Professor studies the economic impacts of the more than 100 lecturers let go at Chico State
Last spring, Olav Bryant Smith was teaching full time, mostly logic and critical-thinking classes in Chico State’s Department of Philosophy. And then the effects of the recession hit. Hard. He went from teaching the equivalent of five classes to none at all in the fall and faced the same scenario again this semester. Instantly, the Paradise resident and father of five had to cope with losing two-thirds of his family’s income and its health insurance.
Technically, Smith wasn’t fired or laid off by the university. Like many others teaching at the university, he’s a lecturer. As such, he was a contract employee working from year to year based on Chico State’s demand and budget. That’s pretty much the life of a lecturer, said Smith, who oftentimes would get his teaching assignment just days prior to the start of classes.
“So you’re always on the edge,” he said. “You wonder from semester to semester if you’re going to have work.”
His teaching job was a casualty of a financial crisis that has wreaked havoc on the entire 23-campus CSU system, where lecturers are taking the brunt of the hit. On the Chico State campus alone, more than 100 lecturers lost their positions between the fall of 2008 and the fall of 2009.
Smith’s story is not unlike that of many of his former colleagues, though many say their story hasn’t really been told.
Curtis Peldo, a lecturer representative for California Faculty Association, an elected, unpaid position for the faculty union, said the situation has remained mostly unknown around town. Frustrated, he recently contacted the city of Chico to help shed some light on the significance of the losses to the greater community.
“We just wanted to make sure city leaders were aware of the impacts, and I don’t think they were until Freddie ran the numbers,” he said this week by telephone.
Peldo, also a philosophy lecturer, was referring to Chico State professor Frederica Shockley, who included the loss of lecturers—132 altogether—in a recent economic study she generated by inputting salary data into modeling software. Shockley, interim chair of the Economics Department, spoke about the impacts of the cuts, putting the losses into dollars and cents during a meeting of the City Council’s Economic Development Committee last Thursday (Feb. 11).
Shockley, a tenured professor who has studied economic impacts for 30 years, emphasized that the loss of lecturer positions alone translated into a gross-income loss of more than $2.2 million. The figure equals a loss of nearly $2 million in disposable income.
Then there’s the multiplier effect. Shockley said an additional 30 people in the community—a conservative figure—have lost jobs as a result of less money circulating through the local economy. Of course, that raises the disposable-income losses to an even higher estimate of $4.9 million. It’s an approximate $178,000 cut in property and sales tax to the coffers of Butte County government, she told the committee.
“There’s just a ripple effect through the entire community,” said Shockley, who, along with her husband, Jon Ebeling, operate a consulting business called Regional & Economic Sciences.
And that’s just counting the lecturers. Shockley, who did the survey pro-bono, also analyzed data that show the effect of faculty furloughs and attrition due to retirements and professors who have simply moved on. Faculty cuts in any form are especially difficult for students, who in many cases are struggling to find seats in cramped classes.
Meanwhile, the CSU Chancellor’s Office has mandated Chico State to reduce its enrollment from 14,712 to 13,459 students for the 2010-11 academic year. Already, 200 fewer students are walking the halls. These are people who Shockley conservatively estimates each spend an average of $10,000 a year in the local economy.
“Again, you’re losing jobs, taxes and local income,” she said.
According to her recent research, the estimated result for local government is a cut of close to $1 million. She noted, however, that the figure does not include cuts to university staff. That’s data she’s waiting on.
Non-reappointment is the euphemism used on campus when a lecturer is let go. Shockley said that just because the university doesn’t use the word “fired” doesn’t mean the results differ.
“It still has the same economic impact, and it probably has the same emotional impact,” she said in a telephone interview.
Smith acknowledged the past year has been extremely difficult. He’s managed to “scrape by” because he picked up three classes at Butte College last fall, a Chico State intersession class over winter break, and two Butte classes again this semester. He began dabbling with starting his own businesses—a Reiki practice and an online bookstore specializing in spirituality, philosophy and mythology—but the economy hasn’t helped his efforts.
In the meantime, he’s been keeping tabs on the CSU. He mentioned hearing last week’s announcement that Chancellor Charles Reed is releasing $50 million in federal stimulus funds to campuses to add classes and lecturers for the fall term. Still, he’s extremely skeptical about his future at Chico State.
“I guess it’s a sense of frustration,” he said. “I put so much time into being a scholar and a teacher, and I’ve come to realize that people don’t value education. … There’s just so little opportunity to fulfill what I’ve started.
“I’m 50 years old with a Ph.D. in philosophy, and there aren’t many jobs available,” he said.