CSU's office of the Chancellor
The California State University system’s office of the chancellor in Long Beach. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It’s contract negotiation time for the California State University system, and as per usual, the California Faculty Association and the administration are at loggerheads over raises, among many issues. But both have taken positions that aren’t in the faculty’s interest, to put it mildly.

Unlike previous years, the CSU has plenty of money. Thanks to the state’s $75 billion surplus, Gov. Gavin Newsom has not only restored the steep cuts imposed last year due to the pandemic, but added even more to the budget. 

 According to the Los Angeles Times: “Cal State would receive an increase of $514.9 million in ongoing funding for 2021-22, which includes restoring a $299 million budget cut last year and adding money for mental health, basic needs and other programs. Cal State also would get a one-time allocation of $325 million, which includes $150 million in federal funds, for critical infrastructure, maintenance and renovation projects.”

You would think the administration would be generous in its salary offer, especially given all the personal sacrifices faculty have made to ensure education continued while COVID-19 raged (and continues to rage). Instead, they offered a measly 2% raise this year, and 0% for next year. Which really means a salary cut, given the 5.4% rate of inflation. Rather than our salaries going up 2%, if the administration has its way, they will go down by 3.4%. And even more the next year.

What makes this Scrooge-like “offer” so insulting is that it’s accompanied by a proposal to increase the salaries of CSU presidents by 10% for the next three years, and of course, this offer would be retroactive for the presidents reviewed last year. CSU Trustee Jean Firstenberg asserted at a recent board meeting that raising presidential salaries is “one of the most important issues as a board that we can discuss,” and she would “fight for your compensation as I have for all the presidents.”

That’s not faculty, but presidents, who are already very well compensated. Adela de la Torre, for example, makes $454,749, and that does not include her housing (she lives rent-free in a house purchased in toney Alvarado Estates valued, in 2018, at $2.3 million), car allowance, and retirement benefits. Chancellor Joseph I. Castro was hired in September 2020, in the middle of the pandemic economic downturn, and his starting salary is $625,000, a 30% increase over his predecessor’s salary.

With all due respect to Firstenberg, the CSU’s presidents are doing just fine. It’s the faculty whose salaries are going down.

Bad as the administration’s position may be, it’s pretty much what we have come to expect from them. Some years ago, Chancellor Charlie Reed referred to CSU faculty as “workhorses,” and that attitude continues.

But it is gobsmackingly astonishing that the union is also advocating for a pay cut! They propose that faculty get a 4% raise every year for three years (some faculty will get slightly more if they are promoted). But for the vast majority, the union’s position amounts to lowering, not raising, our salary!

Again, the rate of inflation this year is above 5%, and there is every expectation that prices will continue to rise, thanks to a combination of government policy, goods shortages, shipping logjams, misjudged demand, and bad weather. But rather than demanding salary increases that would put faculty ahead of inflation, the CFA’s demand puts faculty behind, which is surely a first for a union.

Why they would make such a foolish demand is hard to understand, but it seems that the CFA is confused about its primary mission. Their website lists “What We Care About” and “What CFA Fights for: “Antiracism and Social Justice,” “Academic Freedom,” “Free the CSU,” “Ethnic Studies,” and “Executive Compensation.” Notably missing: a fair contract, good benefits, and the economic well-being of its members.

Social justice may be a worthy goal, but I pay union dues so that CFA will represent my interests. That is clearly not happening if they advocate for a compensation package that lags behind inflation.

As for the administration, their excuse is that the Governor and the Legislature “did not specifically allocate any funding for employee compensation increases.” Neither did they specifically allocate funding for increasing presidential compensation, but that does not seem to stop them.

Also, “funding the CSU’s proposed salary increase will require reallocating funds from other dedicated purposes.” What those “other dedicated purposes” might be, nobody knows because they won’t say. But given Firstenberg’s fervent dedication to the cause of raising presidential salaries, it’s not hard to imagine where this money is going.

Nobody, it seems, adequately represents faculty interests. The Chancellor’s Office wants to slash our salaries while ensuring that presidents, and other administrators, get salary increases well above the rate of inflation. And the CFA is similarly advocating for pay cuts, just not as much as the Chancellor’s Office wants. Either way, we lose.

The CSU’s faculty, the people who do the teaching, research, and service, deserve better.

A lot better.

Peter C. Herman is professor of English literature at San Diego State University. He has published on Shakespeare, Milton and the literature of terrorism, and has published essays in Salon, Inside Higher Ed, as well as Times of San Diego. His most recent book is “Unspeakable: Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11” (Routledge, 2020).