INSIDE Chico State
0 November 13, 2003
Volume 34 Number 5
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Academic Senate Chair

Len Fisk

Len Fisk, Academic Senate Chair
Photo by Jeff Teeter

Message to State Legislators: Don't Bite the Hand that Feeds You

Last week, I visited a state agency office in Sacramento and returned to class wearing a formal black suit. My students immediately asked why I was wearing such a nice suit. I told them that I was seeking research funding and that behavioral research has shown that people, quixotically, prefer to donate money to panhandlers who appear not to need it, perhaps because they view their donation as an "investment" and wish to invest in stocks with a higher probability of return.

At CSU, Chico, we have conscientiously "dressed well" for many years. The truth is that we are not as prosperous or successful as we wish to appear. We never recovered from the dramatic cuts we had to make in the early 1990s.

Even if CSU, Chico sustains no budget cuts next year, we will face $2.7 million in unfunded, mandated cost increases. We have spent all our available reserves and "one-time" dollars to balance this year's cuts. Any new cuts will add substantially to the damage that is already assured.

The state and fee dollars we receive for each student fall short of providing what the campus needs to survive and fulfill its educational mission. This substantial shortfall varies as a function of the unpredictable political gyrations of the annual budget. As a campus, we try to address the shortfalls in creative ways. One way is to do contract and research work, for which the campus receives a percentage of "overhead." A direct consequence of this solution is that many professors are now asked to do research and contract work as a condition of their employment, thus generating resources as well as providing learning opportunities for students.

Now that many do research to help with the budget shortfall, some CSU faculty members are shifting their primary concern from teaching toward research. In doing so, the CSU's focus is shifting away from providing access to higher education to all Californians and toward the research model embraced by the UC. Although this shift may ultimately raise the level of teaching, it signals a departure from the primary mission of the institution. The open access door is closing in the face of a new generation.

For many years, the CSU has been dedicated to providing the educated labor force that would fuel California's economic engine and provide the potential for economic growth that made the California economy one of the largest and most robust in the world (internationally, California's economy is still seventh largest). The CSU has produced the workforce that runs companies like Disney, Hewlett-Packard, Bechtel, Chevron, Qualcomm, and others. Because these companies are so dependent upon the existence of a quality labor force, the economic might of the state of California is closely tied to the success of the CSU system.

The impact the campus has on the local economy is even more apparent. With a reduced annual budget of around $100 million, and the assumption that money circulates multiple times through the local economy, a budget reduction of only 10 percent will remove upwards of $35 million from the local economy. A concomitant reduction in enrollment would also remove the financial contribution of more than 1,000 students who purchase housing, food, entertainment, and services from local businesses.

So, what can we do about this mess? Last month, I praised the wonderful sense of community that drew me to Chico and to the CSU, Chico campus. This is an occasion where we must act as a community.

Recent actions of the state legislature suggest that our campus's choice to minimize the apparent impact of 10 years of budget erosion did not properly convey the impact to the system and to the state. It is time to tell the truth, and our legislators need to hear the truth from every one of us.

We need to tell them that the Chico campus cut what little fat there was in the early 1990s. We need to tell them that recent budget cuts have cut to the bone our ability to provide open access to higher education. We need to tell them that additional cuts will devastate the campus and disrupt its ability to provide public access to higher education. We need to urge them to avoid killing the very thing that fuels California's economic success.

Len Fisk
Academic Senate chair

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