Faculty Respond to Honolulu Advertiser Columnist Lee Cataluna

Click here to link to Lee Cataluna’s column.


Dear Ms Cataluna,

I read your commentary with interest since I am an UHPA member and an instructor at Hawaii Community College.

I wonder if you have ever visited our campus. My department is housed in a portable building with no running water. The chairs my students sit on have “territory of Hawaii” stamped on the underside. We teach in buildings that are old, falling apart, and termite-ridden. We have no spiffy student lounge or campus center. We have faculty working out of closet spaces. The students sit on benches recycled from the local morgue while waiting for their next class. Why? Because we have no money, we never have, and any money we do have, we put into the people that keep the place running and to serve our students. There are 15 sections, full to bursting point, of remedial reading classes. There are 18 sections of remedial writing. We have classes for to 4th grade level readers because the failure of public schools. These are students who have nowhere to go and no future. We are their last stop. There are no ivory towers on our campus. We are well aware of the economic situation. It is all around us. I don’t know where you got the average salary figure from, mine is quite a lot less than the average. I don’t know where you got the impression that we don’t work hard or care about our teaching or our students.

I would like you to take a realistic view. Look at where our state is, look where we need to go. What resources do we have? It is the same as at our campus, it is our people, our faculty and our students. We already lost out on the infrastructure, and now you want to dismantle what little we have left, our people, our only resource left. Where is that going to leave our island community?

I would like to know, how would you feel if your employer gave you an offer of a lower salary, reduction in benefits, and no guarantee that you would keep your job? Would you at least have the expectation that you could negotiate? Do you always accept the first offer when you negotiate? Do you do research and try to figure out other options, or just roll over and take whatever is on the table?

I probably would be willing to take a cut, and I know that some of my colleagues would do the same if we knew that people and programs would not be cut. We did not get that promise–did you know that? Do you care? Don’t we have the right to a fair bargaining process? Are you denying us that? Are you really taking such a primitive view of this budget situation that all you have to do is add and subtract and hey presto you have a budget?   Unlike the DOE, the UH system brings money into the state coffers and to the local economy. You would like to see that brought to a halt? How much more struggling do you want to see our Big Island community undergo, once jobs are cut and students are turned away? The money is there, the leadership is not. That is my reality.

Sherri Fujita
Hawaii CC Instructor

Dear Ms. Cataluna,

As I am sure you’ve heard already, there was considerable shock among the UH faculty and students in response to your column today.  There are so many vital issues involved in the faculty vote that I would have hoped you would have researched beyond the President’s clearly PR message to investigate the other side.  I am forwarding a video of our student/faculty teach-in last week.  Please know that although the salary averages promologated by the media are hugely inflated no faculty member I have spoken with would have any objection at all to “sacrificing” 5% of our pay for the good of the university and the state.  Given the increases in health premiums, the amount is actually more than twice that percentage.  Nevertheless, we have a broad faculty concensus, that the contract proposed by the University Administration, if accepted, assumes our support for irreparable cuts in faculty and programs that would gut the university.  Many of us have years of involvement in university politics that makes this abundantly clear.  This is what we are working so hard to prevent.  We want to protect education in this state, and so far we are the only ones standing up for it.  You can question our motives if you like–though, as you know, most of us are do-gooders and tree-huggers and our knee-jerk response was certainly to “help-out.” But at least take into consideration what we say we are trying to do before blindly enforcing an easy public view that we are lazy and money-grubbing in our protest.  I hope you know better than that.

Joan D. Peters

Professor of English

Dear Lee Cataluna-

I read with horror your alarmingly ignorant column this morning. It’s too bad you were not at last week’s Teach-In on campus. You would have learned that when we add up the proposed pay-roll lag, 5% salary reduction, and increase in employees’ contribution to health care, what most UH faculty face is closer to a 14% reduction in wages. You are a smart woman, so Linda Lingle and the UH administration must be doing a good job of spinning the issue if they can get you to accept the 5% figure so unquestioningly.

When you mention the salary increases in the last contract, you neglect to note that those were negotiated by the administration because the faculty was substantially underpaid relative to peer and benchmark institutions. Even after those raises, we remain underpaid by these same comparisons in ways that do not even account for the greater cost of living in the islands.

Here’s a suggestion: when the UH administration puts out an average salary statistic, ask them to break it down further.  You’ll find that those teaching the majority of UH students are making no where close to $84,000.

When you praise school teachers for not expecting “taxpayers to bleed more money to keep them unaffected by the recession,” and advise that the “university faculty cannot expect that their unwillingness to take a pay cut should then be borne on the backs of people who are already hurting,” you forget that the faculty are also among those very taxpayers and that we too are hurting. Why do you so blithely accept Lingle’s short-sighted reasoning that public workers alone—rather than all Hawai‘i residents— should be shouldering the burden of the state’s shortfalls? Why are you so willing to degrade public education, when we lag behind other states at the k-12 level in educational indicators, and when the work done at UH actually fuels the economy in this state? Like the DOE, the university has taken year after year of devastating cuts, leaving many programs and most of the buildings—at UHM in particular—in dangerous disrepair. You think we aren’t hurting over here? You think all we care about is what we imagine we deserve?

Here’s a suggestion: Talk to the Psychology professors whose classes, research projects, and offices had to be relocated when Gartley Hall was found too unsafe for occupation. Talk to the students sitting on the floor in classrooms that won’t accommodate the many students that a professor has accepted over the class enrollment limit because we don’t want to hurt the progress of students towards their degrees. The truth is, public education has been taking more than its fair share of the hits all along. Our vote against the contract is not selfish; it is asking the state to wake up and see that public education is at a breaking point in this state, one from which we may never fully recover. We have to stand up for public education because clearly the UH administration will not.

When you write that “[t]he image of a college professor, teaching a few courses each semester for students who want to be there and taking consulting gigs on the side is not quite as compelling,” you reinforce a widespread misperception of what university teachers actually do.

Here’s a suggestion: Why doesn’t the Honolulu Advertiser assign a reporter to shadow a few faculty members and report on the work we put in hour by hour, day by day, to provide quality education and economic fuel for the citizens of this state?

You say, “Raising taxes on an already struggling community to pay salaries that average $84,000 is an insulting suggestion.” I’m a tenured professor who has worked at UHM for 15 years, and I don’t make anywhere near that “average.” I am insulted by your suggestion that I am not part of that struggling community. I am insulted by your suggestion that this state can afford to sacrifice public education, at all levels, without serious repercussions that will prove more costly to address long after the state’s financial outlook has improved.

Here’s a suggestion: Demand that the governor do away with furlough days so that Hawai‘i won’t have the dubious distinction of being the state with the shortest school year in the nation. Tell the negotiators to take retrenchment off the table and see what the faculty response to that would be.

More than anything in your column, I am insulted by the way you pit the UH faculty against teachers in the DOE. This divide and conquer approach serves no one, least all of the students of this state.

Laura E. Lyons
Associate Professor and Graduate Director
Department of English-UHM

Lee Cataluna plays a strong hand when she talks about the plight
of Hawaii’s K-12 teachers. About that plight, here are some anecdotal
numbers from my home.

My daughter, who taught at Castle High School last year, worked
in a tiny, dark, dusty, termite-infested, un-air-conditioned classroom. The fan that kept the room barely habitable was her own present to
the taxpayers, as was the printer she used for class materials.
Paper for printing and copying is strictly rationed at Castle, and after a
teacher has used her quota she has to buy her own or do without.

When my daughter was in school herself, I didn’t see much of
that sad shabbiness first-hand. Like many (most?) Manoa faculty, I sent
my daughter to a private school: Punahou, where the teachers live
quite well, thank you. But most of the Advertiser’s readers probably
know better than we do about how their children’s teachers live.
So yes, I went into a state of status annoyance when I figured
out that Coach McMackin’s 7% pay cut is roughly equal to my entire salary. But my daughter’s salary at Castle was only about a third of mine. And yes, on school nights she too went to bed late and got up early.

Jonathan Morse