A survey, conducted by the California Faculty Association (CFA) earlier this year, found that 79 percent of faculty who responded to the survey would not recommend their jobs within the California State University system to students or colleagues at other institutions.
“You have aspirations that when you get a Ph.D. — when you become a professor — you will be able to afford to buy a home,” said Matthew P. Llewellyn, Ph.D., Cal State Fullerton associate professor. “But that’s just not a reality.”
The CSU system is losing some of the youngest and brightest up-and-coming faculty because faculty salaries cannot meet the cost of living in Fullerton, forcing potential faculty to leave and teach elsewhere, said CFA Vice President Michele Barr, Ph.D., full-time lecturer at Cal State Fullerton.
Ten years ago, Barr would have recommended her graduate students apply within the CSU system. Today, that recommendation is irrelevant.
“We’re actually falling out of the middle class,” Barr said.
The Fight For a 5 Percent Increase
The CFA is determined to fight for a 5 percent General Salary Increase (GSI) and a 2.65 percent Salary Service Increase (SSI). The union has rejected a proposed 2 percent GSI offered by the chancellor.
“It’s very demoralizing for the administration to offer two percent, when, on a relative scale, we are the lowest paid professors at public universities,” said Robert Castro, Ph.D, associate professor of criminal justice.
“When you’re working so hard, 2 percent is just really low. It relates not only to our individual quality of life, but also the amount of time we could realistically put towards students,” Castro said. “2 percent may be like $65 dollars per month. It’s not much at all.”
The CSU system has budgeted $65.5 million dollars for a 2 percent salary increase for all employees, including university presidents, said Toni Molle, director of public affairs at the office of the Chancellor. However, the CFA’s requested total salary increase would be equivalent to $101.7 million dollars, Molle said, a difference of $36.2 million dollars.
The CSU operating budget is still $180 million below pre-recession levels, Molle said.
The average faculty salary across all 23 CSU campuses for full-time professors is over $96,000 per year, the average for all tenure-track faculty is over $86,000 per year and the average for a full-time lecturer is over $59,000, according to Molle.
However, the numbers are skewed, according to a CFA document titled “Race to the Bottom: CSU’s 10-year Failure to Fund its Core Mission.”
Because most faculty are hired on a part-time contract, the document says “the earnings of CSU faculty are far less than ‘base salary’ numbers often quoted for CSU faculty.”
“They are the ones who are using the data to lie,” said Gülhan Bourget, Ph.D., mathematics associate professor. “We are the ones who are producing what they provided us.”
According to the CFA, more than 50 percent of faculty make less than $40,000 a year; only 18 percent make over $80,000 a year.
For CSU, compensating employees and recruiting and retaining high quality staff are important and among its top priorities, Molle said. “But it’s not our only priority.”
The Gap Between Faculty and Administrative Salaries
Phillip M. Kopp, Ph.D., assistant professor of criminal justice, is a new faculty member straight out of graduate school. In terms of his relative income, Kopp is making substantially more than he was as a graduate student; however, in terms of cost of living and other expenses he “still doesn’t understand how people can do it.”
“Just from looking at the numbers, we’re top-heavy administration-wise,” Kopp said. “Yet the number of faculty and faculty salaries have been stagnant.”
While faculty members struggle to meet the cost of living, CSUF President Mildred García is the fourth-highest-paid president in the CSU system.
García declined to comment for this story.
García’s total annual base salary is $324,500. In addition, as president, García has the privilege of living in El Dorado Ranch, a publicly-owned 6,991-square-foot house with eight bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a guest house, tennis courts and an observation tower, all on 4.5 acres of land, according to the OC Register. Before she moved in, the house was also renovated for nearly $300,000.
“She’s a very wonderful person. I have immense love and respect for her, but again she’s an administrator. She’s well-compensated,” said Gregory Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of criminal justice. “We’re faculty. We’re undercompensated and we want what’s due to us.”
The change in purchasing power between campus presidents’ salaries and faculty salaries across the CSU system has widened by over $30,000, according to the CFA. But at CSUF, the gap between president García and faculty grew by $68,000, the most across all 23 campuses.
Failing to Meet the Cost of Living
Many junior faculty members who are newer cannot afford to live close to campus, which affects students, said political science professor Shelly Arsneault, Ph.D.
“It has negative impacts on their ability to be on campus all the time, to stay for student events, to participate in student events,” Arsneault said. “Really, just to create a sense of a collegial faculty is more difficult when they live so far away.”
Castro knows the struggles of not meeting the cost of living in Fullerton. Because he cannot afford to buy a house in Fullerton, Castro has moved to the Inland Empire, which forced him into a five-hour round-trip commute to campus.
Living in Fullerton is 47.2 percent more expensive than the national average and 8.6 percent greater than the average in California, according to AreaVibes, which tracks the cost of living in cities across America.
“The only place that we could realistically get into on my salary is out near Temecula,” Castro said.
Maximum salaries within each professor class were structured out years ago, based upon that cost of living, Castro said.
“It’s created this hyper-compressed ceiling that doesn’t accurately or realistically reflect what it costs to live in Southern California,” Castro said.
Castro, who has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan and a law degree from UCLA, has accumulated close to $150,000 in student debt.
It’s “a lot to chew on,” Castro said, when he has to factor in his student debt with the cost of child care services for his two children, gas for the commute and actual commute time — all while providing students with professional opportunities and services.
Llewellyn faces the same issues as Castro.
“What’s difficult for me as a father of two young boys, not only can I not afford a home, not only can I not afford to pay off my student debt, but I can’t even afford to save money to one day put my kids through college,” Llewellyn said. “And that’s heartbreaking.”
Although the university does offer affordable tract housing in Buena Park to faculty, those who avail the program own the home, but not the land. In addition to that, school districts in the surrounding area leave much to be desired, making it a financially poor choice, Llewellyn said.