Students owed say in CSU contract debate

by Leonardo Castaneda

Allie Daugherty, editor in chief
Allie Daugherty, editor in chief

Well, there’s always next year. As the semester winds down, finals are suffered through and grades are accepted begrudgingly, returning students turn a hopeful eye toward next semester. That’ll be the semester when we’ll do assignments on time, study early and go to every class, even if it is at 9 a.m. in Adams Humanities on Monday mornings.

That fresh new start may seem far away now, but unless the California State University system and the California Faculty Association can agree on a new contract, it will be further away than we hope. On May 2, CFA members approved with 95 percent of the vote a rolling two-day strike for the beginning of fall semester if contract negotiations with the CSU system break down. As of now, both sides seem to be attempting to reinitiate talks. If that falls through, a neutral third party will come in to recommend a new contract. If that also fails, CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed has the authority to determine the new contract, and faculty will be allowed to strike.

Clearly, this would be the worst possible outcome for all involved, as this is a very complex issue and both sides feel very strongly about what’s at stake. The side with the most to lose from these negotiations is the students. Without students there would be no CSU, no CFA, no strike and no contracts. Yet the well-being of students has been little more than a political tool used by both sides to justify their actions. If both the CSU and faculty truly care about students, they should give us a much larger voice in the negotiations. That doesn’t mean token power by encouraging students to attend a rally or visit a website with information about the negotiations. Student representatives deserve a seat at the bargaining table, and a final say in whatever agreements are reached, including the ability to veto any particularly unfavorable contract.

If you think that is too much power to give students, consider this: If the bargaining process fails and the faculty strikes, 400,000 CSU students could be affected. That’s a population larger than the city of Miami. It would mean more than just lost class time. Those first couple of days is when we finalize class schedules and lay the framework for the rest of the semester. Losing them could have serious long-term consequences.

If a new contract is agreed upon that increases faculty pay or benefits, the students could be the ones bearing the added costs. According to the CSU system, implementing the CFA’s proposals this school year and for 2012-13 would cost $244.3 million. That could mean huge tuition increases in the coming years on top of those already barreling toward us, courtesy of California’s budget deficit.

The truth is, faculty members deserve fair compensation for their work. When San Diego State President Elliot Hirshman received a $100,000 pay raise, it was justified with claims that expansive financial compensation was needed to lure the best of the best to SDSU. Clearly, financial compensation for the cash-strapped CSU system cannot be expansive, but it must be fair enough to attract the high-quality educators students deserve. Faculty deserves to be paid salaries and benefits on par with their peers from across the country. It is only fair to the men and women who have given so much of their lives to making the CSU system one of the best public higher education systems in the country. And it is needed to keep it in that place.

In the coming days and weeks, more details will emerge from both sides of the bargaining table. In the end, students will pay the price, regardless of the outcome. Unless we are given an equal partnership in bargaining negotiations, as well as in determining compensation for CSU administrators, this will be an inherently unfair contract.

With the birth of the Occupy and Tea Party movements, political slogans have made something of a comeback. Consider this oldie but goodie: No taxation without representation. Today students are not allowed to represent themselves in negotiations that determine how their money is spent. Until that changes, this will be a system of unfair taxation where two sides battle for the hard-earned money of their powerless victims.