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The past few months have seen rising tensions surrounding Cal Poly faculty pay. On May 21, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong called for a listening session in Chumash Auditorium to discuss the issues at hand.
“Until we get some game-changing money, it is very difficult,” Armstrong said at the session. “And it is extremely difficult and you have a right to be angry over what’s happened over the last few years.”
The listening session went on longer than the originally planned hour, packed with emotionally charged questions and comments by faculty, staff and students.
“When we followed the money, we can see where the true priorities are,” Graham Archer, president of the San Luis Obispo chapter of the California Faculty Administration, said. “It’s gone too far. I think bold moves are needed. The faculty love a good debate, but what’s needed now is action.”
After the listening session, Armstrong spoke with Mustang News about his responses to the faculty pay debate.
Advisory council to the president on planning, process and budget
Armstrong helped create a 12-person council consisting of four staff members, four faculty members and four students. Its members were chosen with the help of the Academic Senate, the Labor Council, college deans and vice presidents. Armstrong had originally planned to form the council next fall, but recent discussion among staff and faculty called for him to expedite the process.
Armstrong provided a document listing the advisory council members:
- Graham Archer (faculty): President, California Faculty Association (CFA)
- Nicole Billington (student): Chair, Board of Directors, Associated Students Inc. (ASI)
- Ken Brown (faculty): Chair, Faculty Affairs Committee, Academic Senate
- Vera Flores (staff): Administrative Support Coordinator, College of Engineering
- Sean Hurley (faculty): Chair, Budget and Long Range Planning Committee, Academic Senate
- Joan Kennedy (staff): Labor Council Representative
- Gary Laver (faculty): Chair, Academic Senate
- Lori Serna (staff): Manager of Payroll Services, Administration and Finance
- Joi Sullivan (student): President, ASI
- Owen Schwaegerle (student): President-Elect, ASI
- Jerry White (staff): Lead Custodian, Facilities Services, Administration and Finance
“Our plan is to share major decisions, major budget transactions, process planning, keep them informed on a regular basis and seek their approval before decisions are made,” Armstrong said. “I shouldn’t say so much ‘approval’ — it’s really advisory. There are certain things that are the responsibility of the administration and president, but we want to be more aggressive in shared governance. We’ve always consulted, we’ve always had interactions with the students, faculty and staff, but we want to take it up another level.”
Though lecturers have played a large role in the recent faculty pay issues, the advisory board’s faculty representatives include professors and associate professors — no lecturers.
A list of Cal Poly faculty salaries
Armstrong said he plans to provide a list of all state-supported salaries in the next week with the intention to promote transparency.
The list will be available either on the Cal Poly website or on the portal for anyone who’s a student, faculty or staff. It will provide three years of data with no significant analysis. An “in-depth database” for 2013 will accompany the salary list to show faculty and staff’s total compensation, meaning their Cal Poly salaries in addition to any outside income they earn.
“I want our Cal Poly community to see what people make, but I’m not necessarily keen on everybody in the neighborhood knowing what so-and-so makes,” he said. “That’s not the purpose. The purpose is transparency here at Cal Poly.”
Correcting the “loss of respect and lack of civility” on campus
“I’ve been here for a little over four years,” Armstrong said. “These past few weeks, I’ve experienced some examples of a lack of respect and what I would consider a lack of civility on many more occasions than I’d experienced since I’d been here.”
He said Thursday’s listening session made some staff uncomfortable.
“There were some staff members that said they frankly didn’t feel comfortable speaking yesterday because of some of the tone of the questions and how things were handled,” he said. “That’s other people raising that point, not me. I thought it was a good discussion yesterday and people had some emotion and I understand that. But I think we need to step back, and let’s not put people in a feeling of being disrespected simply because they’re in an MPP (Management Personnel Program) position, that they’re not a faculty or staff member.”
Armstrong iterated that faculty pay protesters should remember some administrators were previously faculty or staff members.
“Many of the people that are in the MPP classification, managerial classification, most of the new positions that have occurred are transfers and promotions from faculty and staff,” he said. “They’re still being involved with students, they’re still being involved with part of the learning process. I just want people to look at the whole picture, not pick out certain sections and take things out of context, in order just to make a point.”
Improving understanding between faculty, staff and administration
“We’re putting together some programs related to the workplace,” Armstrong said. “We’re going to provide an avenue for any employee at Cal Poly to be able to speak to someone about concerns they have. We’re going to look at including diversity in these evaluations and the RPT (retention, promotion and tenure) process.”
He noted the listening sessions over the past year as part of his efforts to ease tension on campus.
“It’s important for me to get out and do as much face-to-face as I can. So I’m going to continue to reach out to individuals and groups over the next few weeks as we complete our quarter, because it’s important that I know how particular people feel,” he said. “That’s going to include some lecturers, some department chairs and other individuals.”
Discussion about the Master Plan
Though the current Master Plan maps are largely conceptual, some aspects of them are fairly concrete.
“If you see some things that are proposed and they show up the same on every map, then that’s getting there,” Armstrong said.
Though Armstrong will not present a precise, decided Master Plan to the board of trustees until 2016, the final plan will most likely include the equine pavilion, agriculture pavilion and some additional freshman housing.
Some of the plan’s tentative features include replacing agriculture land with housing. Armstrong emphasized that those aspects are not yet concrete.
“That doesn’t mean that every one of those fields will be removed from agriculture,” he said. “That just means that in putting together this jigsaw puzzle, there are parts that are in play, and we don’t know. It is inevitable that it will get down to some difficult choices.”
The final Master Plan will hinge on collecting as much information as possible, he said.
“We have a principle to do the best we can for student learning,” Armstrong said. “We have a principle that has to do with preserving ag lands. Well, those may sometimes be opposing, and that’s what we have to look at and that’s how we have to evaluate it. And we have to collect all the information, all the facts, before we make the decision on what the Master Plan will look like.”
Finalizing the Master Plan will inevitably spark disagreement from some. For example, the plan’s potential hotel conference center is shaping up to be a subject of debate. Armstrong said people have a wide range of views about where the center should be located and whether Cal Poly should even have one, so it’s especially important to ensure the potential center contributes to academics and makes financial sense.
Armstrong said those who resist the idea of a hotel conference center often have misconceptions about it.
“Sometimes when people say they’re not sure that we should do it, they don’t have all the information because they think that a hotel conference center or student housing, that money spent there is going to take away from operation of the university,” he said. “It’s going to come from public-private partnerships or some other source of revenue that’s not the same bucket of money.”
Considering agriculture students’ land loss concerns
The Master Plan proposes the option of replacing some agriculture land with housing, which has met resistance from students who worry those lands will not be replaced elsewhere.
Armstrong said he’d ensure the agriculture lands’ learning value would be maintained even if the lands themselves were ultimately developed. He compared the problem to a hypothetical situation in which replacing the aero hanger with another building would offer more educational opportunities.
“Let’s say for example we tear down the aero hangar in order to build something there,” he said. “Then we need to make sure the functions and what’s going on in the aerohanger have been replaced before we tear it down. That’s not going to be fair to the engineering students. The aero hangar is important to engineering and other students just as ag land is important to agricultural students. So an additional point I want to make is, just because we’re moving something and changing something doesn’t mean the function of Learn By Doing is going to be destroyed.”
Tara Kaveh contributed to this report.