In the simmering California State University labor showdown, professors are enlisting new recruits for battle-their students.
Locally, campus labor leaders argue that the roughly 31,000 students at San Diego State share a stake in the outcome of the dispute with the administration. Mark Wheeler, the faculty union's president at SDSU, emphasized rising tuition and burgeoning class sizes-not salary discrepancies-as the major issues in what he described as an ideological struggle for the future of California's public university system.
"Students have been subject to the same indifference and abuse as professors when it comes to the actions of the chancellor and his cronies," said English professor William Nericcio, a union activist.
So last week, Nericcio did some online recruiting. In an e-mail addressed to his "beloved students," Nericcio argued the union's case and solicited student support.
"In the past, I have alluded to the fact that professors, along WITH students, might need to go on strike against the administration of the California State University," the e-mail reads. "I am sharing this information NOT to alarm you, but to encourage your support: as I said in class, without students, without our undergraduates and graduate students, professors are nothing, and our university is a sham."
Claire Potes-Fellow, a CSU spokesperson, said Nericcio should be ashamed for involving students. She believes students would be the hardest-hit victims if the union chooses to strike in April.
"Faculty is using the students to get better salaries," Potes-Fellow said.She also disputed the union's claim that class sizes are on the rise."Class sizes aren't up," Potes-Fellow said. "Across the system, the faculty-student ratio has remained at a steady 19-to-one for several years. It's all about salaries."
That ratio holds true at SDSU, as reported by the university's Office of Analytic Studies and Institutional Research.
Nericcio said the notion that faculty is using students is "utter bullshit."A fact-finding report released Sunday by a neutral mediator struck a middle ground between the union and administration on the salary impasse, recommending a 20-percent increase in salaries.
Some students have already committed to the cause. Arturo Jimenez, president of the Forum on War and Peace, an anti-war student organization at SDSU, e-mailed his group's "statement of solidarity" with the union to several hundred people last week and said many members plan to join faculty if they end up on a picket line.
"Their demands aren't unreasonable," Jimenez said. "We know our professors want what's best for students."For his part, Nericcio isn't surprised if students support the union over the administration.
"The chancellor and his Board of Trustees are equally responsible for the destructive and hostile environment all of us suffer with," Nericcio said. "Without them, both student and professor alike know the truth of the matter: We could then become the greatest set of universities on the planet."But some students don't even know about the looming strike, and not all students who support it do so for high-minded reasons.
"Some students have told me they're looking forward to a couple of days off if we strike," professor Jill Holslin said. "I can't blame them, actually."