75/25-the Faculty Obligation Number or Why are We Not All There Yet?

Vice President

Considerable statewide activity and local interest in the faculty obligation number (FON) or 75/25 ratio in the past year prompts this article. In it, we will look at some of the history as well as the events of the last year.

You may-or may not-recall (depending upon your years of service) that the intent of the Legislature and the Board of Governors at the time of the enactment of AB1725, in 1989, was that the system should reach a goal that at least 75% of credit instruction hours should be taught by full-time faculty. Section 70 of AB1725 stated:

The Legislature finds and declares that.

.because the quality, quantity, and composition of full-time faculty have the most immediate and direct impact on the quality of instruction, overall reform cannot succeed without sufficient members of full-time faculty with sufficient opportunities for continued staff development, and with sufficient opportunity for participation in institutional governance.

In order to accomplish some of these lofty ideals, more specific direction regarding full-time faculty numbers appeared in Section 35 of AB1725 and became chaptered as Education Code Section 87482.6:

.the Legislature wishes to recognize and make efforts to address longstanding policy of the board of governors that at least 75 percent of the hours of credit instruction in the California Community Colleges, as a system, should be taught by full-time instructors.

One possible method of achieving this longstanding goal, was described in this same section of Education Code that specified conditions under which districts were required to spend a portion of program improvement funds in order to improve their fulltime to part-time faculty percentage. Sadly, program improvement funds were not included in the state budget after 1991. Education Code also specified that the Board of Governors should adopt regulations for the effective administration of this section, including a penalty for non-compliance. Meanwhile, the Board of Governors adopted several Title 5 Regulations to implement and enforce this goal (mainly 51025, but also 53301, 53302, 53308, 53309, 53310, 53311, 53312 and 53314).

Although both the concept and implementation are popularly referred to as "75/25", there never was a regulation that specifically examined the ratio of fulltime to part-time instructors implied by the "75/25" label. Section 53308 defined a "full-time faculty percentage" of credit hours of instruction with detailed rules on what components to attribute to full-time faculty specified in Section 53309, and the corresponding rules for part-time faculty contained in Section 53310.

Several interesting details appeared in these rules:

Full-time faculty overload is excluded from the calculation.
Full-time faculty sabbatical is included in the full-time portion and part-time replacements are excluded from the part-time portion.
Full-time faculty reassigned time is included in the full-time portion and part-time replacements are excluded from the part-time portion.
Full-time faculty unpaid leave is included in the full-time portion and part-time replacements are excluded from the part-time portion.

If a district's full-time faculty percentage equals or exceeds 75% the district is deemed to have met the requirement.

If a district's full-time faculty percentage is less than 75% then a new mechanism comes in to play involving the full-time faculty obligation (commonly known as Faculty Obligation Number or FON). The base and subsequent changes in this number (caused by increases or decreases in certain apportionment dollars) are described in Sections 53311 and 53312. This fulltime faculty obligation number specifies the minimum number of full-time faculty that must be employed by a district in order to avoid reduction in apportionment for non-compliance. It is recalculated annually for each district, but the recalculation does not involve any examination of a full-time/part-time ratio, which of course also depends on part-time hiring actions.

So the full-time faculty obligation was introduced by the Chancellor's Office and approved by the Board of Governors as a mechanism to partially comply with the 75% goal. Although it did not generally succeed in ensuring attainment of the 75% goal, it did establish an annual minimum number of full-time faculty that each district was required to hire. Unfortunately many districts immediately interpreted this number as a maximum-a ceiling rather than a floor - although the original Education Code language clearly stated "at least." The mechanism also provided for a reduction in apportionment dollars for each required position that a district failed to hire. The current level of this apportionment reduction is approximately $55,000 for each position left vacant beneath the obligation number; that number is based on the statewide average faculty salary and benefits less the statewide average part-time faculty replacement cost.

Over the years since the original calculation in 1989, as districts received additional apportionment revenue, this faculty obligation number was raised whenever the Board of Governors certified that certain growth and cost of living funds had been provided. Unfortunately though, it turned out that it was possible for districts to comply with this increasing numerical requirement for full-time faculty without ever attaining the 75% goal. Some districts did exactly this, resulting in percentages as low as, for example, Mt. San Jacinto's 43.8% in the Chancellor's Office final report for Fall 2000 (43.5% in Fall 2001) or Copper Mountain's 44.7% in 2000 (47.7% in 2001). Other districts honored the intent of the legislation by reaching 2000 percentages such as 76.3% at Rio Hondo and 75.5% at Los Angeles, the largest district in the state, or Yosemite's 2001 percentage of 77.3%.

It is interesting to note that there is a one year delay factor whereby a district receives the money in one fiscal year and is required to hire the faculty by the following fall term, in the next fiscal year. A legitimate question for districts with persistent low percentages might be where are they choosing to spend the apportionment dollars that they have already received.

More Recent Activity
Specific numbers are sent to each district in the form of a budget memo from the Chancellor's Office, with preliminary figures supplied a year in advance (in October/November) and final figures provided the following summer or early fall.

Memos for the Fall 2003 requirement (and previous years) are available on the Chancellor's Office website at: http://www.cccco.edu/divisions/cffp/fiscal/standards/full_time_faculty_…1

Annual final reports can also be found there.

In Summer 2002 the Board of Governors originally certified an increase in the faculty obligation number to take effect in Fall 2003. Subsequently in November 2002, when Governor Davis was about to enact mid-year cuts, the Board of Governors took two unprecedented actions regarding the existing compliance mechanism:

1. fifty percent of the planned increase in the faculty obligation number was waived permanently for all districts.
2. a mechanism was put in place that allowed districts to request a deferral of the remaining 50% of the originally planned increase. The local board of trustees had to notice and approve this request, as attested to by a sign-off from representatives of bargaining units, academic senates, and students. The request then had to be approved by the Board of Governors.

The Board of Governors approved deferral requests from four separate groups of districts. Those approved in May, July and September 2003 included an action item with text that read "defer for one year." But for the group of districts approved in January 2004, the language of the agenda action item asked the Board only to "defer the incremental increase". This language is particularly curious since, at this point, four months after the obligation should have been met, such districts no longer had the option to hire and were really only requesting that the non-compliance penalty not be applied to them. This observation was made at the Board of Governors meeting by faculty Board Member Carolyn Russell.

There remains currently disagreement among members of Consultation Council, the Chancellor's Office, and members of the Board of Governors regarding the duration of this deferral. Faculty groups interpret the language to provide for a one-year deferral, meaning that the Fall 2003 faculty obligation number would increase in Fall 2004 by the number of positions deferred (resulting in reinstatement of the original Fall 2003 requirement prior to deferral). Some administrative groups interpret the language to mean that the original Fall 2003 requirement would not be reinstated until growth and COLA funds were provided. These funds have not been provided in 2003-04. So under the administrators' interpretation, the Fall 2004 requirement would remain the same as the Fall 2003 requirement. This issue is still to be resolved, but is scheduled for additional discussion this spring.

In a recent survey I undertook of the local senate presidents at colleges included in deferral requests, every respondent stated that the local senate believed, at the time their faculty participated in the request process, that the deferral was only for one year. Many responses included vigorous language of the nature that "the one year limitation was the only reason that we agreed."

Another Approach
In September 2003 the Board took a different but related action regarding the full-time faculty percentage. Earlier, in Fall 2002, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges adopted this resolution:

Resolved, That the Academic Senate work with the Chancellor's Office and the Board of Governors to revise the implementation guidelines for attainment of the 75/25 fulltime/part-time faculty ratio such that progress toward the attainment of 75/25 is required in good economic times, and a minimum maintenance of the current ratio is expected in difficult economic times. (5.02 F02)

The Board had already expressed concern over historical lack of progress towards the 75% goal, and the annual public disagreements over increases in the faculty obligation number.

A Consultation Council Task Force was formed and the Board approved its recommendations for a change in the Title 5 Regulations to add a third compliance mechanism (the first two mechanisms were to achieve 75% or to comply with the full-time faculty obligation number).

Title 5, Section 51025 was revised to insert an option that actually examines the effect of change on the full-time faculty percentage, rather than simply relying on the full-time faculty obligation number.

If the Board of Governors determines pursuant to subsection (a) that adequate funds have not been provided to implement paragraph (1), the district's base full-time faculty obligation shall be unchanged. However, for the fall term of the succeeding fiscal year the district may choose, in lieu of maintaining its base obligation, to maintain, at a minimum, the full-time faculty percentage attained in the prior fall term.

This modification was intended to be the long-term solution to the problem by preventing backsliding in difficult economic times, and is in place for the Fall 2004 requirement. If a district selects this option it is not permitted to let its full-time faculty percentage decrease (in practice this means that if full-time faculty numbers are reduced then part-time faculty numbers must also be reduced). Interestingly, in terms of the above discussion about the length of deferrals, if a district selects this option, then the deferral does indeed continue until growth and COLA funds are restored. However, at the point that those funds are restored, the district's original faculty obligation number is reinstated (unless they satisfy the first compliance mechanism by achieving 75%).

The Section 51025 language also introduced a new mechanism for providing separate funds (other than the ill-fated program improvement funds) that would be specifically targeted to increase the full-time faculty percentage:

If the Board of Governors determines pursuant to subsection (a) that additional funds have been provided for the purpose of increasing the full-time faculty percentage, the district's base full-time faculty obligation shall be further increased for the fall term of the succeeding fiscal year by the quotient of the applicable funds divided by the statewide average replacement costs for the current fiscal year.

This would allow a specific budget change proposal with a line item intended to deliberately increase the full-time faculty percentage. It was hoped that the possibility of these funds, and the third compliance option, would avoid the unfortunate tendency to ignore the need for progress towards the 75% goal in good times and to plead that it's not possible in bad times. Whether this improvement actually occurs remains to be seen.

In a somewhat related 2004-05 budget conversation, the Academic Senate currently advocates that the discussion surrounding the use of equalization funds based on a headcount or FTES measure must include a quality component involving progress on several system standards. One of the most obvious existing quality standards is the full-time faculty percentage.

There are other forces that would like to see quality standards such as the 75% goal (and even the 50% law) disappear completely. Perhaps the equalization debate, combined with the new Title 5 language will finally enable the system to attain its twenty-five year old goal of a 75% full-time faculty percentage. We're certainly not there yet, and I'm not holding my breath.

1 Specific details of how the faculty obligation numbers were calculated for your district are probably best obtained from the appropriate Chancellor's Office staff person, Patricia Laurent at (916) 327-6225 or plaurent [at] cccco.edu.