With a much-deserved 10.5 percent faculty raise over the next two years nearly a reality, hopefully the posturing that accompanies all labor disputes is behind us. But the barrage of numbers thrown out during the last few weeks should provide both students and faculty with a lesson in critical thinking.
During the build up to the “strike,” the California Faculty Association said that faculty make an average of just $45,000 a year. Another CFA statistic said that more than half of faculty make less than $38,000 a year. By March 31 when the CFA distributed “7 Reasons Students Should Support the Strike,” the numbers were slightly more nuanced, but if a student turned in this document for an assignment, I doubt that any professor would accept it. Just four tiny “sources” were mentioned at the bottom, with no information on which statistic came from which source.
As a faculty member who teaches journalism students how to “interview” data and evaluate it, I was troubled by this poor documentation.
So, in the spirit of critical thinking, here are the questions I would expect my students to ask about three of the seven claims in this flyer:
- Claim #3: Are my professors really paid poorly? The chart differentiates between full-time and part-time faculty, and it points out that a majority of CSU faculty members are part-time, which is a major contributor to the pay issue. But, what was the source? And what is meant by “full-time faculty?” There are full-time professors at three different ranks, full-time temporary faculty at multiple ranks, and part-time temporary faculty, and the pay difference is substantial among these groups.
According to statistics from the chancellor’s office, the average academic-year salary for full-time assistant professors in fall 2014, the rank of most faculty in their first six years, is $71,175. And according to the CSU Salary Schedule for an academic year, the range for that rank can run from about $51,000 to $114,000. If after 12 years a faculty member has achieved promotion to the rank of full professor, the salaries are substantially higher. According to the chancellor’s office 2014 statistics, the average full professor made $93,079 for the academic year, with the Salary Schedule range of $74,000 to $131,000. Associate professors make somewhere in between. The picture is not so rosy for lecturers who make up more than half of the CSU teaching faculty. Full-time lecturers averaged $54,954 a year, according to the chancellor’s office 2014 statistics, with a Salary Schedule range of about $43,000 to $131,000.
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This level of detail, with simple links for sources, makes it much easier to evaluate the union’s question: “Are my professors really paid poorly?” (To check out what your professors make, search the State Worker Salary Database on the Sacramento Bee newspaper website.
While the salary question was the most fundamental issue at stake, there were two other claims in the document directed at students that were poorly referenced:
- Claim #4: 72% of faculty works a second job. What’s the source? Are these part-time faculty or full-time faculty?
- Claim #5: Where is my money going? The CFA says it’s “not sure.” However, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California has an easily found chart that shows where the money was going in 2007 and 2012.
The fact-finding report also found some questionable numbers on the CSU side of the dispute, finding that the CSU “more likely than not inflated” the cost of the raises by $3 million or more.Granted, both sides in labor disputes have to balance thoroughness with brevity to get their points across. And everyone needs to be skeptical of any claims made by opponents, whether they are running for president — think Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton — or fighting for raises. But as teaching professionals, with advanced degrees, we should hold ourselves to higher standards, at least the same standards we would expect of our students.