Shouting at Charlie

Faculty union angrily blames Chancellor Reed for problems in the CSU system

Luke Wood, a student at CSUS, speaks at a protest rally across from the Sutter Club, where Chancellor Reed was speaking.

Luke Wood, a student at CSUS, speaks at a protest rally across from the Sutter Club, where Chancellor Reed was speaking.

Photo by Larry Dalton

Charlie Reed has been called “abrasive,” “contemptuous,” “incompetent,” and “the quintessential bully.” His leadership has been described as “deplorable,” “appalling,” and “harebrained.”

Last week, protesters chanted:

“Cal State should beware
Charlie G-reed is unfair!
Charlie G-reed you can’t bust us
We’re marching here for justice!”

So who is Charlie Reed, and why are they saying these horrible things about him?

To about 200 protesters last Wednesday in Downtown Sacramento, the portly chancellor of the California State University (CSU) system is an overpaid bureaucrat who cares more about ripping off students and professors than about educational excellence.

Members of the California Faculty Association (CFA) hold Reed responsible for lagging salaries, crowded classrooms, a bloated administration, and an increasing reliance on temporary instructors—as well as their long jaunts from the campus parking lot to their offices.

Jeffrey Kaplan, a professor of linguistics at San Diego State, is especially bitter about Reed’s well-known comment about CSU faculty: “They only work until 2:00 p.m. Thursday.”

Bob Muscat, CFA’s general manager, confronted Reed outside the “elitist” Sutter Club of Sacramento, as the chancellor headed toward an alumni fund-raising dinner: “I told him he had to start negotiating in good faith. His last contract proposal was the same he offered a year ago. He’s from Florida. Things are a little different here.”

Yet Clarra Potes-Fellow, the media relations manager for the CSU Chancellor’s Office, defends her boss, saying he has done a good job managing a huge organization and attributing the vitriol at this and other protests to a handful of rabble-rousers.

“The chancellor’s relationship with the faculty has, on the whole, been a very friendly one,” she said. “But some people in the CFA insult him. They call him all sorts of names. It’s pretty disrespectful. It’s not productive.”

But if last week’s protest didn’t help produce better working conditions in the CSU system, it certainly produced some creative songs, boisterously sung by the group. There were reworked lyrics of “The Weight,” by The Band (“Take a load off faculty; take a load off me. Take a loud off faculty, and, and, and put the load right on Reed”).

There was “Charlie Reed” to the tune of “Charlie Brown” (“Fee fee fi fi fo fo fum, Who calls the faculty lazy and dumb?”). My favorite, by far, was the CFA version of that post-Valentine’s Day ballad “When Will I Be Loved?” by the former girlfriend of the Oakland Mayor Formerly Known as Governor Moonbeam:

“I’ve been cheated, been mistreated
When will I be loved?
I’ve been pushed round, I’ve been turned down
When will I be loved?
Every time I have a new idea, that I can call mine
CSU takes the copyright, it happens every time
I’ve been beat blue, I’ve been lied to
When will I be loved?
I’ve been pushed round, I’ve been turned down
When will I be loved?
Legislature funds my salary, says it’s all mine
But out of every dollar I get, Charlie steals two dimes
I’ve been cheated, been mistreated
When will I be loved?
I’ve been pushed round, I’ve been turned down
When will I be loved?
So I joined the union, it’s the CFA
Fighting for a better world, it’s the only way
Won’t be cheated, won’t be mistreated
We’ll make Charlie pay
Won’t be pushed round, can’t be turned down
We’re the CFA.”

The rally also demonstrated creativity in sign-making. One read, “CSUS: The Enron of Education.” Another stated: “If I wanted an education in an overcrowded facility, I would have gone to prison! At least it would have been free.”

There were plenty of full-throated speeches in front of the Jesse M. Unruh Office Building. Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said that Chancellor Reed “shouldn’t treat CSU faculty like tall children.”

She told the assembled eggheads that the popular mantra of “cutting taxes” was a prescription for public squalor:

Goldberg: “The next time some politician promises ‘no new taxes,’ I want you all to boo. Let’s practice: ‘No new taxes.’ ”

Crowd: “Boo! Boo!”

Goldberg (in Sergeant Carter style): “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

Crowd: “Boo!!!!! Boo!!!!! Boo!!!!!”

There was no booing for Linda Current. Dressed in full academic regalia, the Sac State education instructor said she is “frightened” about the future of higher education in the Golden State: “Students can’t find their professors because they’re on the freeway, driving from campus to campus to eke out a living.”

Current is not a freeway flier herself; she’s been a “lecturer” for 22 years—the result of 22 one-year contracts. But at least Current has an office. Mougo Nyaggah, a professor of history at CSU-Fullerton, said some part-time professors on his campus are reduced to holding their office hours in their cars.

According to the union, Cal State campuses have stopped expanding the ranks of full-time faculty. CFA contends that “the CSU’s use of lecturers increased by over 67 percent from 1994-95 to 2000-01. During that same period, the CSU increased total tenure-track employment by less than 1 percent. Lecturers now make up half of all CSU faculty.”

Jeanie Keltner, a retired CSU-Sacramento English professor, is convinced that Cal State’s move toward part-time, temporary, lower-priced, benefits-free faculty reflects the growing corporatization of American life.

“The mega-corporations have us under control,” she said. “It’s a struggle of enormous proportions.” Keltner, editor-at-large of Because People Matter, admires the English romantic poets Blake and Shelley: “They were revolutionaries. They knew that everyone had dignity. They were the original small-d democrats.”

Not everyone at the protest was a gray-haired academic. About a dozen CSU undergraduates offered their solidarity. Abraham Unimuke, a Fresno State junior who hails from Sacramento, contends that “teaching is going downhill. Classes are too big. There’s no type of personal interaction at all.”

This semester, three of his four classes have over 300 students.

Sociologist Robert Michels, in Political Parties (1915), posited the “iron law of oligarchy,” which holds that organizations are based on elite control, hierarchy, status and prestige. Within academia, the hierarchy is as follows: administrators, tenured faculty, tenure-track faculty, part-time and temporary faculty, graduate students, clerical and maintenance staff, then undergraduate students.

And there are clear conflicts between groups. Tenured professors pay little attention to mere “visiting” professors. Many professors dislike teaching, and are openly disdainful toward students. Many students are disrespectful toward faculty. Many California professors dread the prospect of Tidal Wave II, fearing that a greatly expanded student population will endanger educational quality.

Finally, there’s the conflict between the faculty union and the central administration. For better or worse, the CSU administration holds all the cards. CSU campuses are “open shops,” meaning professors are not required to join the union—and only about half do. So a strike isn’t a credible threat.

While the CFA argues that the Cal State system is “a state treasure” responsible for training hundreds of thousands of teachers, engineers and nurses, many taxpayers resent paying above-average salaries to professors who control their own schedules and teach eight months a year.

Yet, ironically, it is the Chancellor’s Office that comes to the faculty’s defense. Potes-Fellow said Reed last year advocated for a 6 percent salary increase for the faculty, “but the governor and the Legislature only authorized a 2 percent raise. CSU professors are very dedicated, competent and professional, with a tremendous sense of mission. They definitely deserve more.”