Even after moving offices about a month ago, architectural engineering professor Graham Archer’s desk is almost overflowing with paperwork. He had been too busy to get settled into the office. But it’s not just fresh midterms on the desk — there’s a pile for California Faculty Association (CFA) work that’s been growing since strike dates were set for mid-April.
If it goes through, students may have an unexpected break about a third of the way through spring quarter.
Faculty from all 23 California State Universities (CSU) recently agreed to strike from April 13-15 and April 18-19, if their demands are not met by that time. The dates will run through Cal Poly’s Open House, which is set for April 14-16.
The CFA is comprised of approximately 26,000 faculty members across the state, including lecturers, counselors, librarians and athletic coaches, according to CFA President Jennifer Eagan. They are asking for a 5 percent raise, which has been answered by a 2 percent counter-offer by CSU Chancellor Timothy White for the past two years.
Tensions between the faculty association and CSU management have been growing since 2008, when the recession struck the CSU system with approximately $580 million in budget cuts, according to a furlough agreement between the CSU and Cal Poly faculty.
Cal Poly faculty agreed, at the time, to take 18 furlough days through the 2009-10 school year. After that, they spent several years without receiving any pay raises.
“That year was a complete nightmare,” Archer, president of the Cal Poly chapter of the CFA, said of the furlough year. “I mean, do you know what it’s like to live on our salary? To support a family and have 10 percent of your income taken away? That’s virtually all of your disposable income for the year … No one went out for dinner. No one bought a new car.”
CSU management eventually began to give faculty raises that Archer called “pitiful” — ranging from about 1.3 to 1.6 percent.
“(The raises) barely even impact your bank account over time, and at the same time, you know, my house payment didn’t go down,” he said.
The 2 percent being offered by CSU management would equal $33 million to be dispersed among the faculty, according to a CSU web page. That’s just shy of $1,270 per person, if the money were distributed equally across the 26,000 union members.
By contrast, the 5 percent increase in pay would cost about $102.3 million — approximately $3,930 per person, if distributed equally.
But half of all new state funding to the CSU this year went to paying employees, according to an emailed statement from Toni Molle, director of public affairs for the CSU. The CSU says on its web page that there isn’t enough money to cover the additional cost in the 2015-16 budget if they have to concede to a 5 percent raise, and that “other operating expenses” would have to be cut to make up the difference. What those expenses could be was not explained.
However, Eagan is confident that the money was available, and that it was the CSU’s responsibility to figure it out.
Some students say they had been hearing rumblings about the strike since this past spring.
“A couple of them had said there was a possibility of class being cancelled eventually because of the strike,” theater and anthropology and geography sophomore Beatriz Pereira said. “From their point of view, they say that admin has gotten huge pay raises and faculty hasn’t gotten any except for inflation … They’re just angry, I think, about their pay.”
Pick a date
The strike was not purposefully set to fall during Cal Poly’s Open House, according to both Eagan and Archer. Chapter presidents and other high-ranking CFA members had chosen the dates mostly out of circumstance while at a meeting in Sacramento.
According to Molle, the CFA is required to wait until at least the end of March, when the collective bargaining process is finished, to strike.
That puts the earliest available strike dates for the CFA in April. Faculty members were then faced with the problem of organizing a unified strike that was effective across all 23 schools, but did minimal damage to the students.
Faculty decided not to run the strike during Passover, which begins April 23. And they needed to choose days that wouldn’t occur during other schools’ spring breaks or major exam periods, according to Archer.
Both CFA and CSU members are confident that the initial strike wouldn’t impact students’ ability to graduate on time.
Campuses are set to remain open during the strike. Some classes will still be running at the time, and students are encouraged to ask professors how to proceed, according to Molle.
While Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier declined to answer questions regarding the possible strike, he mentioned in a previous statement that Cal Poly has a contingency plan ready if the strike takes place.
This is scheduled to include career days and development workshops set for the strike, according to an email from Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong. Administration and general Cal Poly services are expected to continue.
Further, all events currently scheduled to run during the strike period will proceed as planned, including Open House.
“Sometimes I’ll say, everyone should just go home,” Archer said. “Leave campus. Enjoy yourself … But if you’re in town, come to the picket line. Your teachers are here. Please, join us. “
Students cannot be demanded to participate in the strike by faculty, or be offered any class credit for doing so. This includes being asked to walk out of class, join picket lines, stay away from campus or otherwise support the strike. Nor can faculty do anything to purposefully obstruct access to campus, according to Armstrong.
While professors who are striking are not allowed to work or ask their students to work, some professors might refuse to alter their syllabus as they had done during the furlough year, according to Archer. This would make students responsible for material that isn’t being taught.
However, Archer explained that pulling the material from the course wouldn’t be ideal, either.
“I teach architectural engineering,” he said. “That’s a life-safety thing. So there’s a whole group of structural engineers out there who didn’t see sheer design and reinforced concrete beams (taught to them during that year). I hope they learned it on their own.”
But if the initial strike fails, CFA members will continue to strike — possibly leading to them not returning in the fall, according to Eagan.
“(Faculty) won’t be helping students with things that they’re supposed to, like with their senior projects … It would be really uncool if it hindered someone’s ability to graduate on time,” computer science junior Colton Stapper said.
Worst case scenario, according to Archer: “We hear nothing from (Chancellor White). And then we have to turn it up a notch. And in my mind, the only thing you can do from a one-week strike is to go out and not come back. And I would vote that we just simply not come back in the fall. And that’s a horrible prospect, because I don’t know how many weeks you can be on strike and still call it a quarter … Which could hurt students’ graduation dates.”
“It’s really hard for me to imagine,” Pereira said. “Especially with professors who I’ve had who have been really passionate — it’s really hard for me to imagine them not coming back. I could see a few of them teaching out of their houses. I can’t imagine them just completely leaving, because they’re so invested.”
But Stapper explained that he still supports the faculty’s effort.
“If they’re not happy with what they’re getting, then they should fight for that,” he said.