedA massive five-day, 23-campus strike by the 26,000-plus California Faculty Association members, which would have launched tomorrow, has been averted by a tentative agreement with the California State University (CSU) to provide across-the-board 10.5 percent pay increases over two years.

“The chancellor and the CSU board heard from us, their ordinarily mild-mannered professors, librarians, and coaches, in our rallies, and in our chants, and in our gearing up for a strike, that we were doing so because we were in a crisis,” said CFA President Jennifer Eagan.

In October, a strike vote conducted on all 23 campuses received a resounding 94.4 percent approval. The driving issue was the CSU’s persistent lack of investment in faculty’s working conditions and consequently, in their students’ learning conditions. Unfortunately, it is not the only institution of public higher education where faculty and students—especially low-income students and students of color—are suffering from lack of institutional support. New data from the special salary issue of the NEA Higher Education Advocate shows rampant disinvestment across the U.S.

The CSU is the nation’s largest university with nearly 500,000 students: 56 percent are of color; 35 percent are first-generation college-goers; and just about half are low-income. Those students’ ability to get a degree and a job to lift them out of poverty—to access the American Dream, basically—depends on thousands of highly dedicated and sorely underpaid faculty members.

But the average faculty salary in the CSU is $48,000 a year, and 50 percent earn less than $40,000. More than 70 percent said they have to take on additional work to pay their bills. For months, those faculty members have been rallying, marching, and organizing for a contract that fairly reflects their contributions to higher education. In March, an independent fact-finder found that CFA’s demand for a 5 percent pay raise was affordable, justifiable, fair, and necessary.

If approved by CFA members, its board, and CSU trustees, the tentative agreement provides for 5 percent raises on June 30, plus 2 percent on July 1, followed by 3.5 percent on July 1, 2017. It also provides 2.65 percent step increases in 2017 for eligible faculty.

Chancellor Timothy White said Friday he would recommend the agreement to trustees with enthusiasm: “As we invest in faculty, we invest in students’ learning environment and their success. It also allows us to hire, and recruit, and retain the very best faculty members,” White said.

Faculty Pay is Not Just a Faculty Issue

In the recent special salary issue of the NEA Higher Education Advocate, state income data shows that faculty salaries have declined, on average, by 1 percent over the past five years. Meanwhile, state funding to public higher education, which fell by double-digit percentages during the recent recession, increased 7 percent, on average, over the same years.

In California, for example, state funding to public higher education rose 19.8 percent between 2011 and 2016, while faculty salaries fell 3 percent, according to state budget and income data.

The special salary issue, which includes average faculty salaries from every public institution in the U.S., shows that, for the most part, institutions that serve more poor students, more first-generation students, and more students of color tend to have lower paid faculty. For example, in Florida, at the historically black college and university (HBCU), Florida A&M University, full professors are paid an average $92,000 a year. Across town, at Florida State University, their peers are paid $118,400.

In California, 56 percent of the students in the Cal State system are non-White; 35 percent are first-generation; and 49 percent are low-income. It is not a coincidence, said CFA Secretary Susan Green, that as the CSU system began to serve fewer white, middle-class students, and more poor students and students of color, the state’s investment in its faculty and students declined.

Similar situations are unfolding in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere. In the City University of New York, half of undergraduates have family incomes of less than $30,000 and three-quarters are non-White. Their education offers a rare chance to break the cycle of poverty, but it depends on faculty members who haven’t had a raise in half a decade. “We will not move without an offer that will sustain quality at CUNY and pay us fairly for the important work we do,” said union president Barbara Bowen at a sit-in in November that blockaded the doors to CUNY’s administrative building.

Meanwhile, at the City Colleges of Chicago, part-time faculty members—who teach 70 percent of the classes—earn less per year than their chancellor received in bonus pay. For months, union members have been picketing outside trustees’ meetings, joining city-wide demonstrations, and organizing around a contract that puts the emphasis on students and faculty. “You can’t put students first if you put faculty last,” said union president Loretta Ragsdell.