CSU deserves raise, but strike is a bad move

Like so many once well-paying white-collar jobs – medical technicians, journalism, the legal profession – being a college professor isn’t what it used to be.

Public university classrooms are crowded. Tenured jobs are hard to get. Part-time adjuncts dash from campus to campus like Uber drivers – which some are to make ends meet.

Even before faculty salaries in the massive California State University system began to wither, teachers worried how long they’d be able hold onto a middle-class standard of living. When the Great Recession hit, they found out: five years without raises and furloughs that slashed 10 percent from faculty paychecks.

Now the economy has recovered, but CSU pay has remained low, prompting the faculty union to threaten a systemwide walkout in April.

Faculty strikes are bad for students, the institutions and the faculty’s image. A strike is a bad idea.

We don’t blame the professors for being angry. A report released Monday as part of the arbitration process makes it abundantly clear that these college-level teachers need a raise. According to the neutral fact finder’s report, there are tenured Ph.D.s in the CSU system making less than veteran high school teachers in our area. The 2 percent the university is offering gilds seven years of injury with fresh insult.

But tenured professors aren’t as bad off as the adjunct or associate professors. If they work the equivalent of full time – and many don’t – they will earn only $50,000 per year. That’s not bad for driving a truck, but it’s terrible for someone who has spent years amassing the knowledge necessary to teach and train the next generation.

The state bumped its budget line for the CSUs by $100 million last year and some fee and some fees increased. Still, CSU officials say the system can’t afford the California Faculty Association’s demand for a 5 percent raise, plus smaller additional raises for the roughly 9,000 instructors making less than more recently hired colleagues.

The fact finder offered some ideas for finding money, including delaying projects, staggering raises and seeking more state support. We’ll throw in another: Review the role and number of the dozens of high-level administrators found on each campus. An article in the Times of San Diego showed the number of administrators with six-figure salaries went from 72 to 108 – a 50 percent increase – at San Diego State from 2007 to 2013.

As it is, the administrative staff (23,102) almost equals the teaching staff (24,405). The overriding priority of the CSU system is to teach, not create administrative jobs. If it can’t afford this raise, all those well-paid CSU administrators should re-examine their priorities.

The needs of the nearly 400,000 students enrolled at the 23 CSU campuses are overwhelming. Four in five are on financial aid. Many are the first in their families to attend college. Many, if not most, are working to support themselves or their families as they learn. Far too many arrive unprepared for college-level coursework. Few of them will graduate in four years. The CSU’s four-year graduation rates are abominable – 9 percent at Sac State, 6 percent at Cal State Los Angeles. Stanislaus State, whose student body is 65 percent women, graduates 11.5 percent in four years.

The union says if its demands aren’t met, it will walk for five days starting April 13. Bad idea. Find a way to make your point without hurting those you’re there to teach. Maybe the CSU system can learn something from such an example.