A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
November 9, 2006 Volume 37 / Number 3

 

Beyond Impasse

With both the CSU and California Faculty Association (CFA) acknowledging that contract negotiations for the 22,000 faculty of the California State University have reached impasse for the third time in seven years, it may be time for a fresh approach to collective bargaining. Actually, what I have in mind is not so much a new strategy as a new attitude. And, even then, not so much a set of new understandings as an affirmation and realization of basic principles that should be familiar and dear to all of us, no matter on which side of the bargaining table we sit.

The CSU stands for many things and has many purposes. But, fundamentally, it is an academic academy. And at the heart of the academy are four elements without which we cannot operate and succeed. These are reason and respect, civility, and community. How our conduct reflects these values underscores both our character as an institution and our ability to teach through the force of personal example as well as disciplinary mastery. We do the latter extremely well, but we can do better with the former.

Reason requires a careful, open, and fair-minded approach to and examination of evidence, including the conditions that affect the issues for contract negotiations. Reason demands that we recognize prejudice and politics where they exist and that we resolve to get beyond them.

Regarding faculty salaries, for example, the CSU has put on the table a 24.87 percent compensation increase over the course of a new four-year contract. It is predicated on having new revenues to do so. Those revenues would be derived primarily from three sources: anticipated increases in the Governor’s Compact, additional funding above the Compact line, and trustee-approved student fee increases, which the governor can buy out with general funds, as he did this year. The CFA has proposed a 30.45 percent compensation increase that is not contingent upon the budget received from the governor and the Compact budget agreement.

It is as unreasonable to insist that there should be no new revenue contingencies for proposed salary increases of over $220 million as it would be imprudent to assume that all of these contingencies, all of the time, will fall into place exactly as envisioned.

So how do we reason together to face reality, to reconcile different perspectives on a mutually recognized problem and deal with it? First, by accepting that we must do these things, and then by daring to reclaim another casualty of the present situation—trust. And then by doing so in a manner that reflects the other right rules of conduct for the academy: respect, civility, and community.

Respect involves the acknowledgment—not necessarily the endorsement—of different points of view. It also recognizes, with neither prejudice nor disdain, the different roles that parties bring to negotiations. The trustees, for example, have primary fiscal responsibility for the entire CSU system; the CFA has a particular focus on faculty welfare. These roles are not mutually exclusive—and they are not inevitably contentious. Yes, tough talk takes place on both sides, but heat without respect is neither healthy nor conducive to bringing folks together to find just solutions.

Civility includes courtesy and politeness, but it goes beyond these niceties within the context of the academy. For the free, open-minded discourse we encourage in our classrooms as a necessary condition for understanding requires that we provide protection so that such can occur. We do not tolerate threats and ad hominem attacks there. Why would we practice or tolerate such behaviors as a collective bargaining strategy?

Perhaps most importantly, though, is the quality of community. And what I mean here is acting as “one university,” behaving in a manner that reflects a commitment of all parties within the CSU to embrace our common mission and to demonstrate our ability to work together to fulfill the trust that our California stakeholders and constituencies have placed in us.

The California State University, like public higher education everywhere in our nation, is no longer in a position—if it ever was—to assume that state dollars will flow to us because we are intrinsically deserving. We must build our case for support along the lines of working for the greater good, including a stronger economy, healthier population, and cleaner environment. We must demonstrate that we have the will and the focus to do this—and that we are a connected educational community, not a divided one, in this agenda of public purpose and service.

The present state of contract negotiations between the CSU and the CFA cannot help but confuse this message and provide ammunition for our critics who wonder whether we are trustworthy, responsible, and effective. We must work better—with more reason, with greater respect, civility, and unity—within our university if the partnership with the Legislature and the governor is to work and if our advocacy for the larger public good and our claims of noble values are to have any credence. We must affirm that the right rules of the academy apply to all that we do, including collective bargaining..

—Paul J. Zingg, President