University faculty to chancellor: “We are not your ATM!”

HAYWARD, Calif. – In California State University faculty’s first such action since collective bargaining began almost 30 years ago, two of the system’s 23 campuses were idled in a one-day strike Nov. 17. Teachers and students from other CSU campuses joined the California Faculty Association’s picket lines at CSU-East Bay in Hayward, across the bay from San Francisco, and CSU Dominguez Hills in Carson, near Los Angeles.

Faculty members in bright red tee-shirts paraded back and forth with their picket signs, as they crossed and re-crossed the road in front of an entrance to CSU East Bay, their banners weaving in and out against a backdrop of the coastal hills. Supporting them were many students and members of other area unions.

Philip Klasky, who teaches American Indian Studies and Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, was supporting his East Bay colleagues on the picket line. Calling CSU Chancellor Charles Reed “one of the 1 percent,” Klasky noted that while faculty members have not received contractually agreed raises since 2008, administrators’ compensation has gone up 10 percent and Reed “is paid more than the U.S. president or the governor of California.”

The university is “not a corporation but a public service,” Klasky said. “CSU used to be a place where everyone could get a quality public education,” he added. “I work with kids who are the first in their families to attend and graduate from college. Now the university is like a patient on life support.”

Klasky said he backs efforts to put an initiative on the ballot next year for an oil severance tax earmarked for K-university public education.

California is the only oil producing state without such a tax.

Garrett Wessel, 20, a political science major at Sonoma State University, north of San Francisco, said the cuts in university funding are making it much harder for students to get the classes they need to graduate. Whole sections of classes are offered only every two years, he said.

Wessel said students heavily dependent on loans and needing longer time to graduate are saying they have to leave the campus.

“We were told that if we worked hard, we could get a good education,” he said. “But now that is being taken away from us.”

The faculty strike came one day after CSU trustees voted to raise the system’s “fees” (read tuition) by 9 percent starting next September.

Faculty members were specifically protesting the CSU system’s failure to pay raises for 2008-09 and 2009-10 as agreed in the teachers’ contract, while at the same time hiking administrative pay including paying the new president of San Diego State University $400,000 – $100,000 more than his predecessor. They also expressed great concern over the devastating consequences to students of cutbacks that are resulting in increasing class sizes and less availability of classes students need in order to graduate.

“There is a reason that [the chancellor and trustees] continually look to us to bail out the university by relentlessly raising fees and refusing to compromise on contracts,” California Faculty Association President Lillian Taiz said in a statement. “Like Wall Street and the Bank of America, you are using us as ATMs while asking us to accept that this is the new normal.”

This year the state legislature has cut some $650 million from the California State University system, and CSU faces the probability of more severe cuts as state revenues threaten to fall short of predicted levels. The legislature is hamstrung by the requirement of a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, and a Republican minority that rejects any call for new revenues.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW



Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.