Management at California State University Is Living Large While Faculty Struggle

Bargaining between California State University and faculty has broken down after management offered an insultingly low salary increase. It’s time for the university to live up to its mission and support quality public education — instead of massive payouts to administrators.

Hundreds of California State University faculty members seeking pay raises protest in Long Beach, California, on November 17, 2015. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Tensions are rising between California State University (CSU) faculty and administrators, and there is no end in sight. On the first day of classes, many students were informed of the potential for a “strike or other work stoppage this term.”

After numerous sessions between CSU management and the bargaining team of the California Faculty Association (CFA), an official impasse determination has been filed at the California Public Employment Relations Board. The two parties met numerous times over the summer, after CFA made a proposal to open negotiations on May 1, but little common ground was found.

A number of proposals were on the table, but the pitifully low salaries of faculty — especially in light of the exorbitant salaries of administrators — cast a large shadow. Among the CFA proposals was a 12 percent general salary increase for faculty. Unsurprisingly, the CSU management balked and counteroffered a 4 percent — later raised to 5 percent — general salary increase followed by an 8 percent increase over the next two years, the latter being contingent on annual state funding for the CSU.

Taking into account an inflation rate of 6 to 8 percent last year, the management offer was not a raise at all in terms of buying power. Furthermore, the CSU faces a $1.5 billion budget shortfall, so it is likely that faculty would not see an increase beyond the first year. Budgetary shortfalls are the most common justification for denying faculty salary increases, yet administrator salary increases miraculously continue to roll out regardless of budgetary constraints.

The negotiations took place in the wake of the announcement that the CSU has appointed a new chancellor. If anybody is unsure where CSU management’s priorities lie, a brief glance at the new compensation package for new chancellor Mildred García should make things clear: García will receive an annual salary of $795,000, another $80,000 in deferred compensation, $8,000 per month for a housing allowance, and another $1,000 per month for a car allowance.

Compared to the last chancellor’s salary of $625,000, García received a 27 percent increase. The rejection of a 12 percent salary increase for faculty alongside a 27 percent salary increase for the chancellor felt like salt in the wound to faculty who perform the essential functions of the university — teaching and research.

Giving the new chancellor $8,000 per month for a housing allowance and another $1,000 per month for a car allowance stings even more. To put this into context, the base monthly salary for lecturers who teach five classes per semester and hold a PhD is $5,400. Lecturers, in other words, make less per month than the chancellor is given for housing and car allowances; they also do not receive these allowances, despite the fact that they clearly need both far more than the chancellor does.

But the chancellor is not alone in receiving a cushy salary and fringe benefits like free rent and a car payment. Last year, CFA released the compensation packages of every CSU president, and they are shocking. The highest-paid CSU president received an annual salary of $533,000, while the lowest-paid received $324,000. Four CSU presidents received 29 percent salary increases, while the lowest increase was seven percent. Seven of these presidents live rent-free in homes provided by the CSU. Others receive annual housing allowances of $50,000 or $60,000.

“Limited Financial Resources”

To recap: The CSU management extended salary increases to CSU presidents ranging from 7 to 29 percent; the new chancellor received a 29 percent salary increase; and meanwhile, faculty are being denied a 12 percent salary increase and have been offered a few crumbs amounting to 4 or 5 percent (which, in light of inflation, is not an increase in real pay). The annual salary for a full-time lecturer with a PhD ($65,000) is about 60 percent of the annual amount that the chancellor receives as a housing and car stipend ($108,000). Full-time lecturers earn a $5,400 monthly paycheck (before taxes), while CSU presidents who don’t have free housing get $4,200 or $5,000 per month solely for housing on top of their enormous salaries.

On August 10, faculty received a letter from the interim chancellor justifying management’s rejection of CFA proposals. The CFA proposal was called “unreasonable because it would grossly undermine the CSU’s fiscal stability.” According to the interim chancellor, if the immediate 12 percent salary increase were enacted, “each of our universities would be forced to make difficult and painful decisions regarding how to reallocate their already limited financial resources.” It was not a particularly creative response, boiling down to: “We don’t have money for you.” But management’s actions show that they have plenty for themselves.

Many faculty feel that these “difficult” decisions about how to spend CSU funding should begin with addressing the bloated (and always increasing) army of administrators with equally bloated and increasing salaries. Yet finding the money that faculty deserve is ultimately not the job of faculty. Being creative about the financial management of university campuses is, in fact, the job of the top-paid administrators. Despite this, according to the CFA, “the union presented evidence, based on employer data, of financial ability to pay the raises in the union’s proposals.” In response, “management simply stated that it has decided to allocate its funds differently.”

Faculty also see inconsistencies in management’s position that there is not enough money to cover faculty raises. The question of the paltry CSU budget most often arises when the issues of faculty salaries or student tuition come up, yet it remains absent in discussions over raises for administrators. It seems that, in the eyes of management, the burden of budget constraints should fall on faculty and students who do not have the power to make those financial decisions.

While administrators enjoy financial abundance and faculty struggle to pay rent with salaries smaller than many administrators’ housing stipends, students are also being strapped with more financial burdens: there are 6 percent annual tuition increases planned for at least the next five years.

The CSU’s Founding Principles

This comes in the wake of years of restructuring that has made the CSU an embarrassing shell of what it once was. Back in 1960, when California legislators reorganized the state’s public higher education system and created the CSU and community college system, their goal was to provide tuition-free university access to working-class California residents. They said little about free homes and half-million-dollar salaries for administrators.

According to the 1960 Masterplan for Higher Education in California, the new higher education system was designed according to the “long-established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state.” Public funding and tuition collected from nonresident students was explicitly set aside to cover “the costs of salaries of the instructors involved in teaching for the proportion of their time which is concerned with instruction, plus the clerical salaries, supplies, equipment, and organized activities related to teaching.”

Those who wrote the master plan would likely be ashamed of the financial burdens placed upon the backs of working-class students today, and the embarrassingly low salaries of the faculty who teach them. Gluttonous spending on administrator salaries — which creates a regime of financial inequality akin to that seen in for-profit enterprises — violates the very principles upon which the master plan was based.

Today, students drown in debt to receive a CSU education, and many faculty are paid significantly less than K–12 teachers. Meanwhile, the highest payouts, along with free housing and car payments, go to those who neither teach nor do research.

While the state contributes less to the system and students pay more out of their pockets, it is dizzyingly illogical to increase the financial comforts of already comfortable CSU bureaucrats. To students who are saddled with more debt every year, and to faculty who struggle to scrape their way into the middle class, the corporate-style benefits extended to CSU presidents and the chancellor are a real kick in the face.