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California and the West

Rift Grows Between Cal State Faculty and Chancellor

Labor: Protesters criticize merit pay plan, saying chief impugned their work ethic. He insists he's committed to their cause.

April 28, 1999|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Campus protests are popping up like daffodils this spring at Cal State schools throughout the state.

Hardly a day goes by without disgruntled agitators at one of the 22 campuses adopting a resolution that rebukes California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed.

Campus activists at San Francisco State and Cal State Bakersfield today plan to hold their first "teach-ins" since the antiwar days of the 1970s. On Thursday, protesters plan to stage a foot-stomping demonstration outside a speech that Reed will deliver to college educators in Sacramento.

Yet it's not the students who are stirred up.

It's the professors.

"The faculty are more upset than they have been in 30 years," said Mark H. Shapiro, chairman of the physics department at Cal State Fullerton. "What's riled them up the most is that [the chancellor] was disrespectful to them. He impugned their work ethic and then imposed a merit pay plan that asks for cronyism and favoritism to take place."

Resentment has been building since the California Faculty Assn. union rejected a long-negotiated contract in March.

That rejection prompted Reed and Cal State's Board of Trustees to impose the contract terms that offered an average 5% raise but doubled the dollars awarded for merit.

Although the faculty say they are not opposed to merit pay in concept, they don't like the fact that 40% of raises are now tied to performance and that campus presidents have the ultimate authority to decide who is meritorious.

Reed knows that "there is a lot of anger out there" and shrugs off that much of it is directed at him: "It comes with the territory."

Reed points out that the 5% raise given to the faculty is the largest since 1990. And now he is lobbying the Legislature to give the faculty an additional 6% raise--2% more than other Cal State employees--to begin July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

It's all part of his commitment, he said, to close the pay gap between Cal State's faculty and professors at comparable universities, which one study now places at 7.2%. "The same people who are criticizing me either don't understand my commitment or don't want to remember it."

Meanwhile, Reed has decided to personally kick-start negotiations with the faculty union to put together a contract. He attended a seven-hour meeting last Thursday with union leaders that set the stage for more formal negotiations that could begin as soon as Friday.

Susan Meisenhelder, incoming president of the California Faculty Assn., said she sensed a shift in Reed's attitude. "Certainly faculty are concerned about his leadership, but I felt in the meeting last week that he was listening to what we had to say. I found that very encouraging."

The California Faculty Assn., which represents 19,600 full- and part-time professors, librarians, counselors and coaches, has seen membership surge by 1,000 members in recent months.

The Academic Senate, the faculty's governing body that weighs curriculum and other educational matters, also has gotten involved in the labor dispute.

So far, the academic senates on a dozen Cal State campuses have voted that they have "no confidence" in Reed's leadership. Some campus academic senates have decided members should shun the merit pay system by refusing to forward the list of professors who deserve merit raises.

Others have rebuked Reed for comments he made to a business group at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in March. In a widely circulated account of those comments, a professor quoted him as saying "the faculty only works 7-8 months a year, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and only on Monday through Thursday."

Many faculty have cited this as evidence of the chancellor's sneering attitude toward professors and their work ethic.

But a transcript of Reed's rambling remarks shows his comments were more ambiguous.

His comments came as he outlined his plan to operate Cal State campuses year-round so the university system will be able to accommodate a tidal wave of 400,000 college students expected to enroll in the next decade.

"We'll never be able to serve them if we work about seven or eight months a year," Reed said. "You know, I guess, from about 9 to 2, Monday through Thursday. What frustrates me? What do I have to overcome and where do I need your help is I have to change the culture in California--the student culture, the faculty culture, the inertia or the fear of changing, the political culture of figuring out how to put a reward and accountability system out there."

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