California’s investment in CSU Faculty: A Race to the Bottom


In order to meet its mission to provide high quality higher education in California, the California State University (CSU) promises to “emphasize quality in instruction”. However, over the last decade, a new report has found that the CSU has failed to invest in the very people who provide this quality instruction to nearly half a million students at 23 CSU campuses across the state. To make matters worse, these findings come at a time when student tuition has been skyrocketing.

In the first report of their “Race to the Bottom: The CSU’s 10-Year Failure to Fund its Core Mission” series, the California Faculty Association (CFA) found that the average CSU faculty salary has not only failed to improve over the last decade, it hasn’t even kept up with the rate of inflation. It is a common assumption that professors are high-wage earners but that couldn’t be less true for CSU faculty. In fact, the average CSU faculty makes $45,000 per year. This is less in real dollars than faculty made in 2004!

From the report:

There seems to be no disagreement about the pivotal role that faculty play in the CSU’s core mission to provide a high-quality higher education to an increasingly diverse California. The vast body of research, CSU public discourse, and the personal experiences of students all support that conclusion.

At the same time, however, the system administration has consistently failed to provide the dollars needed for faculty to sustain their central role adequately. While faculty have continued to invest the time and energy needed to promote student success, they find themselves struggling to keep their families afloat.

The report goes on to explain how many faculty have had to change their lives to cope with the lack of investment from the CSU: 

To make ends meet, some have been forced to take on extra jobs, to move into multi-generational or multi-family households, and/or to move to communities far from their campuses in order to afford housing. Others have been forced to move on to other universities that offer better pay and more manageable costs of living.

Adding insult to injury: it doesn’t have to be this way. Over the past decade, in good times and bad, whether state funding was up or down, when tuition was raised and when it wasn’t, CSU expenditures on faculty salaries have remained essentially flat. The report compared the CSU to other university systems around the country and found that the CSU “stands out for its unparalleled failure to improve faculty salaries or even to protect them from the ravages of inflation. Administrators at other colleges and universities inside and outside California dealt with similar circumstances, made different decisions, and produced different outcomes….The failure to fund faculty salaries is shocking in both its magnitude and its consistency over time.”

Lillian Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association stated:

This paper serves as a call for new priorities in the CSU. Chancellor Timothy White promised data-driven decision-making to improve the quality of our programs and to implement programs that advance student success. 

The research shows that the faculty is a critical driver of student success. We call on the Chancellor to heed the data and shift system priorities – just as other institutions around the country have done — so that they better align with the CSU’s core mission and the role faculty play in its success.

This report is just the first out of four reports to analyze the decisions made by the CSU administration over the past decade and highlight the impact on CSU faculty, students and public higher education in California. The second paper will be released on March 24.

Visit www.calfac.org/race-to-the-bottom to view the series and download each paper.