California State University Sneaks Toward Academic Elitism

by on April 25, 2011 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Economy, Education, Popular

CSU students and faculty rally against cuts, April 13, 2011.

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt / Excuse Me, I’m Writing

On Wednesday, April 13, campuses across the California State University system (CSU) hosted demonstrations — dubbed Take Class Action Day — to protest budget cuts to the Cal State system.

The rally was the first time, since landing at CSU San Marcos in January, that I sensed that protest high of my otherwise misspent youth. As I approached the gathering, shades of rhythmic rebellion synced with my beating heart as students, staff and faculty sang the praises of the inexorable right to higher education; of the state’s primal responsibility for equitable, affordable access; of rolling coins in a desperate attempt to pay steadily-increasing fees as the dastardly CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and legislators shirk that responsibility.

The specter of additional budget cuts wafted over the crowd in cloudy tones of gray, and you could almost hear Reed and California’s elected Tea Partyniks muttering behind closed doors that if their almighty god had wanted working class kids to be educated he would have made sure they were born into well-to-do families.

Nonetheless, the event’s enthusiasm was catching. The fluid crowd maxed at about 500 as students dedicated their lunch hour to political discourse and then trotted back to class. Of course, the local paper downsized the group to 200, a classic institutional ploy to diminish the effects of dissent, reminding me of the Equal Rights Amendment ratification extension march in 1978. We had one hundred thousand women and about a dozen portable toilets in the nation’s capital (OK, maybe it was a baker’s dozen), sending waves of us wading into the Washington Monument reflecting pool for relief.

Of course, at my age, thinking about peeing inevitably results in the urge to pee, so I headed home, made my toilet and settled back at my computer, where, lo and behold, I found an email message from Emily Cutrer, CSU San Marcos provost and vice president for academic affairs, inviting the university community to meet the final candidates for several new dean positions.

Aside from the socially inept timing — inviting folks to an executive tea party as the workers are waxing poetic about the increasingly restricted access to quality brain food — the practical question of the cost of hiring four new deans in the midst of a prolonged economic crisis reared its persnickety head and I couldn’t stop myself: I responded to the message, ever so politely, asking how much this would cost the university (and me, a longtime taxpayer).

The university’s response extended into seven days of fancy avoidance footwork — engagement and retreat, feint and riposte — at which point I forsook fencing etiquette and dropped off a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) letter of request for the salary range for the dean positions, information that public records law and a very pleasant employee wrested from the administration’s withholding grasp on the eighth day.

And here’s the bottom line:

$300,000 The school contracted with a search firm (Storbeck/Pimentel†and Associates) to recruit four new deans at approximately $75,000 per search.

$600,000 The positions are classified as Administrator IV, with a salary range of $89,844 to $258,168. The current average Admin IV salary at San Marcos is about $146,690. Based on precedent and the search fee, it’s a good bet that the administration is expecting the new deans to land in the $150,000 range at least.

$222,000 37 percent of each salary is contributed to a CSU pool from which all employees’ benefits are paid.

$1,122,000 This is the approximate grand total.

Sure, $1.12 million doesn’t seem too bad for four new executives, from a corporate perspective. But think about it from another perspective, say, that of a student or faculty member. (Just don’t think about it from the perspective of CSUSM President Karen Haynes, who, last autumn, decided that a major “college restructuring ” would best be conducted in the middle of the state’s fiscal crisis and would require the rapid deployment of four new deans, a decision made behind yet more closed doors — and didn’t that annoy those members of her team who actually believe in the university’s stated commitment to a “shared governance” style of decision-making by administration and faculty!)

But let’s put Haynes’ bulldozer on idle and think about this:

CSU student fees have risen 242 percent since 2002, including a 10 percent increase scheduled for 2011/2012. If the state legislature fails to resolve the current budget crisis, that pending increase could grow.

In the last two years, more than 2,500 CSU faculty and staff positions have been cut, and CSU personnel are still licking their financial wounds from the two-day per month furlough — essentially a 10 percent pay cut — that ended last June. (Click here for a little furlough humor.)

More than 10,000 CSU courses have been cut over the last two years, compounding the critical problem students already had getting into required courses and extending even further the amount of time and money students must invest in acquiring their degrees.

According to Don Barrett, CSUSM associate professor and California Faculty Association chapter president, “The CSU has no problem spending money on consultants even when we’re cutting everything else. We’re currently in bargaining for a new contract with the faculty. The CSU is using a consultant for it, while they have people on staff designated for bargaining. … [A search] consultant receives half of the dean’s salary for each position, which amounts to about $300,000 for these searches. Three hundred thousand [could] go into sections to provide students more courses. At $6,500 per section, that’s almost 50 sections we could add.”

On top of that, summer courses have been shifted to “Extended Learning,” a handy euphemism for revenue producer. Unlike the flat fee per semester that is subsidized by state funds ($2,220 for Spring 2011), Extended Learning classes must be self-supporting. And at $275 per unit, with an approximate class size of 20 students, each section will produce about $16,500, compared to the section cost of $6,500, which looks pretty darn self-supporting.

Now, producing revenue is generally considered a good thing, but doing so on the backs of public university students who can least afford it results in a failure to honor the CSU instructional mission: Of the 11 students I asked about the summer session, eight of them said the courses are too expensive, that they can’t afford to take summer classes.

As Barrett said, “You’re cutting off your nose to spite your face. You’re cutting off the ability to have future workers who pay taxes, by excluding those people who have had to extend their education, rather than enter the workforce. … To have a[n economic] rebound, we have to have an educated workforce. It does no good to delay the creation of that workforce.”

And, shifting courses to Extended Learning is tantamount to sneaking in an unapproved student fee increase, which is damn dishonest.

This makes me wonder just where that $10,000 is actually going. … Hmmm, that would surely require another FOIA request, but I have to focus on making it through the last three weeks of the semester. Besides, I cannot be that polite again, not for a while.

But if you feel moved to do something, contact CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and your elected representatives and ask them to honor CSU’s mission by protecting the system from further cuts — and to maybe hold off on hiring new executives until the economy recovers. Just try to be more polite than I.

Chancellor’s office: 562-951-4000


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

editordude April 25, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Kit-Bacon, congrats! Your article here was picked up by google news and it’s been very popular today.


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