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Letter to the Editor: The strike, straight on

Why I will strike.

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Letter to the Editor: The strike, straight on

A line of protestors show support for the California Faculty Association’s “Fight for Five” campaign at a rally held in Long Beach, CA last September.

A line of protestors show support for the California Faculty Association’s “Fight for Five” campaign at a rally held in Long Beach, CA last September.

Karen Sawyer | Daily 49er

A line of protestors show support for the California Faculty Association’s “Fight for Five” campaign at a rally held in Long Beach, CA last September.

Karen Sawyer | Daily 49er

Karen Sawyer | Daily 49er

A line of protestors show support for the California Faculty Association’s “Fight for Five” campaign at a rally held in Long Beach, CA last September.

Rebecca Cummings, Lecturer of English CSULB

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You’ve certainly heard by now that California State University faculty may strike across the entire CSU system on April 13-15 and April 18 and 19, unless the chancellor’s office agrees to a 5 percent pay raise for all faculty.

You might have seen the posters around campus, and may have read President Conoley’s email address in February. But as a teacher on this campus, I’d like to explain why I will strike if negotiations do not move forward.

The prospect of walking out in April pains and terrifies me.

But I’ve taught at Cal State Long Beach for 15 years as an “adjunct” professor and during that time I’ve watched in dismay as CSU executives gave themselves healthy raises, while faculty pay stagnated and our purchasing power dipped into the negative.

Over the years, inflation worked on my already meager paycheck like a mysterious slow leak. Rather than enjoying small but regular financial gains after my ascetic graduate-student existence, life seemed to get harder each year.

I clipped more and more coupons, embraced a minimalist lifestyle and blamed myself whenever I came up short.

I imagine students have felt the same squeeze, searching for more money to pay the tuition increase that comes like a dark cloud nearly every year. Every budget crisis meant that faculty and students made the biggest sacrifices.

During all these years I’ve questioned if the chancellor’s office believed in its own mission, or if they operated under a separate secret mission that required low wages for faculty, especially its “part-time” faculty, and relentless tuition hikes for students.

The labor dispute is about money, which is to say that it’s also about the quality of education at the CSU. The CSU is increasingly reliant on low-wage contingent, “adjunct,” faculty who work with little to no job security.

About 50 percent of your classes are taught by underpaid and overworked lecturers.

When these teachers work on several campuses, teaching six, seven, sometimes a stupefying eight classes to make a living, something’s got to give – and what gives is less time for themselves, their health, their families and their students.

But students may not have noticed this because the work ethic and dedication of CSU professors have concealed the chancellor’s lukewarm commitment to teachers for a very long time.  

While a little bit more money would bring me some relief, this strike is about more than that. I’ll strike for talented professors like Jenny Bass, who works on three campuses to pay the bills and often rescues the university by teaching un-staffed English classes mere days before the start of the semester. She can’t afford to say no, but saying yes also comes at a cost.

I’ll strike for Geri Lawson, another highly skilled professor who admitted that even after five years teaching on this campus, with a full-time load and summer classes, she barely made that $45,000 average salary – that same average that the Chancellor’s office has been doing all it can to explain away. Far from being an exaggeration, that average is sadly aspirational for a lot of lecturers.

I don’t want to strike, but after 15 years I think I’ve witnessed enough.

The pay increase won’t address the many problems within the CSU, and despite what Vice Chancellor Lori Lamb says, we faculty don’t expect to regain the decade-long wage stagnation in “one year.” The 5 percent raise is a small step in that direction.

I don’t want to strike, and I especially don’t want to undermine my students’ academic progress.

Like many of my students and colleagues, I was the first in my family to go to college, and I feel particular pride in giving back to my students what was given to me — a chance for a better life. I’m honored and grateful to have a job that serves a public good in a town that I love. I take none of this lightly.

So if I strike, it’ll be for my students, my colleagues and for a little financial breathing room. It’ll be for the ideal of the “people’s” university, where its mission to give every student access to a world-class education is carried out every day, not inside executive boardrooms, but inside classrooms.

If it comes down to it, I’ll be out on the picket line each day. I don’t want to strike, but I think I have to.


5 Responses to “Letter to the Editor: The strike, straight on

  1. jim on March 16th, 2016 8:56 pm

    it seems that these folks are unhappy with their employment arrangements at one or several different universities. where is the school going to get the money to pay higher salaries? the state does not have the extra money nor does the federal government, so where is the $$$ going to come from? the taxpayers are over taxed now, so where is the money going to come from? what are they trying to say to the masses that would be happy to make $45,000 per year? what are they trying to tell the masses that they are not paying enough in taxes now? why not go out into the real world of commerce and find employment in a business that will pay you a higher salary for your work experience? like sponge bob; soaking up other peoples hard earned money.

  2. Some information on March 17th, 2016 9:53 pm

    The money for raises doesn’t come from the state or the taxpayers. The money comes from the excess billions the CSU has. You can see this money in their budget or take a look at the recent fact finding report by an impartial accountant (Bunsis). Why would you hope for professors to go get other jobs? Who the hell will teach our young people??

    Also, $45,000 is the average, but it’s not the mean. Professors make anywhere from $10,000 to $80,000 a year, so without properly analyzing data, it isn’t accurate to use that number.

    Moreover, even if they did make $45,000 per year, it’s not really that much for someone with a masters or PhD quite possibly taking care of a family.

  3. csu lecturer on March 23rd, 2016 8:31 am

    The CSU administrators who hijacked the budget are the ones who should seek a job in the private sector. Corporate management is full of people like them, outsourcing jobs and gaming the system for personal and corporate gain at the expense of workers and communities. We didn’t join a public university to make a lot of money or stock options or other perks — we came here to teach. The strike is the result of chronic underfunding of faculty, ignoring our careers, treating us as a cost to be minimized rather than as people to be encouraged and rewarded. We’re striking because the atmosphere of exploitation and unfairness cultivated by our administrators selfishness reduces the quality of education our students deserve. We’re striking because a University can’t flourish when performance isn’t rewarded, when careers stagnate and salaries decline with inflation. We’re striking to save the heart and soul of public education.

  4. BigFire on March 17th, 2016 1:28 pm

    While I agree with the article in the entirety, I see no mention of the ‘staff’, whom are in the same boat, paddling and struggling together.

  5. Siobhan McClure on March 17th, 2016 3:36 pm

    Thank you for speaking the ugly truth concerning lecturers’ pay. We care about our students yet the CSU system does not care about us. We our over worked and underpaid.

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