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COMMENTARY

Underappreciated and Unrepresented, With Nowhere to Turn

Cal State: Professors in the university system don't have champions in the union or in the chancellor's office.

April 12, 1999|CRAIG SMITH | Craig Smith is a professor of communication studies and director of the Center for 1st Amendment Studies at California State University Long Beach

Last month, professors at Cal State Long Beach were forced to choose sides in the battle between an embittered union, the California Faculty Assn., and a hard-line Cal State University system chancellor, Charles B. Reed. Many of us felt stuck in the middle because either alternative was distasteful. Here's why:

During a speech in Los Angeles, Reed claimed that the California teacher shortage could be laid at the door of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. At that time, I served as a member and chaired the committee that had been approving waivers and emergency credentials for more than 600 applicants a month because of the teacher shortage that was exacerbated by state-mandated class size reduction. The commission is one of the hardest working in Sacramento. Its monthly agenda weighs more than 20 pounds. Its members, mainly teachers, receive no compensation for their work. Attacking the commission was scapegoating of the worst order.

Next, Reed told a business audience in San Luis Obispo that professors are, in effect, slackers, citing their "9-to-2, Monday-through-Thursday" teaching schedules without talking about their many other academic responsibilities. Reed ought to take a walk in my shoes. I am chair and secretary of two committees, one of which evaluates professors for retention, promotion and tenure. I also serve on the Academic Senate and run a research resource center for 1st Amendment studies. I teach three classes that require a good deal of preparation and grading. In one interdisciplinary class, I have 100 students who, among other things, must write a mock Supreme Court decision. I grade every one of them, because the university can't afford to provide help, which I wouldn't take anyway. It's my job, and I do it gladly; at least I always have until the chancellor misrepresented it.

Finally, Reed forgets that we have to publish scholarly research if we are to be retained, tenured and promoted or in order to receive his precious merit pay. Where does he think I get the time to do this? It's not OPEC that has caused the price of crude oil to rise; it's the midnight oil I'm burning.

So why don't I join the union? First, when I tried to get the same compensation for department chairs that exists on other CSU campuses, the union did not help. I succeeded in getting the compensation formula changed against strong resistance from some in the administration here, but I had to paddle my boat alone. Second, the union cut teaching associates out of the bargaining unit, thereby stripping them of health benefits. Teaching associates are graduate students in training, apprentices if you will, who are learning to teach as they master their subject matter. We have a handful on the CSU campuses compared to the UCs or other "research institutions." To cut teaching associates out of the bargaining unit was cruel. Third, the union opposes helping department chairs get extra pay for their administrative work. Fourth, the union advocated a return to a draconian formula for calculating how many classes each professor should teach.

The fact is the California Faculty Assn. has become a bargaining unit for lecturers, part-time and otherwise, at the expense of professors. It's time for professors to get new representation.

In this acrimonious environment created by an intransigent chancellor and a selfish union, perhaps it is time for a Campus Unacademic Activities Committee (CUAC, pronounced QUACK) to be formed. One can imagine the dreaded question, "Did you or any one of your associates ever apply for merit pay?"

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