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Tim Myers - The happy warriors in the CSU system

Posted: October 24, 2009 3:51 p.m.
Updated: October 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.
During the lean times of the Great Recession we get used to certain images: The sad sign of the foreclosure notice on the vacant house. A closure notice on a factory that once made cars. The dejected and somewhat caged looks of recently laid off workers in an unemployment line. These images make us sad.

But some images make the blood boil. The most common? Municipal and state workers who somehow believe their status insulates them from the woes of a quickly de-leveraging economy.

In California, especially, the real estate bubble fueled state and local coffers with bubble revenues with which elected officials made annuity promises they can no longer fulfill.

Not seeming to understand macroeconomics, the workers put on liveried T-shirts with an imprinted grievance and speak publicly one after another to the elected body or ride buses to arranged protests in the public square.

In addition to the public outrage, the workers engage attorneys to seek legal redress against difficult budget decisions, citing the nuanced provisions of various ballot propositions or laws passed in more flush times.

But consider instead the case of the California State University system. The CSU system, along with the University of California system, endured slashing budget cuts on a system already oversubscribed.

Initially, the systems' leaders sent out mass e-mail and made Web postings to parents and students, asking them to write their respective legislators requesting a reprieve from the budget ax for all the worthy reasons.

However, since the people who run the CSU and UC systems are by definition highly educated, they quickly realized that everyone must share the pain of the sudden contraction in state revenues. To that end, they developed a three-pronged plan to cover the shortfall.

The CSU leadership divided the solution into a three-way share of the burden.

They would cover one-third of the shortfall with stimulus money received from the federal government.

One-third would come from students in the form of increased fees, effective immediately.

The remaining third would come from cost reductions; primarily, a 10 percent reduction in the pay of administration, staff and faculty in the form of mandatory furlough days.

On the issue of the increase in student fees, a handful of students would arrive at the leaders' meeting to protest the increases, but anyone who understands the concept of value for money knows in their heart that a 30 percent increase to the already incredible deal of a CSU education is just the best deal ever plus 30 percent!

But what about the pay cuts doled out to the employees of the CSU system? I can tell everyone honestly that my mood and motivation would decline significantly if I had to endure a 10 percent pay cut, so it was with some trepidation that our family recently attended the Family Weekend events at California State University-Channel Islands (home of the "Determined" Dolphins) in Camarillo.

I fully expected a much glummer and more surly staff and faculty during the planned events, but incredibly they still maintained the same upbeat and happy attitude they exhibited at the June orientation.

Amazingly, only one professor had gone militant concerning the furlough days, and cancelled the entire first week of class to fulfill the furlough days and protest.

Every staff member and faculty member seemed genuinely happy and appreciative that the president of the university over-communicated the impact to faculty and staff through a series of town hall meetings.

Unlike the screaming municipal workers we see so much in the news, the high-end knowledge workers of the CSU system realized they would need to take a portion of the budget pain, particularly when the system would call upon the students and their families to bear the same amount.

But the budget problems will persist into the future with impacts on the students currently attending high school and community college.

For the first time in its short history, CSU Channel Islands will accept no transfer students in the spring semester (The UC schools have already held that they will only accept transfers of community college graduates and not just people with college credits.)

Additionally, the CSU system must freeze enrollment for the 2010-2011 academic year and then grow enrollment 5 percent a year over the foreseeable future, down from the recent compound rate of 10 percent, though Channel Islands received a special dispensation to grow by 10 percent after the freeze year.

Will our next wave of graduates be as cheerful as the CSU employees?

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. "Myers' Musings" appears Sundays in The Signal. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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