California State University students, faculty and staff – spurred by massive pay raises for CSU executives earlier this summer – confronted the policymakers for the 23-campus system during a recent public meeting to call for better on-campus facilities and salary investments.
Around 40 members of the California Faculty Association, which represents more than 29,000 CSU employees statewide, joined advocacy group Students for Quality Education at last week’s Board of Trustees meeting to express their displeasure at the 7% minimum salary increases the panel OK’d for university presidents and executives in June.
The groups also said they were concerned that the board hasn’t fully funded various programs and have given faculty members raises that were relatively small to what they gave executives.
“We’re trying to hold them accountable,” said Anthony Ratcliff, Cal State Los Angeles associate professor and CFA chapter president. “They’re not fully funding programs, not funding the faculty and not funding staff.”
The 25-member Board of Trustees adopts regulations and policies governing the entire CSU system, and board committees have authority over educational policy, finance, campus planning and facilities, according to its website.
Inside the board’s Long Beach headquarters on Tuesday, Sept 13, members of both groups grew restless as they waited for the meeting to begin, which ran about an hour late because of a lengthy closed-session discussion.
“Fund the classroom,” they chanted, “not the board room.”
And once the meeting began, SQE and CFA members provided extensive public comment — even after the allotted time to do so ended.
“CSU stakeholders and other interested parties are always welcomed and encouraged to share their perspectives during meetings of the CSU’s Board of Trustees,” Mike Uhlenkamp, CSU’s senior director of public affairs, said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “The time allocated for public comment is a critical aspect of each meeting that allows the Trustees to receive information directly from the CSU’s many constituents.”
The groups’ ire was largely directed at the board approving a 7% minimum salary increase for university presidents and executives — to give them a pay level on par with their nationwide competitors.
A 2021 study found that CSU executives were underpaid compared to similar institutions around the country.
But the pay hike was the highest salary increase for executive employees in 12 years, according to a Board of Trustees report, with the last increase resting at 3% in 2019.
The board also approved retroactive salary increases for 14 of the 23 CSU presidents – including the ones at LA, Long Beach, Fullerton and Dominguez Hills – who had originally qualified for salary increases based on a performance review policy enacted shortly before the pandemic.
“Shortly thereafter the university faced unprecedented challenges related to COVID-19,” the report said, “priorities understandably shifted, and the policy was not implemented.”
Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley, for example, received a 19% salary increase with the board’s decision, according to the report — bringing her 2022 total annual salary to $475,909.
CFA members, for their part, staunchly opposed the increases — and called for a reinvestment of those funds back into the classroom.
Those union members, Ratcliff said, received a 4% raise in 2021 and a 3% raise this year.
“They talk about an equity raise,” Ratcliff said, “but then people who lecture and other people that are working are not getting enough money to live in LA. You can’t survive in LA on a teacher’s pay.”
Francie Mercer, a CFA member and associate professor of biology at Cal Poly Pomona, called the executive raises “outrageous.”
“I ask that CSU offer its faculty living wages,” Mercer said. “I love my job, but I am demoralized that the crucial role that faculty’s work plays is not reflected in our salaries.”
The trustees didn’t directly respond to any of the public comments made on Tuesday, and the CSU’s public affairs department also didn’t address the concerns over the salary increase in its emailed statement.
SQE, on the other hand, focused its concerns on Cal State Long Beach’s facilities.
Last week, that organization staged an on-campus walkout to protest what they described as infrastructure issues in campus classrooms, specifically in the arts building.
“We don’t have air conditioning, we don’t have proper ventilation,” said Kayla Clough, a senior studying animation. “The temperatures have been recorded to over 90 degrees inside, and the air conditioners they gave us don’t work.”
CSULB, in an emailed statement, said this month’s record-breaking heatwave was difficult to beat — despite the fact that 91% of academic spaces across all 23 CSU campuses are equipped with AC.
“Some of our older buildings rely on portable AC units and fans for room cooling. Still, some spaces remained unusually warm,” said CSULB spokesman Gregory Woods. “In these cases, instructional faculty were asked to shift instruction online when possible for the duration of the heatwave.”
Clough, though, said some people experienced heat-related side effects — including fainting spells and nausea — and similar problems persist in on-campus dorms.
Aside from the heat, Clough said, students in dorms deal with rat, cockroach and ant infestations regularly — with little help from the maintenance department.
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Randy Santiago, a CSULB political science student, seconded those concerns during public comment.
“In three years, I have seen no improvements for our students,” Santiago said. “Students are suffering without AC and ventilation, dealing with rats and roaches. However, President Conoley can receive a $106,227 raise.”
CSULB, though, said all housing maintenance requests are followed up on — and that at the time of writing, there were no work orders on file relating to rats or mice.
“There were problems with ants during the heatwave,” Woods said. “Affected areas are treated in a manner safe for people and pets. We also proactively treated all rooms prior to August move-in.”