Participatory Governance in the Face of Initiative Fatigue

Relations with Local Senates Committee

The educational direction for California community colleges in the last four years has been on an increasingly rapid trajectory; what started with the historic actions of the Student Success Task Force of 2011 has resulted in the current dizzying array of initiatives all aimed at improving educational outcomes.  The response from faculty has been nothing short of heroic in shaping the Common Assessment Initiative, the Education Planning Initiative, the Online Education Initiative, the Strong Workforce Program, the Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative, a renewed and revised Equity Plan, a refurbished Basic Skills Initiative, a Student Services and Support Program, and a block grant, AB 104 (2015), which aligns the CCC and the K-12 Adult School systems. With the combination of all of these efforts, the California Community Colleges System can be said to be suffering from initiative fatigue. Nevertheless, faculty must now more than ever insist upon a seat at all tables where curriculum, program development, outcomes tracking, degrees and certificates, funding, and planning are being discussed.

While each college has a participatory governance process, the procedures and interpretations of those processes can vary at each college.  In the face of rapid deadlines, one helpful practice is to look to the Title 5 language that guides the faculty role in collegial consultation, especially 70901 (b) (1) (E), which ensures “the right of academic senates to assume primary responsibility for making recommendations in the areas of curriculum and academic standards.” While the subsection appears quite clear on this matter, the language clearly was not drafted with an understanding of the time involved for such consultation.

Friction can occur in the collegial consultation process when a college finds itself under pressure due to the rapidity of an initiative’s timeline; in the panic of a looming deadline that promises fiscal consequences, faculty senates are often asked to give quick approvals to complicated plans to which they have not given sufficient input. Faculty are put in a familiar bind: say no and be viewed as obstructionist, or blindly say yes and abdicate all purview over academic matters.  However, none of these initiatives can or should move forward without faculty input.  Therefore, faculty and administration must establish clear understanding of the following issues on their campuses:

  • What does collegial consultation with faculty look like at the college, and how should it look?  The 2016-2017 academic year may be a particularly good time for this conversation considering the reprieve that colleges have gotten with the temporary suspension of the deadlines for the SSSP plan, the Equity Template, and the Basic Skills plan.  This period of respite can allow faculty and administration to sit down and discuss past issues regarding input and planning, promoting a proactive relationship and setting up both constituencies up for higher quality and more collegial interaction. Such a discussion may involve a joint meeting at which faculty and administration look ahead at the initiatives and plans with their accompanying deadlines and schedule backwards to ensure adequate time for participation.
  • How are deadlines viewed and treated at your college?  If a specific plan has a deadline of December 31, for example, the college must acknowledge that the real deadline is not December 31 or even December 30.  The true deadline for finalizing the plan is a significant number of senate meetings that occur prior to the board meeting that occurs prior to the due date, thus allowing the faculty to review and give input before being asked to approve the plan.  This process of acknowledging the length of time required for adequate participatory governance has potential to completely change campus calendars, and faculty need to be at the heart of such discussions to ensure that critical decisions do not fall during the classic faculty down times of summer and winter recess.
  • Do faculty and administration agree on what requires input by faculty? This point can plague both faculty and administration alike. One of the reasons that faculty are feeling so much pressure and overwork is that a large portion of the 10+1 academic and professional matters is present in every initiative. Senates and their unions may voice workload concerns over depletion of faculty resources, while administrators who are equally overtaxed may view a top-down approach as more expedient. Despite this pressure, faculty must not abandon their roles and must insist on a seat at the table for any discussion involving faculty purview outlined in the 10+1.

At the heart of these issues is an examination of the participatory governance process to ensure that collegial consultation is working effectively, and the present moment offers a good opportunity to engage in a review of local processes.  Faculty should look carefully at their district policies for areas where governance processes could be improved.  Participatory governance councils and committees should agendize a review of their governance roles and their processes for ensuring adequate dialogue and input and should hold such reviews periodically in the future. A clear delineation of where and when faculty become involved can only serve to help shape these initiatives into tools promote faculty voice and that truly facilitate, and do not detract from, faculty roles as educators.