04/01/2015 05:13 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2015

The Abuse of Faculty at California's Public Universities

I have been teaching at Cal State Bakersfield, one of the 23 campuses of the once proud California State University (CSU) system, for over 40 years, and I've watched a steady erosion in faculty support since 2004. We teach far more students than we did ten years ago, and we do it for much less. Meanwhile, pressure to publish remains the same, but where does one find the time? As a result, promotions are few.

The problem is described in the first of a four-part report published by our faculty union, the California Faculty Association (CFA). Aptly titled "Race to the Bottom," the report begins by looking at faculty salaries. Loss in purchasing power due to inflation for CSU faculty, says the report,

Ranges from $7,114 at San Diego State to a loss of more than $13,796 at Chico State. This means that CSU faculty members teaching at Chico have experienced the equivalent of a 15.5 percent pay cut over the past 10 years.

On average, full-time tenured CSU faculty make $5,000 less than instructors in the California Community College system; yet we have Ph.D.s that did not come on the cheap, while most of them don't. We are, according to the report, "the poorest paid in California's higher education community." That's outrageous.

Over a five-year period, from 2008 to 2013, our faculty received a cost-of-living raise of about 1½ percent while inflation did not rest. This year we got a token raise of 1.6 percent, and some of us feel lucky to have got even that. Yet all around us we see k-12 teachers getting generous raises as capital gains and property taxes pour into state and local coffers. Three days ago in the Bakersfield newspaper, a headline read, "Panama teachers OK 7 percent raise." That well-deserved increase, awarded to teachers in the k-8 school district where our kids go to school, is presently beyond our wildest dreams.

Something is terribly wrong here.

The injustice becomes even more vexing when CSU administrative salaries are cited. The second part of the report, released just days ago, describes the problem:

... over at least the last decade, CSU administrators, like many corporate executives, have consistently and vigorously prioritized those at the top of the organizational hierarchy, while others in the CSU [faculty] have been left to languish. At the same time that faculty salaries have plummeted in terms of purchasing power and student fees and student debt have skyrocketed, those at the top have done very well.

Systemwide the average annual salary increase for faculty between 2004 and 2014, unadjusted for inflation, was only 10 percent, while for administrators it was 24 percent.

But a more glaring inequity emerges when we pit the sheer number of administrative hires vs. faculty hires. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of permanent full-time tenure-track or tenured faculty dropped by 2.9 percent, while the number of administrators rose by 19.2 percent.

All of us faculty in Bakersfield noticed this trend without, until now, being able to quantify it. We kept reading announcements of new administrative positions while watching our comrades retire or go elsewhere without being replaced. Now at last it's come out: The report shows that Bakersfield lost 19 percent of its tenured/tenure-track faculty from 2004 to 2014, while the number of administrators increased by a whopping 44 percent!

Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University, is quoted in the report to show that this demoralizing situation is not unique to the CSU.

You see it on every campus, an increase in administration and a decrease in full-time faculty, and an increase in the use of part-time faculty... It's not what it should be. What's broken in higher ed are the priorities, and it's been broken for a long time.

Also quoted in the report is Benjamin Ginsberg, professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins and author of The Fall of the Faculty. Ginsberg strikingly describes what is happening in the CSU:

Every year, hosts of administrators and staffers are added to college and university payrolls, even as schools claim to be battling budget crises that are forcing them to reduce the size of their full-time faculties. As a result, universities are now filled with armies of functionaries--vice presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, assistant provosts, deans, deanlets, and deanlings...

We see this proliferation everywhere on our campuses. Professors -- overworked and burned out -- seize an opportunity to win a junior managerial position. And when they succeed they get a sizable increase in salary for escaping the classroom and doing, arguably, less important work.

The report goes on to expose the bloated salary increases of presidents at the 23 campuses. In contrast to the aforementioned 10 percent rise in faculty salaries from 2004 to 2014 is a 36 percent jump in the average presidential salary. Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to a $9056 decrease in purchasing power for faculty versus a $22,917 increase for the presidents. To add insult to injury, all presidents are given a $50-60k housing allowance and $12k car allowance. In the meantime, many faculty in the larger cities cannot afford to live near their campuses unless they take on outside work that takes them away from their students.

A bright spot is the example of Timothy White, Chancellor of the CSU, who took a voluntary 10 percent pay cut when he accepted the job two years ago. Needless to say, he has endeared himself to faculty. CSU presidents would be wise to follow his example.

The report concludes by challenging top CSU administrators to change the direction of this "race to the bottom":

Chancellor White, the CSU Board of Trustees, and campus presidents must do more to support the core mission of the university. That mission -- teaching and supporting those who make our students successful -- is critical if we are to truly sustain excellence, foster student success, and rebuild the CSU for the future.

If the challenge is not met, the faculty are poised to act. With all this new data in hand, we will be meeting in May on every campus. Up for consideration will be demands for such measures as a 10 percent cut in pay for overpaid administrators, a 10 percent reduction in bloated administrative staffing, and transfer of funds saved to faculty support. And that is likely to be only the beginning. We are victims of corporate-style greed, and we are prepared to fight.