To Sign or Not to Sign? That is the Question of Every Academic Senate President

ASCCC Vice President
ASCCC Treasurer

For seasoned academic senate presidents, chances are that the following scenario is a familiar one: you are approached by a vice president, director, or other administrator, handed a document, and told that it needs to be signed or the college will face sanctions, lose money, or be out of compliance and that the document needs to be signed today, this hour, or this minute. If you have not yet had this experience, the question of whether or not to sign a document as the college or district academic senate president will very probably arise during your tenure as a faculty leader. An important question to consider in these instances is what the signature means. Is it that the senate president approves? Can the senate president approve alone? Does the signature indicate that the senate approves, and if so has the senate agreed to do so? Senate presidents have also been confronted with scenarios in which the signature is required but the senate did not approve and even with cases in which the senate president disagrees with the senate.

Given the plethora of documents coming from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), such questions are not only timely but essential. This year alone, CCCCO documents requiring a signature from the local senate president include the Initial Guided Pathways Scale of Adoption Self-Assessment, the alignment of the Vision for Success Goals, the Student Equity and Achievement Program plan, the California College Promise Certification, and the Final Guided Pathways Scale of Adoption Self-Report. Some of the submission deadlines are approaching quickly and will be required before the end of the academic year; others will be due immediately after the fall 2019 term begins or, in some cases, before colleges begin their fall 2019 terms. Due to these timelines, local academic senates must have processes and procedures in place to ensure that the college or district is aware of what the signature means. Local senate presidents will need to plan their meeting agendas carefully to allow time for feedback based their local processes.

In order to be prepared for the influx of documents requiring academic senate sign-off, senates should establish a local understanding of the meaning of the local senate president’s signature. The senate president normally has some decision-making authority as the elected representative of the college academic senate. The depth and breadth of this authority is usually spelled out in the senate’s constitution or bylaws. If such authority is not defined, then the senate president may have a certain amount of latitude regarding the use of his or her signature but needs to be aware of the ramifications of signing the document. The ASCCC Local Senates Handbook[1] provides guidance on the types of documents that require an academic senate president’s signature along with the level of review or diligence that might be required in providing that signature.

Variety of situations can arise in which a senate president may be asked to sign a document, each of which will have different outcomes and implications. In such cases, the senate president should consider the type of documents being signed and whether or not it needs to be fully vetted by the entire senate, and multiple policies may be needed regarding different types of signatures. Some of the most common situations include the following:

  1. The Academic Senate President signs, and no report or information is provided to the academic senate. Depending on local processes, this situation might be appropriate for forms verifying senator attendance or travel, senate expenditures, and other such documents that may not require vetting by or approval of the academic senate.
  2. The Academic Senate President signs and reports back to the academic senate.
  3. The Academic Senate President signs after feedback from the other senate officers and may or may not report back to academic senate.
  4. The Academic Senate President signs after feedback from the academic senate and reports back to the senate.
  5. Academic Senate President signs after a full review and vote by the academic senate.

These situations may vary from college to college depending on the structure of the academic senate, the frequency of meetings, the use of a consent calendar for routine documents, and local requirements regarding timeliness of signatures. For example, if expense reports need to be submitted within 15 days of travel and this deadline precludes a full senate review of a document due to the schedule of academic senate meetings, the senate may consider empowering the senate president to sign the document on behalf of the senate.

Senate presidents who are pressured by administration for a signature under time constraints are often faced with a dilemma. The document may need to be signed by a certain date, but the local protocol is that it must be reviewed by the entire senate, and such review is not possible given the senate’s meeting schedule. Senate presidents should consider a variety of issues prior to signing the document, such as when the document was produced. An accreditation self-study or follow-up report is not the type of report that can be developed overnight, and the senate should have been involved in its creation, so the absence of time for a complete review may be the fault of the administration’s planning or timeliness. In such a case, an academic senate president may be more inclined to withhold the signature because the time pressure could have been avoided. However, the administrator asking for the signature of the senate president may sometimes also be under pressure from higher levels of administration to do so.

Another issue might involve the school calendar. If a college is on a particular calendar—compressed, quarter, intersession—the dates on which materials are due might fall during a time when school is not in session, and therefore the faculty may not be able to meet as the academic senate. Likewise, some documents require a sign-off during the summer. In these cases, having specific language in the senate bylaws or constitution authorizing the senate president to sign during such periods, with an understanding that the senate president will report out at the next regular senate meeting, might be one way to ensure that the senate is informed and updated properly but that the signature is not delayed.

The hardest scenario for a senate president is being pressured to sign a document and being told that failure to do so may result in the college losing money or being penalized in some other manner that may harm students. In such a situation, the senate president must decide whether the document should be signed and what the ramifications are if it is not or if it does not go through the regular processes spelled out by the academic senate. Once again, a clear process outlined in the senate bylaws or constitution for addressing such situations can help the president in making these decisions.

Ultimately, the senate and the administration should follow their local practices in good faith. Having a strong working relationship with the administration, particularly those individuals that work directly with the academic senate and its subcommittees such as curriculum, can help to ameliorate these issues and ensure that local processes are followed in order to ensure that all necessary stakeholders are heard and informed and that the positions and decisions of the senate are not compromised.

1. Local Senates Handbook, pp 37-40:…