Anxiety in academia

Pay inequality, faculty retention factor in workplace dissatisfaction at Chico State

Something is broken at Chico State. What exactly needs fixing depends on whom you ask, but this much has been established: Low morale, workplace dissatisfaction and distrust of administration are pervasive among the university’s rank and file.

Members of the Academic Senate indicated as much on Sept. 25, when they approved a nonbinding request for California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White to appoint an independent consultant to evaluate problems on campus and offer solutions.

And the results of a recently released campus-wide survey, conducted in May, further illustrate the chilly climate on campus. About 382 employees—including administrators, faculty and staff—answered the question, “How well does the university maintain satisfactory general work environment?” Only 6 percent of respondents said “exceptionally well,” while 19 percent said “quite well,” 31 percent said “somewhat,” 31 percent said “very little,” and 12 percent said “not at all.”

In an interview with the CN&R last month, Chico State President Paul Zingg lamented the university’s inability to retain institutional knowledge as well as “abysmal” compensation levels that have remained frozen throughout the CSU system since the worst of the Great Recession.

And according to a study presented at the Academic Senate meeting on Thursday (Nov. 6), Chico State has lost 164 tenure-track faculty members since 2009, and has hired only 100 to replace them.

The data on faculty retention reflect what’s been happening system-wide, Zingg said in an email this week, and he added that the university plans on hiring more than 100 tenure-track faculty through 2017.

Kathy Kaiser, a sociology professor and longtime Academic Senate member, said losing experience and knowledge—particularly in the face of increasing enrollment and pressure to graduate students in four years—can be disheartening.

“This issue hiding in plain sight—failing to recognize how low we were—has been part of why people felt demoralized but couldn’t quite put their finger on it,” Kaiser said. “It’s becoming a lot clearer to them now.”

Another factor contributing to the low morale is compensation. As one part-time instructor who spoke to the CN&R on condition of anonymity put it, “the pay is horrendous.” She gets about $3,000 to teach a semester-long course, which, between preparation, office hours, grading, and corresponding with students, translates to about $14 an hour, she calculated.

Respondents to the campus-wide survey commonly said their workload justifies higher compensation, their wages are at the bottom of the CSU system, and the salary gap between administrators and faculty and staff is unfair. The survey’s authors wrote: “There is a perception of injustice as a result of employees in [Business and Finance] receiving raises and/or bonuses while faculty and staff haven’t received meaningful raises in five-[plus] years.”

That’s no misperception. While many employees haven’t received a cost-of-living adjustment in years, certain top campus officials have received generous bumps in salary. Many have pointed to Lorraine Hoffman, vice president of Business and Finance, as an example.

Hoffman made $199,239 in 2011 and has secured raises every year since; her current salary is $217,161. Stacie Corona, associate vice president of Financial Services and University Budget, made $97,152 in 2006 and is making $141,363 this year. Chief of Staff Karla Zimmerlee received a raise of $12,873 this year.

Zingg himself likely will get a raise soon as well. If the CSU Board of Trustees votes to approve a 3 percent raise for all campus presidents during its meetings on Nov. 12 and 13, he will receive $8,385 on top of his current annual salary ($279,500) retroactive to July 1.

“Staff receives increases when their jobs increase in responsibility or with counter offers elsewhere,” Zingg responded in an email. “Same with faculty.”

Faculty wages, at least, likely won’t remain frozen for long. On Tuesday (Nov. 11), the CSU faculty union approved a three-year contract that would raise its base compensation pool of $1.53 billion by 3 percent, according to The Sacramento Bee. The trustees will consider approval of the contract this week.