A person standing at a podium
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro at the State of CSU address.

In his State of the CSU speech, Chancellor Joseph I. Castro spoke about the importance of addressing the needs of students of color, but his actions tell a different story.

Castro waxed philosophical in the annual address during last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, centering his comments on structural inequality. 

While acknowledging the severity of the pandemic, Castro said that over the past 18 months, the university system continues to thrive “thanks to the courage, resilience and resolve of our talented students; (and) the ingenuity and adaptability of our faculty and staff…”

But Castro said the pandemic also reopened underlying wounds of deep inequities across the U.S. and the CSU system that need to be addressed.

“We must continue to employ creative strategies to ensure that our diverse students are reflected by and connected with faculty and staff who authentically understand their lived experiences, because they’ve walked a similar path and are uniquely able to inspire the very best in our talented students,” said Castro, as he acknowledged the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism.

CFA member leaders wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment of needing to employ creative strategies. Watch CFA President Charles Toombs highlight some of these approaches.

The CFA Bargaining Team is dumbfounded by the disconnect between Castro’s public statements and CSU management’s tone at the table. CFA offered up creative and innovative ways to address these deep inequities through multiple contract proposals, which include coaching contracts, bringing the CSU to national standards of counseling services, cultural taxation awards, lecturer faculty interviews and reclassification, health and safety to protect students, staff, and faculty, and salary proposals.

CSU has said no to all of them almost every step of the way during negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“There are far too many departments and disciplines in the CSU that have few or no faculty of color,” said Vang Vang, CFA Treasurer and member of CFA’s Bargaining Team, during public comments at the Board of Trustees meeting. “Students must feel they belong at our universities and having faculty of color is a major way for our students to have a sense of belonging.

“If increasing the graduation rates of students is a priority for the CSU – especially eliminating equity gaps – hiring BIPOC faculty, including counselors, librarians, and coaches is the first step to guaranteeing success. Not doing so means the CSU leadership is out of touch with the students it serves.”

For months, the chancellor has called this year’s budget “historic.” And during his speech, he acknowledged that the CSU continues to be one of the nation’s “most powerful drivers of socioeconomic mobility” and noted an all-time high in the number of degrees earned last year.

But that mobility doesn’t seem to extend to faculty who ensure the success of tens of thousands of graduating students each year.

“The $299 million cut last year was restored and an additional $550 million in new money was granted this year, a budget the chancellor himself called historic. Yet, somehow, the management bargaining team can only scratch together a proposal for two percent for faculty this year, with nothing to recognize the efforts of faculty to graduate the classes of 2020 and 2021 and nothing but further talk for the next year,” CFA Vice President and CFA Bargaining Team chair Kevin Wehr said during public comment last Tuesday. “This quite simply will not cut it.

“Two percent is ridiculous given the commitment we make to our students. You’ve got the money, show faculty the respect they earned through this historic and ongoing pandemic.”

While Castro left his listeners with a positively glowing picture of his administration’s work, student and faculty public speakers who understand the lived experiences and realities underlying the current state of the CSU system pushed back vociferously.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an increase in the number of students struggling with mental illnesses and in need of counseling and psychological services,” said Jade McDonald, a student at CSU San Bernardino and member of Students for Quality Education (SQE). “In the year 2020, our university police department received over $4.9 million in state funding, even though campuses remained closed. Not only did the counseling center receive no money, but the administration tried to fire two of the counselors. When students needed more support, it was not provided.”

While the CSU claims there is insufficient money for faculty raises for the past year, they plan to increase the salaries of campus presidents.

In fact, at last week’s meeting, Trustees approved a new pay plan for campus presidents – who are already paid the most in the CSU. The plan would allow, during a president’s triennial review, raises of up to 10 percent a year for three years based on market data. The plan, which would be implemented this November, would also be retroactive for 10 presidents who had their review during the last year.

During discussion, Trustee Jean Firstenberg characterized this as “one of the most important issues as a board that we can discuss.” This during a board meeting where public comment speakers discussed lack of faculty diversity, fossil fuel divestment, defunding campus police, mental health funding, systemic racism, CFA contract bargaining, and health and safety concerns with campus repopulation.

Firstenberg expressed concern about making sure campus presidents are paid competitively. Campus presidents are public employees who make between $300,000 and $450,000 a year. She closed her comments by pledging to “all the members of the CSU family that I will fight for your compensation as I have for all the presidents.” We have yet to hear from Firstenberg on her fight for faculty as laid out in our reasonable salary proposal to recognize the hard work of faculty. Several trustees said they want to make sure all employees are fairly compensated; however, so far, action is only being taken on compensation for executives.

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