BY HANK REICHMAN
With the countdown to what would be the largest strike of university faculty in U.S. history ticking away, California Faculty Association (CFA) leaders rebuked Chancellor Tim White and CSU Trustees Tuesday for failing to resolve the contract dispute with their faculty. The Trustees’ meeting March 8 and 9 was the last public meeting before the faculty strike, which is planned for April 13-15 and 18-19 if the statutory process doesn’t yield an agreement. The CFA is affiliated with the AAUP.
CFA President Jennifer Eagan asked Trustees what they are doing to avert the strike, saying union leaders have been reaching out to meet, but the offers have been ignored.
“Chancellor White, you are the leader of the system, so this is on you,” said Eagan, a Cal State East Bay philosophy professor. “The maintenance on your house has languished for a long time with stagnant and uneven salaries, an increasing dependence on a precarious faculty workforce, and inattention to how faculty are treated affects students. This inattention predates the recession, and certainly predates your position as Chancellor. However, it’s your house now.
“Your house is on fire, please pay attention. Stop pulling the covers over your head and ignoring the red shirts and the anger you face in every encounter with faculty.”
The previous week Chancellor White was greeted by a sea of red “I Am Ready to Strike” signs when he addressed the Academic Senate of the California State University (ASCSU) in Long Beach. The ASCSU represents faculty on all 23 CSU campuses and each campus delegation held a sign. The message was especially powerful since historically the CSU administration, like their counterparts in many other institutions, has sought to pit the Senate against the faculty union.
At its meeting the ASCSU also approved, by unanimous vote, a resolution admonishing CSU management for administrators’ forbidding faculty from discussing the strike in class. The resolution expressed “consternation over recent communications from some CSU presidents and administrators forbidding faculty to discuss the potential strike action planned by the California Faculty Association (CFA) in their classrooms.” Making repeated reference to AAUP policies and statements, the resolution affirmed “that the determination of the relevance of material to a particular class is the decision of the faculty teaching that class in the context of accepted pedagogical and disciplinary standards.”
According to the resolution, “Several CSU Presidents sent a letter to their campuses regarding the possible strike that included this sentence: “Classroom time cannot and should not be used by faculty to discuss issues related to the strike…” A subsequent FAQ from the Chancellor’s office modified this diktat somewhat, declaring that “faculty members cannot and should not use classroom time to discuss other issues related to the strike, unless such a discussion is directly relevant to the content of the course. That will not be true in the vast majority of cases.” However, as the ASCSU resolution points out, “It is not the place of campus Presidents or the Chancellor’s Office to decide what is relevant to the content of a course. That decision can only be made by the faculty teaching the class as would be consistent with pedagogical and disciplinary expectations.”
The Academic Senate also passed, again by unanimous vote, a resolution reaffirming the principle of shared governance within the CSU, stating that “…when faculty leaders from CSU campuses have called upon the Chancellor to intervene when serious violations of shared governance on their respective campuses have been documented, the Chancellor’s responses at times reference ‘shared leadership’ yet fail to offer solutions that are responsive to the requests…” The resolution’s rationale explains the context of the objections to White’s professed dedication to “shared leadership”:
Like his predecessor in the office, the current Chancellor has demonstrated a distinctly different understanding of shared governance from that which has characterized the principles and practice of the ASCSU. Whether in disregarding nearly all of the faculty’s findings of duplication between CSU programs and those proposed in the pilot baccalaureate programs in the California Community College system last year without curricular justification; or in the administration’s recently enacting, without consultation with the ASCSU, a background check policy to which all new faculty are now subject, “shared leadership” in practice has left much to be desired as a reinterpretation of the principle of shared governance.
Additionally, responses from the Chancellor’s Office to well-considered ASCSU resolutions have rarely matched those resolutions either in substance or in intent; actions requested through formal resolutions are often deferred or ignored. Rather than being engaged in genuine collaboration on matters of academic policy, faculty often find that they are the “last to know” and are placed in a mode of reaction rather than one of collaboration. This was the case recently when the ASCSU called for a joint effort in revising the policy on academic freedom (AS-3197-14/FA). Instead of first forming a joint task force as requested in the resolution and then collaboratively drafting a policy, the administration has delayed formation of a joint task force and circulated its own draft policy.
Finally, requests from campus faculty leaders for investigations by the Chancellor into the erosion of shared governance on individual campuses have been met, at times, with tepid responses. In contrast to the universally accepted principle of shared governance, “shared leadership” itself is a concept not native to academe but rather to business settings wherein the lexicon and practice of “team-building” is more normative than is the practice of governance. In matters related to curriculum, in particular (though certainly not limited to curricular matters), there is growing evidence that the expertise of the faculty, and, in fact, faculty’s responsibility to preserve quality, is being threatened not only from without (for example, through continual under-funding; performance-based metrics; initiatives lacking evidentiary justification) but also from within.
Addressing the trustees on Tuesday, Jonathan Karpf, CFA’s Associate Vice President for Lecturers-North and a member of the CFA Bargaining Team, said that White’s touchstone on sustainability is falling on deaf ears. Sixty percent of faculty are full and part-time Lecturers and they’re being run ragged by the CSU’s increasing class sizes and low wages.
“The current reliance on—and exploitation of—an increasingly contingent faculty of low-wage earners is neither sustainable nor in the best interests of our students,” said Karpf, a Lecturer in Anthropology at San Jose State. “Your notion that you are somehow respecting the bargaining process by disassociating yourself from it would be laughable if it were not so disingenuous… You have the ability to have your team come back to the table and settle this salary dispute and avoid the largest and longest-running strike in higher education in the history of the United States.
“But that would take true leadership. If you refuse to negotiate in good faith, I promise you that the Lecturers in the CSU will be standing side-by-side with our tenure-track colleagues, and on April 13th and we’ll be shutting down business as usual on all 23 campuses. We honestly do not want to strike, but we most certainly will.”
As Lillian Taiz, immediate past president of CFA said, “…When the leader of the system who himself earns in excess of $430,000 comes to campus and tells faculty, whose average earnings is $46,000 a year, that they can’t have a 5% raise because other things are more important and we must ‘live within our means’ it is not surprising that faculty (and staff) would have a very strong negative reaction.
“…As the Chancellor of this system today you must take responsibility to correct the inequities that plague our system NOW. You may not ask us for patience. You and those who came before you have exhausted our patience.”
Clearly the “fight for five’ in the CSU is about more than just money. It’s about the future of academic freedom, shared governance, and higher education for the common good.