The California Faculty Association (CFA) announced the findings of a report Tuesday that maintain the Long Beach-headquartered California State University (CSU) system does not provide enough support for students to succeed.
The report, titled The Price Students Pay, is the fourth report in the Sacramento-headquartered CFA’s Race to the Bottom series and evaluates the CSU administration’s decisions and priorities, in addition to how their decisions impact faculty and students. The CFA is the statewide union for the CSU system’s faculty members.
“The university system has made a lot of choices that look like McDonald’s,” said Lillian Taiz, the president of the CFA about the report series, pointing to the CSU system’s increased hiring of lower wage, temporary faculty lecturers instead of permanent tenure-track faculty. “They are paying low wages to their workers and [providing] high pay to executives. How on earth are [professors] going to provide students with the help they need?”
The report alleges the CSU system is riddled with systemic failures in accomplishing its mission by failing to hire enough faculty to serve its growing student population—in fact, decreasing the number of permanent faculty by three percent over the last decade, while student enrollment “exploded” by 24 percent.
“The goal was to get this on paper, so we don’t have to have a conversation about whether or not it’s going on, but what are we going to do about it,” Taiz said. She added that this installment of the series focuses on the impact of professors on students, and especially how administrative decisions impact students.
CSU Assistant Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs Laurie Weidner said state budget issues during the recession fueled more hiring of temporary lecturers as opposed to full-time professors, largely as a way to guarantee the system flexibility as class offerings were reduced.
As Weidner explained, tenure-track positions that require applicants with Ph.D.s involve the system’s commitment for decades, including pension and healthcare promises. It takes at least one year to hire a tenure-track faculty, as opposed to mere months for a lecturer, who is not required to hold Ph.D., although many do. If the system couldn’t guarantee the same course offerings at the close of a lecturer’s contract, the Weidner said the school system could shift the load to permanent, tenure-track or tenured professors, guaranteeing an appropriate workload.
Weidner said the practice has not hurt student achievement. “We’re graduating students at record numbers—graduation rates are up,” she said, citing a fact sheet the CSU system produces each year. According to their numbers, as of fall 2014, four-year graduation rates within the CSU system were up by 10.6 percent, and the median time to complete degree is now 4.7 years.
The Price Students Pay says that faculty support is crucial because of the number of students of color and first time college students who attend CSU schools. It notes that 20 of the most diverse colleges in the western region of the U.S. are CSU campuses, 40 percent of students come from households where English is a second language, and only 29 percent of CSU students statewide identify themselves as white.
“Not all [temporary faculty members] can work full-time, and they can’t completely invest in a new curriculum,” when they’re worried about finding jobs at the close of their contract, said Taiz. She said this decreases the number of “high-impact practices” and mentorship time for students, who at one time took a majority of their classes from tenured, permanent faculty. As a note of comparison, over half (55.9 percent) of the University of California (UC system)’s faculty in the 2010-2011 school year were tenure-track or tenured.
In response, the CSU Chancellor’s Office released a statement affirming their commitment to hiring tenure-track faculty and increasing faculty pay, rejecting the notion that their approach to faculty hiring is the sole variable in offering students support.
“[…] Running the nation’s largest university takes contributions from all our employee groups, from student support to library services to campus maintenance,” the CSU Chancellor’s Office said. “For the California Faculty Association to claim they should be the highest and only priority fails to value our other employee groups and further underscores that the union’s white papers are now being published to help influence their own salary negotiations.”
Weidner echoed the office’s statement and said the economy’s stabilization has allowed the system to recommit itself to hiring more tenure-track faculty, pending what is provided for in the state budget this year.
“We’ve already made that commmitment—we provide a budget to the Board of Trustees […] we’ve already identified money designated for new [tenure-track] hires,” Weidner said. “It is predicated on the state providing money for a support budget.” Weidner said 83 legislators currently stood in support of ensuring the CSU system has funding for hiring new tenure-track faculty.
The Race to the Bottom series previously highlighted the growing disparity between CSU administrative officials’ salaries and CSU faculty salaries, alleging the system spent 48 percent more on administrators and just 25 percent more on faculty over the past decade. Previous installments outlined the CSU system’s “one percent,” blaming faculty salary and student support issues on administrative choices rather than “external factors.”
The report specifies the amount of student growth in relation to a decreasing faculty population—tenure-track faculty numbers decreased by 338 statewide from 2004 to 2014, while the student population grew by 75,518.
Conversely, the report notes that temporary faculty hires increased by 46 percent. Currently, 58 percent of all faculty are temporary, the report states, a number Taiz considers “absolutely crazy.”
“They’ve got to refocus on the needs of students and those who help students,” Taiz said.
Above left: File photo