Beginning May 2, a dozen California State University (CSU) students held a hunger strike across six campuses, vowing to continue fasting until their demands for a five-year tuition moratorium, cutbacks on executive and administration pay and more freedom of expression on campuses were met. After nine days, the students called it quits after negotiations came to naught.
The hunger strike was organized by Students for Quality Education (SQE), taking place at the Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Northridge, Sacramento and San Bernardino campuses. Assisted by the California Faculty Association (CFA), SQE is a student organization built upon upholding educational rights in public higher education.
CSU Chancellor Charles Reed spoke with the hunger strikers on the topic of their demands on May 4.
CSU Media Relations Specialist Erik Fallis said they were deeply concerned about the fasting students.
“As the CSU, we have expressed deep concern about the health of the students and the academic welfare of the students participating in the hunger strike because frankly, if you’re not taking in nourishment, and you have to go in and take a test or write a paper, that is not going to be good for you academically,” Fallis said.
Fallis said the CSU urges students to express themselves in a way that doesn’t invite harm and risk to their healths and academics.
On May 2, the CFA, a faculty union representing 23,000 CSU faculty members across all 23 CSU campuses, voted in favor of rolling two-day strikes beginning Fall 2012. These strikes will initiate if the CFA and CSU fail to meet a labor agreement.
“In terms of the faculty staff, we’ve been in negotiations for two years now on a contract for CSU faculty,” said CFA spokesperson Brian Ferguson. “The management in the CSUs has demanded some pretty hefty concessions from faculty in terms of class sizes, working conditions and even pay.”
Ferguson said the CSU’s demands would negatively impact the faculty’s ability to provide education in the classrooms and provide students the ability to get the kind of education they came to the CSUs to pursue.
Fallis said a bargaining meeting with CFA took place on May 5. CFA walked out amid unresolved issues.
“The thing that is frustrating for us is that we have heard from the CFA at the bargaining table, and their positions have been very different than what they’ve stated publicly and to students,” Fallis said. “We have come to an agreement on some level of other issues.”
Ferguson said the bargaining discussion breakdown was a reflection of one-sided thinking that the deal was in one place, and the other side having a different idea on that.
“We think communication breakdown is partially to blame for how we got to this point so far,” Ferguson said. “But we’re remaining hopeful we can get the deal done.”
May 17 is the set date for the next bargaining meeting. Ferguson said most of the faculty issues are low-cost or no-cost, although the CFA understands the economy and fiscal implications that are affecting the CSUs.
“From our perspective, the quality education issues are the main thrust at the moment,” Ferguson said. “We think that at a time when student fees continue to rise year after year, when faculty and staff are laid off, every dollar that’s coming into our institution is valuable and should be focused in the classroom. Students aren’t here to fund executives, they aren’t here to be an ATM.”
Fallis said the CSU is looking at other options to avoid an additional tuition increase. He said some of the options were drastic – the closing of a campus – but they wanted to to be able to lay out all conceivable options to deal with their additional $2 million cut.
“For the CSU, our funding from all outside resources is coming to about equal to state funds,” Fallis said. “When the state cut out a third of our state funding, that essentially meant they were cutting the floor out from our entire budget.”
Fallis said the CSU agrees with the students concerned about executive compensation.
“Anyone who has been in the executive position since 2007, or started in that position afterwards, has not gotten an increase from their starting salary,” he said. “When majority of our employees furloughed, so did our president and our chancellor. So the executives took the same 10 percent cut that was asked of others in the university.”
According to Fallis, the executive compensation policy states any new hires cannot receive higher salaries than their predecessors in state or tuition funds.
“If the Board of Trustees or a campus decides they want to pick a candidate that would require more funds to bring into the university, the only way they can do that is through private dollars, which would be raised for that purpose,” Fallis said. “Ten percent would be an absolute limit on private dollars.”
Ferguson said the CFA hopes negotiations between the CSU and CFA can eventually reach an agreement.
“If negotiations continue to go poorly, there’s a very real possibility that the school may not reopen in the fall for 400,000 students,” Ferguson said. “We understand [students] are upset with how the chancellor and campus presidents have treated them poorly, and refused to honor many of their requests they’ve made to meet.”
CLAIRE TAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.