“When I think of CFA, I think of dignity. It’s empowering when you stand up for yourself and help others stand up for themselves. I don’t think the people that I challenge — we challenge — are inherently bad people. I do think that being involved in our union, being involved in faculty rights humanizes a very dehumanizing process. It’s a David and Goliath fight sometimes. But it’s the most important work I do, aside from teaching.”

Man with a salt and pepper beard in CFA tshirt and hat at the picket lines.

CFA San Luis Obispo member Tad Walters is discovering his identity, finding his community, and raising consciousness among his colleagues. Activism through his union has helped Walters address and accept decades of feeling othered.

Walters fights injustice by enforcing our Collective Bargaining Agreement to protect the university’s most vulnerable faculty: lecturers.

“I’m queer and that lifelong struggle to be heard makes me want to represent those who feel vulnerable and precarious: our part-time lecturers,” Walters said.

Since 2007, Walters has been a Lecturer at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He currently teaches English composition to first- and second-year students, and is CFA San Luis Obispo’s Faculty Rights Co-Chair.

Though Walters joined CFA soon after he was hired, he didn’t get involved in his union until a few years ago. Injustice motivated him.

“I was fed up with the evaluation process within my department and the sense that it was somewhat arbitrary, that it often felt punitive instead of supportive,” remembers Walters. “I tried the approach of being quiet and nodding my head and agreeing and going along, and I just felt so bad about myself: I lost dignity, I lost self-respect. So I began to speak up, I began to challenge. I began to hold my head up, I began to walk around, not feel so shitty about going to work and so beat down.”

The lecturers Walters supports usually need help to refute miscalculated entitlements with discrimination and retaliation elements, range elevation denials, inaccurate evaluation, and tenure-track hiring denials. Part of representing CFA members in workplace issues includes innumerable emails, phone calls, Zooms, and face-to-face meetings with lecturer colleagues.

“Even at Cal Poly where enrollment continues to grow, it often feels like lecturers are perpetually having to vigilantly defend our rights under the contract which often determines our workload and, thus, our pay and benefits,” said Walters, who also teaches classes at a local community college, sometimes carrying a total five-class, 110-student load each term.

Lisa Kawamura, CFA San Luis Obispo President and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Lecturer, praises Walters’ grounding presence in meetings, and his reminding folks to work together, listen and respect each other.

“Tad has really been a great voice for lecturers at Cal Poly. This past year, he took on a role in Faculty Rights and as a long-term lecturer at Cal Poly, has come into the role with great perspective and empathy as he has helped several lecturers through range-elevation challenges and grievances,” Kawamura said.  “Additionally, Tad is the chair of the PRIDE Faculty and Staff Association at Cal Poly and has been a leading voice in trying to kick homophobic Chick-fil-A off campus.”

Speaking truth to power has been part of Walters’ and others’ struggle for dignity and respect at work — not only for precarious lecturer faculty, but to rid Cal Poly of racism, sexism, trans- and homophobia, and uphold social justice.

Walters grew up in the deep south (Alabama) and attended high school in San Joaquin Valley: as he puts it, growing up in some of the most conservative and racist areas of the country.

“I’ve only been out four years, but it’s definitely made me understand what it is to be an ‘other.’ And I don’t think I fully understood that as a white man of my generation,” he said. “While I can’t understand what a person of color’s experience must be like in the U.S., there’s a shared pain and trauma there that I now feel on a deeply personal level.”

Another perspective-altering experience was teaching English as a Second Language classes at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lompoc on the Central Coast, where Walters saw disproportionate people of color in prison.

“Given my privilege, given the part of the country I grew up in, given my skin color, my gender identity, and at the time, my sexual identity, it was very eye opening to just visually see how many people of color there are in prison and at the time, the population of our country was overwhelmingly white,” Walters recalls. “That alone suggests that there is institutionalized racism. Through classes in grad school and seminars I attended on my own time, I then became better acquainted with how Jim Crow laws essentially led to high incarceration rates of people of color. Even without Jim Crow, that trend has continued. It was a real-life lesson for me.”

At the Lompoc prison, Walters also came to terms with the lie that education cures all. He remembers a Black male inmate who resisted being required to take General Education Diploma (GED) classes. As Walters and the other white, male teacher gave their pitches, the inmate asked, “what is the GED going to do for me?” The inmate explained that he’ll be released with multiple felonies, and that the opportunities in his home community for him will be minimal.

“A light went on for me, and I realized we lived in entirely different realities, entirely different worlds. I recognized my privilege – I can’t possibly understand the environment he grew up in. It was so naïve to think ‘oh, just get your GED and everything will be OK.’”

Walters’ activism helps counter his feelings of otherness, and he urges other CFA members to get involved in our union, be an ally, be the leaders we’re waiting for.

At his first meeting with CFA members from across the state, Walters said he “came away from that with a desire to make the CSU system more just. It made me feel like I was in the right place with folks who have experienced being othered.

“The injustices that a lot of people were articulating – I felt it. It affirmed for me that this is important work and I want to continue to be a part of it as best I could.”

Join CFA
Scroll To Top