By Rachel Tennenbaum

The California Faculty Association (CFA), CSU’s faculty union, negotiated a new contract with Chancellor Charles Reed on April 4. The new contract promises a 21 percent minimum salary increase for faculty in 2010 and a 10 percent increase in employment. This victory was not easy; the CFA has been fighting for it since 2000.

CSU faculty has long struggled against low job security and the high cost of living in California. The CSU system currently hires lecturers to serve as professors and rarely has tenured positions available.

Lecturers are on the same pay track as tenured professors and teach the same amount of classes, but they have no power when it comes to designing curriculum.

Dr. Elena Dorabji has been a political science lecturer at San Jose State University (SJSU) since 1988. She explained that once someone is hired as a lecturer, it is difficult to become a tenured professor. However, since only tenured professors can design curricula, the faculty is overworked.

“All faculty have now collectively been forced into more oversight, greater workload, lower pay and the severe erosion of the very academic autonomy and creativity which is the essence of higher education,” Dorabji said.

The CSUs have repeatedly hired lecturers for two- to three-year periods, and then let them go. At one point, SJSU’s faculty was composed of 55 to 60 percent temporary staff. Only after working for six years as a lecturer could one obtain a three-year contract.

The faculty became overwhelmed with responsibility when no tenured positions were made available. Low job security and high living costs created a shaky and ineffective environment for learning.

Dorabji and others decided it was time for a change.

“In 2000 we had a voluntary and ineffectual union,” she said. “We elected new leaders and decided to build back power.”

The union soon began gaining momentum, and in 2002 members drew up a contract to create more job security for lecturers. The agreement signed on April 4 is the second step in a continuing effort to build up faculty by increasing employment and minimum salaries.

Dorabji enforced the idea that professors were not only fighting for themselves, but for students as well. Student fees at SJSU have been increasing yearly, and the CFA is determined to fight tuition hikes. There is only one problem: students themselves did not want to fight.

“We asked them if they wanted to get involved and they said no,” Dorabji said. “They have lost the sense of entitlement, the sense they deserve this education.”

Robert Gutierrez is a CFA student intern. He is working for the CFA in the hopes of learning how to organize the student body at SJSU. Gutierrez has seen the difficulty students have with high tuition fees.

“The CSU is forcing an individualistic point of view,” Gutierrez said. “SJSU makes it hard to organize–they only offer a [public address] system in one area of campus where almost no one walks by.”

Dr. Dana Frank, a history professor at UC Santa Cruz, has written extensively on labor movements. She said that many students are passionate about making a change.

“Students will organize in a surprising way. It is simply a matter of having them see that their interests lie collectively,” Frank said. “The CSU victory shows spectacularly that organizing works.”

The CFA’s success demonstrates that, with organization and cooperation, change is possible. Dorabji, for one, was quite pleased with the CFA’s victory.

Dorabji said, “Our willingness to strike for our vision of a university, which actually meets the needs of our students and California society at large, has provided both inspiration and a blueprint for action.”