Magazine Article

A new landscape in the California State University opens up new possibilities
CFA president’s column

By Lillian Taiz
President, California Faculty Association
History, Cal State Los Angeles

The first few months of 2013 have brought CSU faculty the first real positive change we have experienced for quite a long time.

I’m certainly not claiming all our problems are solved–far from it. We have many more hurdles to jump just to get our work and our university back to where we were just a few years ago, much less advancing into the future.

And new challenges—concerns about healthcare costs and legislative proposals to mandate curriculum, just to name two— arise almost daily. But a few developments are worth a look as we continue our work to turn the CSU in a new direction.

Funding For The CSU

We have fought a decade-long war to preserve public funding for our public university. In most years the best we could do was mitigate the size of the cuts. But just five months ago in the November 2012 election, voters approved Proposition 30, a moment that turned the trend toward restored funding at last.

When we began the campaign for 30, the outcome was uncertain; in fact, many predicted that Californians simply would not support tax increases in any form.

But people who want a better future for California banded together and labored mightily against a well-funded opposition. Hundreds of our own faculty members walked precincts, made phone calls and organized public events. Young voters registered in record numbers (registration of young voters was actually up 27 percent over 2010) and they went to the polls.

On Election Day, the vote on Proposition 30 wasn’t even close.

Its passage brings some welcome relief to the CSU. If adopted, Gov. Jerry Brown’s state budget plan for 2013/14 will improve the CSU budget by $125.1 million. His plan includes another $125 million to refund the latest hike in CSU student fees and $10 million to explore ways to conduct online education. He also has proposed 5 percent more in fiscal year 2014/15 and 4 percent more in years 2015/16 and 2016/17.

Admittedly, we are just beginning to dig the CSU out of a deep funding pit, but we are a long way from the day when a previous governor thought California already spent too much on students.

New CSU Chancellor

Everyone reading this column certainly knows about the departure of former chancellor Charles B. Reed.

The really exciting news is that we start 2013 with a chancellor who knows California’s public higher ed system well—he is a product of all three segments—and who has actually spent years as a faculty member himself.

Chancellor Timothy White has readily met with faculty leaders, including the Academic Senate chair and myself. He is personable, articulate and does not think that we all knock off work at 3 pm four days a week.

Naturally there will be areas of disagreement and concern. Nevertheless, we look forward to working closely with the chancellor in areas where we agree. And we hope those areas will be many.

So far, Chancellor White has made symbolic gestures to show that he cares about the people who work and learn in the CSU.

For example, over the strong objections of some Trustees, he took a 10 percent cut in his starting pay. Make no mistake—he is still earning big money! But this action showed an appreciation for public service that stands in sharp contrast to the consistent whining in the past about how much more money top executives need to earn to be motivated to do their jobs.

He has also taken some actions in respect to the Senate’s participation in Board of Trustees’ meetings that suggest greater respect for the faculty’s voice in deliberations about the CSU’s future.

Perhaps the starkest change so far relates to equity pay.  Over the past two years, our CFA Bargaining Team had to fight tooth and nail to keep Equity Pay Year 2 in our contract. In February, at Chancellor White’s urging, CSU labor relations announced that equity pay will be implemented on all campuses, assuming the funding increase in Gov. Brown’s state budget plan is adopted.

Implementing the program to which all parties agreed is definitely a new way of responding to inequities in faculty salary.

More That’s New

Here in the first part of 2013, we now have five Trustees appointed by Gov. Brown to the board that is responsible to protect and defend the CSU. CFA is setting up face-toface meetings to get to know them and, just as important, for them to get to know us.

Some of them are asking the tough questions that Trustees ought to ask about policies and proposals, especially when those decisions have a huge impact on those of us in the classrooms carrying out the mission of the CSU.

As a result of many changes, Board of Trustees meetings are getting “livelier.” Will that result in a changed policy direction? It remains to be seen.

One final example of change in the CSU is, I think, extremely important. CFA, the Academic Senate of the CSU, and the faculty Trustee have embarked on a new era of close communication and cooperation. We have, for instance, made joint presentations at a meeting of the American Association of University Professors and participated in a joint meeting with the governor. I believe this close working relationship will be good for faculty, students, and the CSU—and I am excited about making it even stronger.

We Still Have Miles to Cross

Of course, even where there is positive change, negatives go lurking. Alongside his funding proposals, the governor’s plan contains policy ideas that raise concern for us. For example, he would fold payment for the CSU’s bond debt and for employee retirements into the regular university budget. And, he would cap degree programs at 180 units to “expedite graduation rates.” These and other policies need to be debated and CFA will follow developments very closely.

And need I say, many of Reed’s policy goals live on.

Ill-thought-out, even chaotic restructuring continues on some campuses, particularly East Bay, Dominguez Hills, Sacramento and Pomona. The shift of course offerings out of the regular university and into highpriced extended education persists.

The long-standing push to privatize elements of the public university using online education may even intensify in the midst of sorting out the best, most effective use of online teaching tools.

Even if our new chancellor proves interested in a genuinely new direction, the legacy of Charles Reed will linger for some time in nooks and crannies all over the CSU.

On Tap This Spring

We all hope change will bring brighter days to the CSU and to our state. It is work, however, and not just hope at this pivotal moment, that will make that happen.

Now through June and possibly beyond, CFA and all CSU faculty will need to support adoption of more CSU funding in the state budget. We have done it before but our chances of success are greater.

We will continue to press for justice for those faculty enduring salary inversion and compression by ensuring that the Equity Year 2 Program is implemented fairly and smoothly.

Nationally, we will keep up our work with partners from some 22 states and national organizations through the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education. CFHE has issued a range of papers getting good public attention, most recently three proposals for fully funding public higher education in the U.S. Each debunks the austerity argument that there is no money. There is money. The failure is political will. (See FutureofHigherEd.org to learn more about this work.)

Also, CFA will seek opportunities to support passage of immigration reform. We strongly believe that many of our colleagues, our students, and their families need this legislation to progress in their lives and to make their contributions to America.

Online on the Agenda

One of the thorniest issues facing us this year is determining the best uses of online education tools to give our students greater access to quality education at tuition they can afford. There are a great many issues here to unpack.

Regarding good pedagogy, we must separate the gold rush mentality of those hoping to get rich through one online scheme or another from the thoughtful research needed to uncover what online tools and methods work best for students.

After all, if a teaching tool doesn’t actually work for our students, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is. It’s worthless.

To ensure that the three public ed segments carefully examine what does and does not work and for whom, CFA will be sponsoring a bill, currently in development—AB 895 authored by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, a former CSU faculty member.

We hope this bill can play a role in helping California take a deliberative, research-based approach to online higher education.

As we discuss this bill in Sacramento, we will also need to work with legislators to improve other bills related to curriculum and teaching that, although well-intentioned, would have unintended consequences for quality and access.

As these examples of work to be done suggest and as I am sure all of you know, now is not the time for our union to sit back and just hope that change is coming.

Even though we have seen some breaks in the clouds, our best efforts now can mean the difference between a few “flash in the pan” positive events and a real, sustained move in a better direction.

Please join in the work this spring that is necessary to ensure the latter and to bring about truly better days for the CSU.

Commands