The Senate and Union Relationship: Understanding Their Roles and Working Together

ASCCC North Representative

Understanding the differing but sometimes intersecting roles of academic senates and collective bargaining units, or unions, can sometimes take some work, but doing so is essential to developing and maintaining a productive and collegial relationship between the two. Both bodies represent faculty—supporting, furthering, and protecting faculty interests. However, all too often the two bodies find themselves at odds with each other, disagreeing over purview. Each organization has a defined role, but these roles may overlap, and thus the two faculty representative bodies often need to work in tandem in order to optimize the benefits to faculty and ultimately to students.

An academic senate is the faculty representative in the participatory governance processes of its college and district in regard to academic and professional matters. California Education Code §70902(b)(7) states

[T]he governing board of each community college district shall … establish procedures that are consistent with minimum standards established by the board of governors to ensure faculty, staff, and students the opportunity to express their opinions at the campus level, to ensure that these opinions are given every reasonable consideration, to ensure the right to participate effectively in district and college governance, and to ensure the right of academic senates to assume primary responsibility for making recommendations in the areas of curriculum and academic standards.

Title 5 §53200 interprets and expands “curriculum and academic standards” to include all academic and professional matters, requiring local governing boards to consult collegially with representatives of the academic senate when adopting policies and procedures regarding decisions that fall under these areas.  The same section of Title 5 states that collegial consultation means that the governing board will reach decisions by “relying primarily upon the advice of the academic senate” or “reach mutual agreement” with the academic senate.  Academic and professional matters, often referred to as the “10+1,” consist of the following:

  1. Curriculum, including establishing prerequisites and placing courses within disciplines
  2. Degree and certificate requirements
  3. Grading policies
  4. Educational program development
  5. Standards or policies regarding student preparation and success
  6. District and college governance structures, as related to faculty roles
  7. Faculty roles and involvement in accreditation processes, including self-study and annual reports.
  8. Policies for the faculty’s professional development
  9. Processes for program review
  10. Processes for institutional planning and budget development
  11. Other academic and professional matters as mutually agreed upon between the board of trustees and the Academic Senate.

Collective bargaining for community colleges is defined in the Education Employment Relations Act (EERA). The scope of representation is in EERA §3543.2 and includes matters relating to the following:

  • Transfer and reassignment
    • School calendar
    • Compensation
    • Wages
    • Hours of employment
    • Terms and conditions of employment - health and welfare benefits
    • Leave
    • Transfer and reassignment policies
    • Safety conditions
    • Class size
    • Procedures for evaluation of employees
    • Organization security
    • Procedures for processing grievances
    • Layoff procedures
    • Alternative compensation or benefits for employees adversely affected by pension limitations
    • Additional compensation or salary schedule based on criteria other than years of training and experience

The EERA does not identify all matters that are subject to bargaining, so the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) has identified criteria to determine whether items may fall within the scope of collective bargaining:

  • The item logically and reasonably relates to a listed subject;
  • The item is of sufficient concern to the board and the union so that conflict requiring mediation might occur;
  • Negotiations will not significantly abridge managerial prerogatives.

The second paragraph of §3540 of the EERA states,

It is the further intention of the Legislature that this chapter shall not restrict, limit, or prohibit the full exercise of the functions of any academic senate or faculty council established by a school district in a community college to represent the faculty in making recommendations to the administration and governing board of the school district with respect to district policies on academic and professional matters, so long as the exercise of the functions does not conflict with lawful collective agreements.

When these sections of Education Code, Title 5, and the EERA are combined, they define the differing purviews of academic senates and faculty bargaining agents:  the academic senaterepresents faculty in academic and professional matters, often referred to as the “10+1,” whereas the collective bargaining agent, or union, represents faculty regarding working conditions.

However, while the purviews of the two organizations differ, they also sometimes overlap and raise questions questions regarding the responsibilities of each body. Some areas in which such overlap can occur are as follows:

Professional Development

Policies for faculty professional development fall under the “10+1” and thus are subject to consultation with academic senates. Such policies may deal with Flex activities and content as well as sabbatical leaves, which are intended for professional and personal growth and thus are connected to professional development. Flex service obligations, including calendar days reserved for flex, and sabbatical leaves in regard to terms, application process, requirements, and pay are often contract issues that call under union purview

Faculty Evaluations
Education Code: §87663(f)requires that collective bargaining agents, or faculty unions, consult with their local academic senate prior to negotiating faculty evaluation procedures.

Tenure Review Processes
Education Code: §87610.1(a) requires collective bargaining agents, or faculty unions, consult with their local academic senate prior to negotiating tenure evaluation procedures.

Enrollment Management
Academic Senate purview includes the following areas of the “10+1” that are involved with enrollment management:  Curriculum and prerequisites, processes for planning and budget, processes for program review, and policies for student preparation and success

Issues that may fall under union purviews include class size, staffing, academic calendar, teaching schedules, and compensation as well as other workload issues

Program Discontinuance
Academic Senate purview includes the following areas of the “10+1” that are involved with program discontinuance:Curriculum and prerequisites, processes for planning and budget, processes for program review, and policies for student preparation and success.

The union purview includes issues such as adequate notification of affected faculty, seniority rights, and availability of retraining for displaced faculty.

Curriculum and Textbooks

Title 5 §55002 mandates that “The college and/or district curriculum committee recommending [a] course shall be established by the mutual agreement of the college and/or district administration and the academic senate. The committee shall be either a committee of the academic senate or a committee that includes faculty and is otherwise comprised in a way that is mutually agreeable to the college and/or district administration and the academic senate.”  This section, along with the 10+1 in §53200, places curriculum directly under the purview of the academic senate.  However, §3543.2(a) of the EERA states that “the exclusive representative of certificated personnel has the right to consult on the definition of educational objectives, the determination of the content of courses and curriculum, and the selection of textbooks to the extent such matters are within the discretion of the public school employer under the law.”  While this language does not grant faculty unions the same role in curriculum as academic senates, it does grant the right for unions to have a voice on some curricular matters.

For academic senates and faculty unions to work together effectively in the areas where their purviews overlap, communication, transparency, understanding of the roles and scope of each organization, and collegiality are key. Some academic senates have designated seats for union representation ranging from a non-voting member to a member with full voting rights or even an officer position. Similarly, some unions include designated seats for academic senate representation. Some academic senates and unions have a joint committee with representatives from both organizations in order to address issues of overlap. One such example is within the Los Rios Community College District. The Los Rios Community College District Academic Senate (DAS) and the Los Rios Colleges Federation of Teachers (LRCFT) engage in the following ways:

  • An LRCFT representative serves on the DAS;
  • The DAS President serves on the LRCFT Executive Board;
  • The DAS president, each of the four college academic senate presidents, the LRCFT president, and each of the four college-level LRCFT presidents make up the Senate/Union Joint Issues Committee (SUJIC).

In addition, each of the four colleges’ academic senates has union representation in some capacity.

Such a structure helps to keep both the senate and union informed and involved with the work of both groups. It ensures meaningful communication between the two is taking place, provides for transparency, aids in the understanding of the purview of each group, and supports collegiality. Ultimately, this structure reminds members of both organizations that the senate and union together represent faculty.

When the roles of the academic senate and union are well defined and understood, the representatives of the two groups are able to work together and in tandem minimize conflict or turf wars. This situation in turn enables the representatives to focus their efforts on representing faculty interests with a united voice to the college administration and board of trustees.


Title 5 – Academic Senates 
Title 5 – Standards and Criteria for Courses
PERB Glossary