Faculty should not punish students by canceling classes

September 7, 2009 

Angry because they are being forced to accept furloughs, some professors in the California State University system plan to take their frustrations out on their students, a spectacularly dumb move by supposedly smart people.

Their union has negotiated a deal that allows faculty members to take their unpaid furlough days on any work day, including when classes are in session. To protest the pay cut, some state university teachers plan to take their furlough days on days they teach, and cancel the classes.

That means students who are paying significantly more this year to attend California State University at Stanislaus or Sacramento, or Chico or Fresno, will attend a school with larger class sizes, fewer courses and now, with the faculty in a snit, a likelihood of canceled classes.

Classes begin Wednesday at Cal State Stanislaus. Campus officials don't know yet just how many professors will schedule some or -- heaven forbid, all -- of their 24 mandatory furlough days on teaching days during fall, winter or spring terms.

Because they don't belong to a union, faculty members at the University of California were given no choice. Depending on their salary levels, they are being forced to take between 11 and 26 furlough days over the next year, but the office of the president handed down an edict: Furlough days cannot be taken on days teachers teach.

It's a sensible rule, designed to protect students, but not all UC professors are happy about it. Some plan to participate in a systemwide walkout on Sept. 24, the first day of classes at several campuses. (UC Merced is already in session.) The walkout is intended to send a message of "no confidence" to UC President Mark Yudof and to get the attention of the Legislature.

Imagine you're a UC freshman. You have worked hard all through high school to meet the rigorous demands for admittance. Even though the university had to reduce the number of students it would admit this year because of budget cuts, you still got in. You've swallowed the 9.3 percent tuition hike by taking out a loan. Books purchased, pencils sharpened, computer open to a blank page, you arrive early to get a good seat in a professor's physics class. But the professor doesn't show, because he's participating in the walkout.

Two of the three demands that walkout supporters are pushing -- no furloughs or pay cuts for UC employees earning below $40,000, and full disclosure of UC's budget -- may have merit. The university should consider them. But the last demand, that UC bow to an Academic Senate recommendation that would allow professors to schedule six to 10 teaching-day furloughs over the course of the academic year, punishes innocent students. That's not fair.

College students are already feeling the pain of state budget cuts, and so are their parents. As UC administrators told The Sacramento Bee, "We thought an extra price in terms of losing teaching days was not appropriate." On this issue, the administration is right.

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