Some California State University faculty say their salary is so low that they must work two jobs, can't afford to buy a home and at times depend on food stamps and other government assistance to get by.
Those and other hardships were recounted in a new report released Tuesday by the California Faculty Assn., which contends that the 23-campus system is failing to invest in its teaching workforce.
The faculty group this year surveyed more than 5,500 members and found widespread discontent and demoralization about their financial well-being.
On average, members earn $45,000 annually before taxes and other deductions, the union said. The number is based on earnings of full-time professors and those hired on a part-time basis, who make up about half of the faculty.
"Faculty salaries are dropping to the point that it's hard to call teaching at CSU a middle-class profession," faculty association President Lillian Taiz, said during a media call.
Taiz, a professor of history at Cal State L.A., chided system leaders for "ten years or more of misplaced priorities and problematic choices."
Cal State officials questioned both the findings in the report and the timing of it. The two sides soon will begin contract negotiations.
The new report, "Race to the Bottom, Losing Ground and Losing Faith," is one of a series produced by the faculty union that it says reveals a trend of losses in salary and positions for faculty compared with increases in those areas for executives.
The union represents about 25,000 Cal State professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches. About 100 faculty members held a rally Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento.
The timing of the reports is strategic: After going five years without a raise, faculty won a 1.34% pay increase in 2013 and a 1.6% boost last year.
The latest three-year pact called for the two sides to reopen salary and benefit talks for 2015-16 and 2016-17. Cal State officials noted the upcoming negotiations.
"The California Faculty Association's claims about the university's investment in faculty and its impact on students are not only misleading, they are being made because the union is attempting to enhance its position in salary negotiations starting in May," spokeswoman Laurie Weidner said.
Weidner also called into question many of the salary figures cited by the report. New, tenure-track faculty hired as assistant professors started at a base pay of $72,519 in 2014 for about 9.5 months of work, she said. That salary figure does not include an additional $41,300 in health and retirement benefits.
The average salary for a part-time lecturer was $48,823 for a teaching load of one to four classes per semester. The lowest hourly rate for part-time Cal State lecturers was nearly $32, compared to a national part-time average of $28.86, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But faculty officials argue that those "base salary" averages reflect complicated aggregations of full- and part-time work and do not paint an accurate picture of actual take-home pay.
Instead, the faculty report used Cal State payroll data of individual salaries to determine gross earnings per year.
More than half of CSU faculty make less than $38,000 in gross earnings, according to the report. In addition, the average faculty salary at each campus lost purchasing power over the last decade when adjusted for inflation, from about a $7,114 loss at San Diego State to a $13,796 loss at Chico State.
In terms of take-home pay, 95% of lecturers make less than $4,000 per month and 43% of them take home less than $2,000 a month; 72% of assistant professors and 52% of associate professors take home less than $4,000, and 88% of full professors take home less than $6,000 per month.
The report includes many personal anecdotes, including that of Loredana Lo Bianco, a part-time lecturer in Italian at Fresno State who says she can't afford to pay rent, utilities, car payments and groceries on her $2,500 a month take-home salary.
Lo Bianco also teaches at a local high school to supplement her income and said she couldn't afford a funeral when her husband died last year. She has discouraged her 18 year-old son from a teaching career.
"I told him, 'You're not going to be a teacher because it does not pay,'" Lo Bianco said. "That's been my experience. That's a very sad thing to say."
Stephen Campbell, a part-time lecturer in U.S. history at Cal Poly Pomona, also teaches at Pasadena City College and still must rely at times on food stamps and Medicaid, he said.
"I can't ethically recommend graduate school for anyone in history anymore," he said.
About 60% of faculty reported being unable to afford to live in their campus community.
Frank Lilly, an associate professor in the College of Education at Cal State Sacramento, also teaches at UC Davis and works as a private education consultant to make ends meet, according to the report.
"I've had colleagues who've left and gone to the private sector and understandably so," Lilly said. "I love doing what I'm doing. But if you worked my salary out by the hour, you would laugh."