CSUS brain drain

Faculty are leaving the Sacramento university for greener pastures

CSUS professor Chris Witko says he’s on his way to Saint Louis University, where he can make more money and teach fewer classes.

CSUS professor Chris Witko says he’s on his way to Saint Louis University, where he can make more money and teach fewer classes.

SN&R Photo By Anne Stokes

As SN&R went to press, a breakthrough bargaining announcement from John Travis, president of the California Faculty Association, explained that over the past weekend, the CFA and CSU system reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that postpones rolling two-day walkouts at the 23 state campuses. “We pretty much got everything we asked for, including salaries,” said Travis.

President Alexander Gonzalez came to CSUS in 2003. That year, a total of seven full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members resigned—three less than the year before. But in 2004, full-time faculty resignations tripled. A total of 21 tenured and tenure-track faculty resigned. And 23 full-time faculty quit the year after that. At the same time, the university became embroiled in a contract dispute that led to threatened walkouts.

Frank Whitlatch, an associate vice president in CSUS Public Affairs, said, “I do not have a complete explanation for the number of faculty resignations.” He told SN&R that campuses with a lot of junior faculty often see a greater number of resignations. “This year, we [hired] 41 new faculty members and have lost four junior faculty members.”

Departing staff had other explanations.

Barbara Keys was a junior (full-time, tenure-track) professor of history. She resigned from CSUS in January. Happy with her students and colleagues, Keys was disappointed with other areas of her job.

“In my first year, 2003, I worked very hard,” she said. “I put a lot of heart and effort into my teaching and research, staying up late through the night, writing lectures and grading papers. My reward in my second year was a salary decrease in real purchasing terms.”

Key’s annual salary of $45,696 stagnated as consumer prices rose, but Keys wasn’t the only one whose income failed to keep pace with living costs. For all U.S. workers, real wages began to rise by an annual rate of about 1 percent in 2007, after declining from the fall of 2003 through the end of 2006, according to economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

For Keys, teaching at CSUS had another drawback: growing class sizes. For instance, the number of students in her U.S. foreign relations class began at 40. In time, that number climbed to 45 and then to 50, she said. Such growth negatively affected learning, making “discussion and genuine student participation impossible for all but the most persistent few.”

Keys is now a lecturer in American history at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Her book, titled Globalizing Sport: National Rivalry and International Community in the 1930s, was published in 2006 by Harvard University, where she earned a doctorate six years ago.

What effect has Gonzalez’s leadership had, according to departing faculty?

“The steps Gonzales took exacerbated the situation,” said Keys. Failure to meet enrollment targets “meant diminishing state funding, and, combined with large increases in professional appointments and salaries, the gap between income and expenses climbed to crisis proportions.

“Gonzales also undertook a number of sleazy moves,” added Keys. “He redecorated his office for the same amount of money that I spent on a four-bedroom house, about $270,000. He hired his inexperienced and uncredentialed son for a higher salary, reputed to be $70,000, than I earned with a Harvard Ph.D.”

Whitlatch confirmed that Gonzalez had spent approximately $270,000 redesigning his office and the meetings rooms used by his staff. He wouldn’t comment on Gonzalez Jr.’s qualifications, except to say that he was a college graduate and was fund raising for the development office. Both moves have been publicly criticized as extravagant.

Another junior faculty member who has decided to make an exit is Chris Witko, a professor of government at CSUS. Like Keys, he is disgruntled with the low pay. Witko began at CSUS four years ago with an annual salary of $47,000. His salary has increased $1,500 per year.

Witko is one of more than 140 junior faculty hired between 2003 and 2005 who are being paid up to $10,000 less than some recent hires, said Kevin Wehr, a junior professor of sociology at CSUS since 2003. He, ironically, dubs this the “experience penalty.”

According to Whitlatch, “the junior-faculty pay issue came about in part because of a series of years in which the state [Legislature] cut the CSU budget. Also, in more recent years, the economic reality is that we have faced more intense competition hiring new faculty, leading to some higher starting salaries.”

“The university made no genuine, systematic effort to address this inequity,” said Witko, whose workload of six to eight courses per year includes committee and community work, plus research. He is leaving CSUS at the end of the summer session to teach political science for higher pay and two or three fewer classes a year, with “about the same [requirement] for committee work and research,” at Saint Louis University.

The experience penalty snuck up on the California Faculty Association, said Jeff Lustig, a CSUS professor of government. The union wants 1 percent of the new salary package being negotiated with the CSU system to resolve the salary grievances of junior faculty.

A 10-day contract extension for the union and CSU ends on April 6, but a last-minute agreement led union representatives to postpone what would have been the first-ever faculty walkout, which was planned for the second week in April. According to details released by the union, all faculty will receive a minimum 20.7 percent in general salary increases over the next four years. Some will receive more. Parts of the agreement are still outstanding, including the details around raises for the estimated 2,600 to 3,000 CSU junior faculty who suffer from the experience penalty.

These new terms will be cold comfort for Keys, Witko and Michelle Matisons. The latter was a junior faculty member who taught women’s studies at CSUS. In 2004-05, the Associated Students of CSUS named Matisons the outstanding professor of the year.

She resigned in December to care for her mother, a Florida resident who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Familial and financial matters hit Matisons with force.

“Since the pay was low, on top of my education loans and the local housing market, I was unable to save money while teaching in Sacramento,” she said. “I had to resign so I could cash out my pension money, as opposed to taking a leave of absence.”