Anticipating the Future

Futures Committee
Futures Committee

"Putting out fires, that's all I ever do." This observation came, alas, not from a Fire Technology student but from an academic senate president who felt she never had time to tackle the real and pressing issues that impede educational excellence at her college. The need to be proactive as well as reactive confronts not only local senate presidents but the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges as well.

For that reason, encouraged by Executive Director Julie Adams and Academic Senate President Mark Wade Lieu, the Executive Committee authorized the creation of a new ad hoc committee in 2007-08: the "Future of California Higher Education" committee, whose charge is to get ahead of issues likely to confront faculty and work proactively. The approved charge of the committee reads:

The purpose of the Academic Senate's Futures Ad Hoc committee is to provide a forum for discussions about new and emerging issues and trends regarding the California community college system and its place within California higher education. The committee will also consider trends affecting the Academic Senate in order to provide input/advice to the Executive Committee about possible courses of action. This committee is intended to be proactive-considering new directions and potential actions for the Academic Senate and its representatives. The committee serves at the direction of the president.

As the chairs of the committee for its first two years, we want to acquaint faculty with some of the discussions the committee has had so far.

How Far Ahead Are We Looking?
One wouldn't think it so hard to define "future," but one of the first questions the committee confronted was "how far into the future are we looking?" Are we trying to get ahead of the next "solution" to community colleges proposed by those outside our system, or ahead of the appointment of the next system chancellor, or ahead of the next budget crisis? A year ago, the challenges posed by reports such as those produced by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy as well as others loomed large. In addition, none of us knew that the state and nation were on the verge of the greatest economic setback of the last half century. The committee did spend time in its first year discussing the overall shifts in state funding for higher education and corrections that have taken place over the last decade and a half, and ways the Senate might see Californians be educated rather than better incarcerated.

Something Old...
Sometimes looking ahead means looking backwards. Despite the name of the committee, we looked backwards to address resolution 13.04 F07 and wrote the paper "California Community Colleges: Principles and Leadership in the Context of Higher Education" to provide faculty with a document to help educate or remind administrators and governing board members of some of the basic principles that guide our work as community college educators. The paper was approved at Spring Plenary, and many faculty members who have heard about the Master Plan, the Rodda Act, or AB 1725 without quite knowing how they have shaped our colleges may also find the paper illuminating. In its first year, the committee also pondered the 1960s Master Plan for Higher Education, interestingly just before several legislators convened a series of intersegmental discussions on that very topic.

...Something New
As this academic year began, we knew that then California state senator Jack Scott (one of our keynote speakers at the Spring Plenary Session) would become our system Chancellor in January of this year. Challenges facing the Chancellor's Office have grown rapidly: seeking to maintain support in the Legislature for the system budget and knowing how to provide guidance to local colleges facing accreditation sanction (with two colleges newly placed into "show cause" earlier this year), the committee thought it would be useful to develop single-sheet briefing papers summarizing the senate's principles, resolutions, and papers on major topics, including transfer degrees, full-time faculty, career pathways, accreditation, basic skills, and other areas. These single sheet documents would not adopt new positions, but seek to summarize the Senate's major principles and could be used to inform not only the Chancellor but the Board of Governors and legislators in areas of special concern to them.

The Crystal Ball.
..does not reveal where we're going. Perhaps the recession will have bottomed out by the time you read this, or perhaps it will be clear that efforts to address the recession have been inadequate. In any case, we as a faculty have committed ourselves to educating all Californians, no matter their income, ethnicity, academic skills, or aspirations. We believe that no system of education better reflects the democratic principles of our nation than California community colleges, and the Futures committee hopes to contribute in new ways to advance the values of the Academic Senate, the California community colleges, and the people of California as they confront the challenges of tomorrow.