Cal State East Bay teachers hold 1-day walkout
- November 18, 2011
By Nanette Asimov
Chronicle Staff Writer
They pitched no tents. They were struck by no police batons.
But the hundreds of chanting, dancing, drum-pounding California State University faculty members who converged on CSU's Hayward campus Thursday to demand promised raises did do a "mike check," the Occupy Wall Street movement's signature method of addressing large crowds without a microphone.
"Mike check!" shouted a voice from within the crowd at Cal State East Bay. "When faculty are forced to leave the CSU for better pay and working conditions, the value of your degree is on the line!"
Faculty, joined by students and some state lawmakers, repeated his words in the now familiar call-and-response fashion of Occupy protesters.
Cal State East Bay was one of two campuses in the 23-campus system - the other was Cal State Dominguez Hills - where most faculty walked out of class in a one-day strike to call attention to the cancellation of pay raises and stalled labor negotiations.
The California Faculty Association, which represents about 20,000 professors and lecturers, bused in hundreds of other faculty members from campuses across Northern California and hired a plane to fly a banner reading "CFA Strike for Quality Education."
About 8,500 students attend the campus, where nearly 600 day classes are offered. Faculty announced the strike earlier this week, resulting in canceled classes Thursday for thousands of students.
Graduate student Mike Torres was able to take a chemistry quiz, but skipped his computer and calculus classes without checking whether the professors were there. He said he was especially motivated to support the strike because CSU trustees had raised tuition Wednesday by 9 percent, on top of a 12.5 percent in July.
"I know they're striking for more pay - I'm OK with that," he said, echoing the sentiments of many students, some of whom joined their picketing professors.
The Faculty Association called the strike to protest a decision by CSU to cancel a scheduled pay increase that would have brought about 3,000 faculty members to pay parity with more recent hires in similar jobs.
"We have assistant professors with less experience earning more than tenured associate professors," said biology Professor Winston Lancaster of Sacramento State University.
Equalizing the pay, which had been part of the faculty's 2009-10 contract, would cost CSU $20 million the first year, and $10 million a year after that.
Chancellor Charles Reed has said the university has no money for raises. He said he exercised a provision in the contract to cancel the raises if the state's budget crisis continued.
Billions of dollars in the red, the Legislature has reduced CSU's state allocation from $3 billion to just above $2 billion in recent years, and seems poised to reduce it again by up to $100 million because state revenue is falling short of projections.
"You're looking at a billion-dollar reduction. Imagine trying to manage the university in that environment," CSU spokesman Erik Fallis said while touring Cal State East Bay on Thursday in a golf cart. "What good does it do (for faculty) to direct their anger inward at CSU? The source of all this is the continued decline of state support."
It's an argument that increasingly fails to impress faculty who, like the Occupy protesters many of them support, object to handsome salary packages enjoyed by executives who then complain of withering budgets. Last summer, for example, Reed and the CSU trustees approved a $400,000 salary for Elliot Hirshman, the new president of the San Diego campus, which was $100,000 higher than his predecessor.
"Chancellor Reed! Stop the greed! Give the people what they need!" cried Cal State East Bay journalism instructor Marsha Ginsburg, as a student wearing a 15-foot effigy of Reed wandered by.
"The backbone of California education is the Cal State system," Ginsburg said. "Without fairness for us, you can't get fairness for students."
"Mike check!" called out Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, also a professor of pediatrics at UC Davis who came to support the CSU strikers. "We're here to fight for fairness for faculty, and to fight against mismanagement at the top!"
The faculty cheered, beat on drums and blew vuvuzelas.