By Dr. Charles Toombs, Associate Professor of Africana studies
I’m a professor of Africana studies. In this discipline students learn about oppression and how African-descended peoples have resisted it. Students learn to value social, political, economic and cultural justice as a fundamental human right. I teach students and learn from them about living in a democracy where all people should be valued and where all people should expect fairness and respect. We talk about those who have led our country throughout history and the impact of that leadership on the lives and experiences of African-Americans. We critique the folly of that leadership when it was wrong or harmful to African-Americans and praise it when it was right and beneficial. We discuss people who remained silent when injustices were inflicted upon African-descended peoples and those courageous people who spoke out against such injustices.
In recent weeks, faculty members at San Diego State have refused to remain silent and have been speaking out against unfairness, lack of respect, flawed California State University leadership and injustice. Faculty members have signed commit cards indicating their support of the California Faculty Association’s Board of Directors to authorize a strike on one or more of the CSU campuses, have participated in Informational Picketing, Nov. 9, on campus and have traveled to CSU Dominguez Hills to support colleagues there in their one-day strike on Nov. 17.
On Nov. 17, faculty across the 23-campus CSU system sent the message “Enough is Enough.” On that day, members of the California Faculty Association — librarians, counselors, coaches and faculty — went on strike at CSU Dominguez Hills and CSU East Bay for the first time in the history of CFA. “Enough is Enough” reflects anger at Chancellor Charles Reed and CSU executives who give themselves significant bonuses, equity increases and raises rather than support courses for students and the faculty who teach them. Faculty members are deeply concerned about their working conditions and their ability to continue to deliver to their students a quality, affordable and accessible education. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, and both are in jeopardy in the CSU. The recent faculty actions are a response to faculty concerns.
Higher fees for students and poor pay for faculty are interrelated: Students cannot afford to learn and faculty cannot afford to teach. Faculty and students are in the same boat, and we need to stand together and speak out against the flawed leadership of Reed and the Board of Trustees. We see examples of this flawed leadership in the skewed CSU priorities that do not serve students. Since becoming the head of the CSU in 1998, Reed has overseen an increase in student fees of 263 percent, with an additional 9 percent approved on Nov. 16 by the CSU Board of Trustees. At the same time, faculty voted to take a 10 percent pay cut to help with the budget crisis by going on furlough in 2009 to 2010. In fact, since 1998 average faculty salaries have actually decreased when adjusted for inflation, while administrators’ salaries have increased. In the 13 years that Reed has been Chancellor, the number of administrators has gone up while there has been zero growth in tenured / tenure track faculty and a loss of lecturers. Administrators don’t teach; faculty do.
Meanwhile, students and faculty feel the direct impact of CSU management decisions. During Reed’s administration, student fees have skyrocketed with, as stated above, an additional 9 percent approved by the Board of Trustees on Nov. 16. CFA has always opposed these student fee increases; the CSU Board of Trustees always approves them. Indeed, academic professional organizations, such as the Modern Language Association, are calling on “Congress, state legislatures, and institutions of higher education to calibrate costs and student aid in ways that will keep student debt within strict limits” and “to hold in check tuition increases” (MLA “Statement on Student Debt”). In addition to higher fees, students cannot get classes, class sizes are larger, and fewer sections are offered.
It is time for Reed, the Board of Trustees and CSU management to adjust their priorities and give respect and fair treatment to the people who directly fulfill the mission of the university — students, faculty and staff.