Busting Equivalency Myths: An Equivalencies Chair’s Perspective

ASCCC Standards and Practices Committee Member, Reedley College

As part of my training to take over the Equivalency Committee on our local campus, the outgoing chair mysteriously cautioned me, “You see, the thing about the Equivalency Committee is that everything is fine—until it isn’t.” At the time, I did not appreciate or even understand her warning, but now, with a few years under my belt, I appreciate the veracity of her observations. The Equivalency committee, I quickly learned, can be caught in the intersection of very real funding challenges: administrators put under pressure to maintain or begin new programs; full-time instructors desperate to staff classes without readily available adjunct instructors; and students who deserve access to high-quality classes they need to graduate. This year, I am serving on the ASCCC Standards and Practices Committee, which has provided additional insights into faculty minimum qualifications and equivalency, including aspects of Equivalency that are commonly misunderstood by administrators, faculty, and prospective applicants alike. With hiring season upon us, I wanted to share a quick fact sheet to remind faculty and administrators of the basics of Equivalency and to recommend excellent resources for reference and further study.

Myth #1: “Equivalencies/Minimum Qualifications are used as the sole basis for faculty hiring.”

This is a common misunderstanding, at least on my campus. The current system for establishing faculty minimum qualifications and the allowance of equivalence to the minimum qualifications was established when AB 1725 was signed into law in 1989. The effective use of equivalency allows for the creation of as wide of a pool of applicants as possible. Importantly, given the increase of CTE courses and programs across the state, having a wide applicant pool is often imperative to their success. Make note, however: simply meeting minimum qualifications or the equivalent gets applicants to the gate, not through the gate. Local campuses have separate hiring processes to choose among qualified applicants. In other words, meeting the minimum qualifications or the equivalent is never to be used as the sole basis for faculty hiring, no matter how dire the perceived or real need is for staffing.

Myth #2: “Equivalent to the minimum qualifications means that nearly equal to the minimum qualifications is acceptable.”

A previous equivalency chair on my campus explained to me that he thought the essential purpose of equivalency was to grant degrees to individuals. While this is not entirely the case, since degrees are not conferred when equivalency is granted and thus equivalencies are not portable to other districts, this perspective was helpful in understanding the importance of the equivalency committee’s role: the review of the applicant’s appropriate academic and professional preparation to determine if the applicant meets (not nearly, but exactly) the equivalent to the minimum qualifications as established in Title 5 and the Disciplines List. As it is imperative that we provide qualified college instructors for our students, and for all disciplines, applicants must show evidence both of depth—the specialized coursework and/or requisite teaching experience—and breadth—evidence of coursework and/or experience equal to the general education component of a college education.

Myth #3: “Conditional or provisional equivalencies can be created as part of the local process.”

Never. Once an Equivalency is granted, it cannot be rescinded. There are provisions for faculty internships (Title 5 secs. 53500-53502); however, these provisions are only used to allow graduate students and industry professionals the opportunity to gain teaching experience as instructors of record while working to complete the academic and/or professional experience requirements to meet the minimum qualifications, while, at the same time, addressing shortages of qualified instructors. At my college, there was recently a faculty colleague working with a faculty intern while the intern pursued their master’s degree. The intern did not make the filing deadline at his university and would consequently not be granted a degree before the next semester as planned; the amount of time allowed for an internship had also expired. The faculty member wanted to know if our committee would grant an equivalency for the intern, as the intern would file for degree completion the next term and that person was needed to teach in the upcoming semester. The committee determined that the equivalent of a master’s degree had not been completed and did not grant this individual equivalency.

Myth #4: “Single course equivalencies are permitted.”

The regulations are clear on this subject as well: they refer to qualifications in terms of discipline, not courses or subject matter expertise within a discipline (Education Code §87357; Title 5 §53410 and §53430). Faculty are hired to teach the full range of courses placed within their disciplines, not to teach only a single course.[1] Therefore, equivalency must be granted for the discipline and not for courses. This is, of course, a double-edged sword: for example, as a post-graduate student, I studied Victorian Literature and Composition Theory. However, while at a previous college, I was assigned to teach Chicano Literature—not my specialty by any stretch of the imagination. Of course, the administration has the right of assignment, and, while I was uncomfortable with this assignment, I made the best of the situation: (it was difficult for me to teach this course, but I do believe I learned a lot about the subject.) Again, it is important to remember that meeting minimum qualifications or the equivalent should not be used as the basis for hiring faculty.

Myth #5: “Title 5 specifies what the local process for granting Equivalencies should be for districts.”

No. Local governing boards may grant faculty equivalency to the minimum qualifications, and every district must have an equivalency process, to include corresponding procedures, criteria, and standards by which the governing board makes its determination: “The process, as well as criteria and standards…shall be developed and agreed upon jointly by …the [local] governing board and the [local] academic senate” and “that the governing board relies primarily upon the advice and judgment of the academic senate” (Ed Code §87359/Title 5 §53430). Outside of these specifications, no process is dictated by Ed Code or Title 5.

Myth #6: “Human Resources Offices should be instrumental in establishing equivalencies.”

A common perception among hiring committees is that human resources have pre-screened the applications for Equivalency. This perception has led to nail-biting situations with hiring committees that place everyone in an unpleasant situation. Importantly, the role of human resources is not to determine Equivalency. This process is the purview of local boards wherein they rely primarily upon the judgement of local academic senates. Instead, the role of human resources is to help applicants navigate the application process and to collect and forward equivalency applications to the equivalencies committee or the appropriate local body. They are to ensure the completeness of the applications and to record the outcomes of the equivalency process. On our campus, we have developed a template for hiring committees to use to remind them of the local Academic Regulations that govern the process for the hiring committees. The first question on the suggested paper screening application is, “Does this candidate meet the Minimum Qualifications for this position?”

Resources provided by ASCCC have been instrumental for me and my Equivalency Committee. This semester, as we updated our Committee Operating Agreement with our college’s new Strategic Directions, the committee met to review the Recommendations from the ASCCC paper Equivalence to the Minimum Qualifications (Spring 2016)[2] to learn what we were doing well, and what we needed to improve. The recent October 2017 Rostrum article “Building a Deeper Career Education Candidate Pool—Using Faculty Equivalency Process More Effectively”[3] has also given us additional items, including a practical checklist for Effective Faculty Equivalency Processes, to to inform future best practices for our committee. Gaps that emerged from these discussions have led us to create a website on our college (for potential applicants, for example), and we are working with our district Human Resources to add this information to their website as well. Our committee has also started to provide professional development workshops to faculty and administrators on a regular basis. Making sure to address the myths listed in this article has been an important part of improving our understanding of this potentially complicated subject on our campus.

[1] See Chancellor’s Office Legal Opinion L 03-28 (http://extranet.cccco.edu/Portals/1/Legal/Ops/OpsArchive/03-28.pdf).
[2] Equivalence to the Minimum Qualifications is available at: https://www.asccc.org/sites/default/files/equivalency_paper.pdf
[3] This document is available at: https://www.asccc.org/content/building-deeper-career-education-candidat…