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It’s no secret teachers and faculty in California’s educational system are vastly underpaid. The California State University (CSU) system and Cal Poly are no exceptions to the rule.
Graham Archer, president of the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the California Faculty Association (CFA) and architectural engineering professor, has been on the CFA union executive board for eight years and at Cal Poly for approximately 12 years.
Archer and the rest of CFA have been working toward creating a new contract for CSU faculty since last November. They were supposed to come to an agreement more than 100 days ago, he said, and have been functioning under the previous contract during this time of limbo.
There’s one contract that governs all faculty at all CSUs. The contract dictates faculty salaries, the classes they teach, their workload and all other working conditions to a lesser extent, Archer said. The most pressing issue is salaries.
“The difference between what the CSU is offering and what the CFA would like is down to about 1 percent,” Archer said. “And so we are trying to prod the administration to just go up that little tiny bit.”
That difference is a mere 0.28 percent of the Cal Poly budget, and this isn’t the first time there’s been an issue with salaries at Cal Poly.
“I believe it was about six-and-a-half years ago, they reneged on our promised raises,” he said. “We had a three-year contract and the state ran out of money. So not only did we not receive those raises, of course, we haven’t received a raise in the interim.”
The Cal Poly faculty received a raise between 1 and 1.3 percent last year. But essentially, Archer said, that did not make up for the money they didn’t receive six years ago.
“And that’s the issue,” Archer said. “The salary increase that they’re offering doesn’t even go as far as making up for the raise that they reneged on six years ago. So we’re arguing over little tiny slices of a pie that’s just simply too small.”
Waiting on the new contract
Archer and the rest of CFA had hoped they would have a tentative agreement by Oct. 14, though it didn’t arrive until Oct. 16.
“I do not know the exact details of the contract,” Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said. “There has been a tentative agreement and this requires the ratification of the California Faculty Association members.”
Archer knew the outcome wasn’t going to be pretty.
“Even though I don’t know what they have agreed on, I know it’s insufficient,” Archer said.
An assembly will be held Oct. 17-19 to go over the specific details and possibly ratify the tentative agreement. A full disclosure of this information will be relayed to faculty the following week.
“I do know that the CSU put forward a long-term proposal for three years, with 3 percent salary adjustment this year and 2 percent the following two years,” Armstrong said.
However, Armstrong was unaware of how much money would be divvied up across the board versus how much would go toward faculty and lecturers and who have experienced inversion or salary compression, he said.
While in the dark on the specific details of the agreement, former president of the CFA and Cal Poly mechanical engineering professor Glen Thorncroft had a hopeful attitude for the outcome of the contract.
But after reading the California Daily Clips — a statewide education website that rumored a 1.6 percent raise for CSU faculty over the first year — he called Mustang News to share his new outlook.
It wasn’t a happy one.
“I’d like to present my reaction to that,” Thorncroft said. “I will save you the thirty seconds of silence, because that would be my first reaction, the cricket sound, and then perhaps a few four letter words.”
For the past six or seven years, the faculty have had only two actions on their salary. Approximately five years ago, they received a 10 percent pay cut, and last year, they received a 1.34 percent raise. So it’s been a very difficult time for faculty, Armstrong said.
We know that becoming a professor is not the way to get rich,” Thorncroft said. “We know that, we all know that. But it’s not supposed to be a vow of poverty. And to me, I think that a 1.6 percent (raise) is sort of like telling faculty that you’re not worth a lot to us. And that’s a sad state of affairs in this state.”
Cal Poly is centered around Learn By Doing, which requires additional investment, Armstrong said. And he believes faculty are the key to making sure that continues to be alive and well. However, he can’t promise when they will be able to fully increase faculty salaries because it depends on the amount of available funding now, Armstrong said.
“So I’m hoping that we don’t repeat our past,” Armstrong said. “That we’re going to have the ability to provide, you know, sort of across the board salary adjustments for faculty as well as some higher adjustments for those in particular areas whose salaries are lower than new people that have started in the last few years.”
The contract continues to allow individual CSU campuses to use the money that’s available to deal with equity issues like the ones that have recently come up, Armstrong said.
Overall, Armstrong is pleased with the new agreement, especially because it’s long term.
“One of the biggest priorities for our Cal Poly leadership is to enhance salary and benefits of our faculty and staff,” Armstrong said. “We can’t have student success without the success of our faculty and staff. And this will not get us where we need to go, so it’s going to take additional work over time. And we will use campus money as it becomes available to deal with the equity issues that are not answered by this agreement.”
Thorncroft, on the other hand, was not as pleased with the agreement if the 1.6 percent raise was true.
In his call to Mustang News, he emphasized he speaks for most faculty, not just himself.
“It’s just that contract after contract we always say, ‘Well, other people have it worse,’” he said. “Well, at some point, you have to acknowledge that, no, we have it pretty damn bad here. And to the extent that it affects morale on this campus.”
With these low salaries, faculty are forced to take second jobs and work during summer vacation, he said, which may make faculty reconsider their job or at least create a bitter environment.
“And when we can’t attract faculty to the job because they know of this contract in their words might suck, then that’s going to hurt the students. So at the end of the day, it’s all about the students,” Thorncroft said.
Faculty have told Thorncroft they wouldn’t advise their children to become professors, he said.
“Faculty tell me this,” he said. “It’s like, wow, really? I mean, it’s such a great job and I say that, it’s a great job. But to realize that there are people that wouldn’t have their kids follow in their footsteps is really sad. Higher education is not a good career goal, apparently. That’s the message to be received.”
Archer hopes the whole situation doesn’t come to a strike, which they have seen in the past and would “unfortunately be the road we would be on if all things fall apart next week,” he said.
According to Archer, many of the San Luis Obispo School District (K-12) colleagues and local junior college colleagues receive more pay than full-time professors at Cal Poly.
“The broader issue is that the state has not invested in higher education at the level appropriate for our economy and our people to really flourish; that’s a core issue,” Armstrong said. “So the CSU has had limited funds. We are seeing some increases in funding here lately, but it is not enough to provide for additional loads of California students that are needed for the economy.”
The state doesn’t provide enough money to cover deferred maintenance, let alone build new buildings, Armstrong said.
“So we still have a serious problem with the budget,” he said. “But I am grateful for the support we have received. And I am very pleased that the CSU chose to place a priority on putting a 3 percent pull in place for this coming year.”
On Oct. 9, CFA presented a petition to Armstrong.
In it enclosed details from individual members as well as a front page that said the state has not invested enough money and faculty have not received the salary adjustments, Armstrong said.
Armstrong saw the CFA’s plight, but said the system needed time to raise salaries.
“Getting salary adjustments, salary benefits for the future are the key of the CSU,” he said. “And I agreed with everything, all of their principles, but I could not agree with the timeline and I could not agree with the specific amount because, you know, we’re trying to balance the budget. You know, make sure we handle the basics of student success and running the university.”
Armstrong said he will allocate as much money as possible toward the equity program after the contract is ratified and implemented.
The situation now
As of now, everything is up in the air. But if the information from the California Daily Clips is true, Thorncroft is skeptical of our society’s value on education.
“I don’t know what society would think that underpaying faculty, who spend so many years in school to then teach their children — you know, society’s children,” Thorncroft said. “I don’t know how a society can live with themselves knowing that they’re putting faculty in such a position of making this choice.”