Michelle Renee Matisons is an assistant professor in the Women’s Studies Program at California State University, Sacramento, part of the 405,000-student CSU system. Her scholarly interests include critical theory, political economy and social movements, including resistance to the corporatization of higher education. She is co-author of a textbook titled Institutions, Ideologies and Individuals: Feminist Perspectives on Gender, Race and Class. In 2004-05, the Associated Students of CSUS named Matisons the Outstanding Professor of the Year.
Seth Sandronsky: What is your main grievance with the policy of the school administration?
Michelle Renee Matisons: My main grievance is the complete backwardness of the administration’s priorities. They aren’t even trying to hide a pro-corporate, pro-business/development agenda. They call it “Destination 2010″, we call it “Devastation 2010″ or my new one: “Devastation, Money Spent”. Student fees and professor workloads are increasing, course sections are being cut, and classrooms are overcrowded. It’s changed noticeably since I started working here a few years ago. CSUS President Alexander Gonzalez and his minions are selling off chunks of campus-like the bookstore-to private interests, practicing nepotism, and enjoying hefty pay raises. It’s blatant piracy of a public educational institution. For example, the university president, who just enjoyed a $61,000 pay increase this year, wants to build a recreation center with a bowling alley and all kinds of entertainment facilities, and they just sold off a chunk of library study space to convert it to a Java City. We need more classes and professors, not more coffee and distractions. Don’t get me wrong, I like to drink coffee and bowl when I get the chance. But let’s deal with the nuts and bolts issues of education first, please!
SS: How are faculty and students resisting the corporatization of the university?
MRM: People are starting to link this “Devastation, Money Spent” agenda to the national move to privatize education. In fall 2005 an excellent website was launched by a graduate student, James Banyai, www.csusresistance.org, in the hopes that we can unify the various disgruntled contingents on campus and introduce the language of “privatization” and “corporatization” into people’s rhetoric about the administration. The Web site also has a user’s forum that we encourage people to use in order to post rants or information about events. (I really think this Web site serves as a model of what people can do on other campuses.) But this is a slow process, because student militancy, here at Sac State and throughout the country, is not at a peak. Students are really the foundation of any successful campus-based resistance. Also, there’s a palatable fear about the administration’s power, so we have to work on emboldening students, staff and faculty. In many ways Sac State mirrors our national situation. We have an unelected president who, when entering office, appointed his lapdogs (in Gonzalez’s case he gave his son a 70K position when he only had a bachelor’s degree), and began to unilaterally make fatally flawed decisions that should be made by an entire campus. But we are seeing progress; more and more people are losing faith.
The new campus administration and recent system-wide decisions about increased student fees and administrative raises, has also pushed our faculty union into a more pro-active stance. Also, the junior faculty have organized a separate, very vocal contingent that links our relative “paltry pittances” to this corporatization process. I am centrally involved in this aspect of resistance efforts, and it has been quite a ride.
SS: Which faculty union do you belong to, and what is the extent of its work with other labor unions on and off campus?
MRM: I belong to the California Faculty Association and am active in the junior faculty caucus which now meets regularly. The union works with many diverse groups on and off-campus-almost too may to count. But I can provide a few examples of recent collaborations. The CFA worked closely with the entire coalition of unions (nurses, teachers, etc.) to defeat California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s agenda during the November 2005 special election. We were all phonebanking and precinct walking together citywide.
As a member of the junior faculty contingent we recognize that young professors need to be more active in shaping the union’s campus and statewide agenda. As junior faculty we are dealing with salary compression issues, outlandish housing costs, and equally outlandish expectations (huge teaching load with service and publication requirements) going up for tenure.
SS: Where does compression of salaries for junior faculty fit in with the hours they teach?
MRM: The university has projected FTEs (full time enrollments) which is the symbolic currency of the university system. This is how they measure the money coming in from student fees. If we are under projected FTE goals our deans will notify us that we should add students. This results in oversized courses and crowded classrooms. Really-I am not joking when I say that if they all show up I have students sitting on the floors. So, we put in more hours teaching and communicating outside the classroom with more students, yet we don’t get compensated for this extra work. Also, there are two issues that have galvanized our junior faculty group at CSUS that makes all this extra work especially frustrating: the experience penalty and no SSIs (raises) for the cohorts entering 2002-2005.
1) The “Experience Penalty”:
One of our group’s major grievances, this term addresses the simple fact that we have junior faculty entering with a higher salary than experienced faculty who have been there for several years ahead of them. For example, faculty entering in the College of Social Sciences will start at 55K this fall but those who entered 2002-2004 make around 47K. It is true that universities are usually unable to recruit new faculty at salaries equivalent to previous year’s hires, yet this dynamic creates serious morale problems. We argue that current experience penalties can be addressed by our administration immediately and a salary structure that boosts everyone in the event of a new hire can avoid this fundamentally unfair aspect of the CSUS salary structure.
2) No SSIs (Supplemental Step Increases):
For the incoming cohorts of 2002-2005, no SSI (service step increases) has been forthcoming which essentially means-no raises except the current general 3percent boost for faculty system-wide announced last semester! This was a choice the CFA made to bargain away these raises, and this poses a serious problem as many junior faculty have seen our workload increase while our paycheck stays the same. The CFA has committed to representing us (junior faculty) better system-wide so we’ll see what happens in this round of bargaining.
SS: What is your union doing to increase hiring and decrease the working day for junior faculty?
MRM: Our campus CFA chapter has been very supportive of our junior faculty organizing. They have demanded that the SSI issue be included in statewide negotiations with the CSU system. Statewide, the union has also been supportive. “Funded and guaranteed Service Step Increases,” and “Deal with compression and inversion problems” are on the list of demands for this round of bargaining. If these issues are addressed that will have a huge impact on junior faculty morale. Also, we maintain that the CSUS president Alexander Gonzalez can fix the “experience penalty”(otherwise known as salary inversion) on our campus if he wants. He does not need to wait for the union or the chancellor to fix it!
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at [email protected]