A student recently asked me to answer some questions about a CSU potential strike that may affect all 23 campuses of the California State University system this April. With that student's permission, I'm reposting the exchange here. For facts and analysis, I encourage you to check out the California Faculty Association FAQ. For one faculty member's take on the situation (expanding on a number of posts I've written about the academic market), read on...
What is your opinion on the strike? A strike is a regrettable but sometimes necessary response to unfair working conditions. In this case, CSU administrators have failed to pass along a reasonable portion of increased revenues to repair the damage to faculty pay caused by years of recession. The union has negotiated with the CSU in good faith, and we have certainly tried to avoid a strike. But if this sort of job action is necessary then I stand with my union.
Do you think it's fair to the students? I agree those who state that, "faculty working conditions are student learning conditions." If administrators demean those working conditions by failing to pay workers a wage that allows us to keep up with inflation (in a place known for its extraordinary cost of living) then management is harming students. How, after all, can students succeed if faculty - folks they call to grade assignments, offer mentorship, write recommendation letters, and provide other forms of direct support - can't afford to pay their bills and care for their families? Indeed I would hope that students would feel encouraged to support their faculty, recognizing that we share the same goal: fair and productive working/learning conditions.
How did you feel when you first heard about the strike taking place? When I received the news I understood immediately. Faculty have suffered stagnant wages for years, a fact exacerbated by the growing cost of living in California. We all stepped up to help the CSU weather the economic difficulties wrought by years of shared economic hardship, even accepting a furlough in 2009 to help preserve jobs and help students graduate on time. That furlough meant real pay cuts in a time when many faculty members were struggling to pay their bills. We supported our schools then because we recognized the need to pull together in times of challenge. Now that the economy is growing, albeit more slowly than we'd prefer, the faculty merely ask for some help to keep up with inflation.
Are there any concerns you have because of this? Having joined the union almost immediately upon my employment at SJSU I have always known that a strike could be called. Indeed, I remember participating in an informational picket just a few months after my arrival. It was a strange thing, accepting a job and then soon entering a picket line. While it was nice to join my senior colleagues in singing old protest songs, I inwardly wondered if I was engaged in an activity that might endanger my job. I understood that CSU faculty who pursue authorized job actions are protected from retaliation, but that protection seemed a bit too theoretical to this young professor. Still, I joined my colleagues and was proud to play my part (small as it was). I feel no less determined today. No one wants to strike. But if we must, we will.
Do you think it's important for the faculty to go on strike? Why? A wide range of global, social, economic, and even philosophical trends have contributed to a de-professionalization of education. For many administrators (not all, but enough), faculty members are increasingly viewed as disposable employees - as "human resources" - who should feel lucky to have a job and must be willing to acquiesce in silence to their managers. But we are not widgets. We are professionals, subject matter experts, artists, counselors, coaches, and experts in our fields. We know our students; we serve on the front lines of the struggles to help them enter a tough marketplace and, more importantly, become well-rounded human beings. We became educators because we love to teach, and to learn. So, yes, we accepted a "calling" of sorts. Still, we pay the same sorts of bills as everyone else, and we know our value, even if some administrators don't. We appreciate it when chancellors and board members pay lip service to our central role in educating the next generation of students; we are grateful for their kind words. At the same time we deserve and demand a fair wage. So if there's a strike, I'll join my colleagues - and those students who wish to participate - and do my part.
|Infographic by Deric Mendes|