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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Furlough Frenzy Hits California Colleges

California State University budget cuts cause stir among students

October 27, 2009
By Kerianne Okie - The Tufts Daily

(Courtesy indybay.org)
“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks:” This is no longer a joyous tune for CSU students. (Courtesy indybay.org)

College students generally revel in the prospect of missing class without repercussions, rejoicing over snow days and surprise class cancellations. But for students in the California State University (CSU) system, in which statewide budget cuts have led to a marked decrease in the number of classes being held, the joy is becoming increasingly bittersweet.

In an effort to reduce expenditures, the CSU system is requiring faculty and staff across its 23 campuses to take a 10 percent salary cut and forego teaching classes for two furlough days each month for the 2009-2010 academic year. These mandatory days off are one attempt to confront a shrinking budget amid the national recession, which has hit California’s state budget particularly hard.

Erik Fallis, media relations specialist at the CSU chancellor’s office, said that furloughs are one of a number of measures that the state is taking to reduce the budget by their target of $564 million.

“Eighty-five percent of the CSU operational budget goes to salaries, so we obviously had to do something in salaries,” Fallis told the Daily.

Fallis explained that when looking into ways to save money, the CSU negotiated with the various employees’ unions to figure out the best option.

“Most of the unions, including our two largest, which was our faculty union and our … employees union, decided to go with furloughs,” Fallis said.

While the salary reductions have saved the CSU approximately $275 million, the decision has been met with opposition on the campus level, especially because they have not stopped the schools from effecting a marked increase in tuition. Protests have been occurring frequently on state university campuses across California, and an estimated 5,000 students attended a rally at the University of California, Berkeley this past Saturday — although that school is not part of the California State University System.

CSU students say the effects of the furloughs have been readily apparent.

“It’s not fair that we’re paying more money for a significant amount of less class,” Julianne Reed, a junior at San Francisco State University, told the Daily. “I’ve had midterms and it felt like I hadn’t learned anything because I’ve had no class.”

Charlotte Bell, a junior at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, feels the same way.

“Last week I went to school for a total of four hours and that was ridiculous,” Bell told the Daily. “And teachers have literally just scratched whole sections out of our courses because they can’t cover everything.”

Each campus decides specifically how the furloughs will be carried out, with some holding campus-wide closings and others allowing the professors themselves to decide which days to take off. Some professors have opted to continue teaching most of their classes, pay or no pay.

“There are quite a few who are still holding class,” Bell said. “I haven’t encountered anyone whose teachers are not canceling any days, but each teacher I think is supposed to cancel six class periods; a lot of them are only doing about three or four.”

Even if professors do decide to hold classes in spite of furloughs, the budget cuts are causing other difficulties with instruction.

“My art teacher decided to still have class, but since it’s a figure drawing class the school will not provide a figure for four days out of the semester. So it’s kind of hard to get around that,” Reed said.

“A lot of classes were dropped, a lot of teachers were fired. So for instance, I had my whole schedule planned out in May and then [four] of my classes were dropped because of the cuts. The classes are definitely impacted because people are required to have 12 units for being a full-time student, so the teachers are trying to allow as many people in their classes as possible. One of my classes has [roughly] 100 people in it and there are only 75 seats,” Reed said.

Fallis explained that the CSU is attempting to address these problems, acknowledging that fewer classes would indeed cause crowding, but pointing out that this had more to do with budget cuts aside from the furloughs.

“We’re trying to minimize the impact,” Fallis said. “What’s probably going to be the hardest thing for students is the fact that they may have more trouble getting into particular course sections because we won’t be able to offer quite as many course sections because of the reduced budget.

“So I think that that’s more an impact of the other cuts that are having to occur around this, more than something that’s driven by the furloughs in particular,” he continued. “But yes, clearly, if we have a $564 million reduction, if universities are being asked to make these reductions, it will have an impact on students, but we’re trying to minimize that impact — especially when it comes to their progress to degrees — as much as possible.”

While many students remain upset about the furlough days, Bell and Reed admitted that they do have their benefits.

“I [had] a four-day weekend because I have furlough days. [My friend] had a week off last week so she went to New York,” Reed said. “We like it, but we don’t like liking it.”

Bell said some students were glad to have the free time. “A lot of students are actually really into having the days off,” she said. “I’m kind of upset about the paying more and not having as much class, and I think that is frustrating, but when the day comes and you can sleep in you always take it with a positive attitude.”

In addition to cutting payment to staff, Fallis noted that the CSU has taken a number of other measures to reduce expenditures.

“We also have done a number of smaller things that we started actually last year to try to get ahead of this. That included curtailing travel, deferring a number of purchases and maintenance unless they were absolutely critical, and it involved a sort of a soft hiring freeze where positions remained open unless they were critical to the mission of the university,” he said. “Wherever we could we were reducing expenditures coming into this next year.”

Bell said she understands why the cuts have occurred, but she was especially critical of the state’s decision to solve its budget crisis by reaching so deeply into education.

“I think they could have figured something else out,” Bell said. “I think there are a lot of different ways to handle the budget other than just simply cutting the days that the students go to school and going straight to education.”