Instruction, interrupted

University faculty set to strike, administration says instruction will continue

In February 2015, some 200 faculty and staff members rallied during a protest on Chico State’s campus that marched past Kendall Hall, the red-brick building that houses university administration.

In February 2015, some 200 faculty and staff members rallied during a protest on Chico State’s campus that marched past Kendall Hall, the red-brick building that houses university administration.

CN&R FILE PHOTO by Brittany Waterstradt

Chico State’s campus is quiet this week because of spring break, but it’s the proverbial calm before the storm. For five days next month, professors and instructors, along with their colleagues throughout the CSU system, will be making a racket in picket lines instead of leading classrooms—unless their demand for a 5 percent salary increase is met.

The California Faculty Association is currently at an impasse in salary negotiations with the CSU Office of the Chancellor, and the strike, set for April 13-15 and 18-19, is overwhelmingly supported by the university’s rank-and-file. About 80 percent of CSU faculty members voted and, of those, nearly 95 percent were in favor of walking out.

It’s not a move that teachers take lightly, said Tim Sistrunk, president of the CFA’s local chapter and a history professor at Chico State.

“A strike is a last attempt to change things,” he said. “The faculty are all people who’ve spent their lives educating, so not to do it is pretty serious. … But, yeah, if you’re suddenly missing days out of class, you’ll miss instruction.”

In a university-wide email on Feb. 24, however, Chico State President Paul Zingg said that some classes may be canceled, but that the campus will remain open. The email also contained suggestions that rub some faculty members the wrong way: Classroom time shouldn’t be used to discuss issues related to the strike, and that media requests for comment should be run through the university’s Office of Public Affairs.

Similar messages were sent out on all 23 CSU campuses, which, to Sistrunk, indicates that the Chancellor’s Office is out of touch with classrooms.

“There’s academic freedom; there’s the open exchange of ideas,” he said. “To tell people what they can’t talk about—especially if it’s specific to their life at the university—is an astounding assertion.”

Zingg told the CN&R by email that “my message does not question nor infringe on academic freedom whatsoever. No one on this campus will be monitoring what occurs in classrooms. That does not happen now, and it will not be occurring within a strike environment.”

As for speaking with media, which he characterized as “a fundamental right of expression,” Zingg said he meant to relate that the Office of Public Affairs may have information on strike protocols “with which not everyone may be familiar. Certainly, anyone can choose to speak with the media, or not.”

Some faculty members refer to their demand for a 5 percent pay bump as “salary restoration,” rather than an increase, that would make up for a decade of stagnation. Though the CSU Chancellor’s Office did approve a 2 percent raise for some faculty members last year, wages overall haven’t kept pace with the rising cost of living, Sistrunk said.

According to the CFA, student tuition has increased 283 percent since 2000, while, from 2004 to 2014, spending on managers’ salaries rose by 48 percent. The CFA’s four-part essay series, Race to the Bottom, notes that, “by the year 2014, the average full-time salary for a CSU manager/supervisor was $106,149 per year while the average full-time salary for a CSU faculty member was $64,479.” Sistrunk added that the salaries of campus presidents—which range from $236,484 to $422,300 per year—are a symptom of the corporatization of the CSU system.

“The university shouldn’t be run like it’s a private-sector, profit-driven corporation—it’s a public trust,” he said. “The people of California pay taxes to have their children educated. … It’s not supposed to be a money-making enterprise.”

There’s money in the system, Sistrunk maintained, but instruction hasn’t been prioritized.

“It’s about creating a system of education that is sustainable,” he said. “Right now, it isn’t.”