Race to the Bottom: Losing Ground and Losing Faith

The following is the Executive Summary of a report issued recently by the California Faculty Association, which represents all faculty in the 23-campus California State University system.  The report is the third in a series.  To see the entire series go to http://www.calfac.org/race-to-the-bottom

The job of college professor used to be a solidly middle-class profession. You didn’t expect to get rich from teaching, at least not in the California State University, but you could count on a life not so different from other middle-class, college-educated people. You could pay your bills, care for and educate your children, buy a house, and you could someday retire.

That basic economic security—not getting rich—was what most faculty expected, and that’s what most college professors experienced. As a result, they were able to do their best work as a professor because they were secure in their ability to support themselves and their families adequately.

But for faculty in the CSU, things have changed; that economic security has become shaky for many, and for others, impossible. As a result, more and more faculty in the CSU— tenured and lecturer alike—are losing ground economically and losing faith in their institutions and in the future of their profession.

As we detail in this paper, recent changes in the economic status of CSU faculty have had enormous consequences for the lives of CSU faculty and their families. For faculty trying to raise families, pay for housing, finance college for children, or deal with the many other rising costs of living in California, the loss of purchasing power they have experienced over the last decade has been devastating. That fact, as well as low starting salaries and salary stagnation we described in the first paper in this series, has meant genuine hardships, a decrease in the quality of life, and the abandonment of many middle class aspirations for large numbers of CSU faculty and their families.

The CSU Administration recently stated that it “deeply values its faculty and is committed to investing in faculty compensation. Our dedicated faculty deserve it and our mission of serving students requires it.” Yet the CSU fails to make the kind of investment needed to raise faculty wages to keep up with even the pace of inflation. Some faculty must choose which bills to pay each month. Others qualify for food stamps or live in government housing. Some have declared bankruptcy. One faculty member couldn’t afford to pay for her husband’s funeral. For CSU faculty, this is not living. It is, in many ways, survival.

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