Chanc. White dodges questions at LA forum; Faculty turn up the heat

The room turned fiery at an all-campus forum on Jan. 19, when CSU Chancellor Timothy White and Cal State Los Angeles faculty members exchanged questions and remarks about stagnant faculty pay.

After about 60 minutes, angry faculty began to chant “Strike! Strike! Strike!” as White exited the stage.

The scene inside the forum started quietly enough. Several hundred faculty, administrators, staff and students were joined by CFA members wearing red shirts and carrying Fight for Five signs. Some stood in the back holding banners.

When White concluded his opening remarks, the first question came from Michael Calabrese in English, who identified himself as a Republican and a “proud CFA member.” He said he is struggling to make ends meet and asked, “Why are faculty paid so poorly?”

After Calabrese’s question, the moderator stipulated that subsequent questions come only from students and staff. In their questions about student issues—supporting LGBTQ students and undergraduate research—students in the room expressed support for faculty, saying, “They are barely paid,” and that faculty are central to their research experiences.

White’s rambling replies to Calabrese’s and other questions—about his priorities, competing needs, the huge enrollment demand, sustaining the CSU long-term, and that he cannot comment on collective bargaining—failed to satisfy the crowd. Dozens of faculty in the room stood and turned their backs to the stage.

Penni Wilson, Pan-African Studies and Television, Film, and Media Studies, said, “You talked about sustainability. I can’t even sustain my life, sir. And I give my students my heart.” The crowd applauded.

As White deflected her comment with a story of “his private portrait of King in his private library,” faculty demanded that he answer the question and take action now.

Struggling with a room of hissing and booing, the moderator agreed to take one more question from a faculty member. Hank Schlinger, psychology, noted the Sacramento Bee reports there are more than 50 administrators making six figures at Cal State LA and that many got significant raises during the recession.

Schlinger asked—to cheers: “Given that faculty are critical to this institution, why is it that so many administrators are making more money than faculty who have been here all these years?”

Chancellor White suggested faculty direct their anger at Sacramento, and when pressed about raises for administrators, simply said, “I wasn’t here then.” Some exclaimed, “You’re here now!” and “If you can’t change it, we can!” 

As the booing escalated, the moderator closed the forum, refusing to recognize African-American students from the Black Student Union who had a question. This led to even more hisses from the crowd; shouts of “Let them speak!” morphed into a chorus of “Strike! Strike! Strike!”

White’s visit to Cal State LA is part of his all-campuses tour this academic year. Tomorrow, Thursday Jan. 21, he will be at CSU Long Beach. In the coming weeks, he will be at Northridge on Jan. 29, Fullerton on Feb. 16 and Pomona on Feb. 18.