CSU Faculty Return to Negotiations, Ready to Strike

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As debt-saddled California faces increased budget cuts in the coming year, educators in the state’s largest public university system are poised to authorize a future strike, even as they agreed today to return to the negotiating table to discuss key issues in their labor dispute with the California State University.

Faculty within the CSU are preparing to take the next step in a long struggle for a new contract as they vote throughout the next two weeks on the possibility of a 23-campus rolling strike sometime in the future if the next steps in negotiations fail.

Members of the California State Faculty Association, which represents roughly 23,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches who teach within the system, say they want a contract that addresses concerns over pay increases, academic freedom and the direction of the system.

“We are a public university,” said Wei Ming Dariotis, an associate professor of Asian American studies and the CFA chapter president at SF State.
“What the administrators are saying [with these proposals] is that they don’t value us. And what that means is that they don’t value students.”

Erik Fallis, a CSU spokesman, said today that CFA leaders had agreed to return to negotiations despite going forward with the strike vote. “We are going back to the table,” he said. “We have always said that we want to come to a negotiated settlement.”

The most recent CFA contract expired at the end of June 2010, and negotiations have soured, with concerns about the for-profit model Chancellor Charles B. Reed has espoused as a central point of contention.

“Education should not be run as a for-profit corporation,” said Georgia Gero-Chen, a lecturer in the English department at San Francisco State University. “It should be a nonprofit.”

In recent years, many classes, including all summer session courses, were moved to Extended Learning programs, where students pay more - $332 per unit for resident undergraduates as opposed to as low as $178 a unit if enrolled full time during a semester -- and faculty are paid less to teach.

“I won’t teach in Extended Learning anymore because it exploits students and faculty,” said Gero-Chen.

According to a CSU press release, the University is proposing an increase in the minimum number of students in summer school classes from 15 to 20, and the teachers will be paid 5 percent less for each student missing from that minimum.

Fallis, however, said the issue is not about short-changing faculty, but about finding ways to support more classes, even in difficult times. “Frankly, this is all about student access,” he said. “You can only support so many classes that are not supporting themselves before the whole program is not paying for itself.”

But for many lecturers, who lack the job security of a tenured or tenure-track professor, this is an attack on their already difficult career.

“Our ability to teach is being undermined,” said Gero-Chen. As a lecturer, she is not promised work each semester.

Even long-time instructors are only eligible for a three-year contract after six years that only confers some preference to those lecturers if course sections are available to teach - not a guarantee of classes.

Fallis said that while any cuts are unfortunate, given the current state funding for education, the CSU is left with few options. “We have cut and cut and cut from across the system in order to limit tuition increases.”

Some students, however, have voiced support for the faculty. “By them going on strike, it isn’t just for them, it’s for us too,” said 22-year-old Laura Daza, an Arabic studies major at SF State. “Most of the [administrator’s] decisions have not been for a social purpose. The faculty are interested in giving us an education.”

To kick off the week-long in-person voting at SF State, a small group of faculty and students gathered Monday in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, hoping to educate colleagues on the issues, and urge students to join the fight by signing petitions to be sent to the chancellor.

Hospitality major Jessica Gomez, 19, tried to capture student interest at the entrance to the center as part of the Students for Quality Education outreach in conjunction with the CFA chapter.

“We’re here to support education,” she said. “Classes are not as available as they need to be. And isn’t tuition supposed to pay for education?”

If the action is approved, the faculty union will schedule the strike to take place over the course of two days, with some campuses protesting one day and the others the next.
Last year, there was a similar strike on only two campuses: Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State East Bay, as part of the same negotiating process.

Faculty will continue to vote in person through April 20, and then enter an online voting process through April 27.

For many faculty, though, the negotiations are an unwanted distraction.

“Ultimately, we just want to teach,” said Dariotis. “There’s nothing more rewarding than to see someone terrified of writing at the beginning of the semester who then by the end of it tells you that they want to write a book about their life. That’s why we’re here, to help students find their voice.”

Kelly Goff is a student at San Francisco Sate University and editor of the school newspaper, Golden Gate Xpress.