Can You Resolve the Conflicts on Your Island?

September
2005
Ian Walton, President

Welcome to the new academic year. On behalf of the 2005-06 Executive Committee I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to my predecessor, Kate Clark, for her untiring work for our system, our students and our faculty, and to wish her well in her new position as articulation officer at her home college, Irvine Valley. And I would like to welcome you to our new leadership team here at the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, one that is ready to carry on the Academic Senate's stellar tradition of leadership on statewide issues and support to you as local leaders. We have already worked with many of you-both new and returning college leaders-at our successful summer institutes for leadership in San Jose and for curriculum in San Diego. We trust that you found them as enjoyable and professionally invigorating as we did.

As we prepare to plunge back into leadership for the new year some of us will experience an icy shock while others will slowly (or quickly) be overwhelmed by the relentless tide of details and decisions that seem to constitute the daily life of a senate president. That's when it's important to have principles as the rock you hang on to, and to have colleagues you can turn to for advice and support. You are not alone on the issues and you are not alone in the daily struggle with how best to implement your ideals in a multitude of small meaningful ways that ultimately benefit your students. The conundrum is how to move forward in a principled way. Sometimes all you can do is to vigorously defend the principle. But at other times, if that's all you do, then the result is a stalemate that may actually harm your students. and at all times you have to guard against selling out the principle in order to achieve action or consensus. A delicate balance indeed!

Our fall session (November 3 - 5 in Pasadena) will further examine the fact that it's not always easy to reconcile our obvious, long-standing principles with many of the day-to-day decisions that face you as a leader in the governance process. Your very success as a leader depends on your ability to manage those conflicts and to constantly find the correct balance of time and place and issues and personalities. Our session will focus on those dilemmas and conflicts that pop up, predictably or unexpectedly, in the middle of almost every issue.

You're already familiar with many of the high profile examples of this conflict and balance.

We support academic freedom and firmly oppose current legislative attempts to equate academic freedom with political indoctrination.

At the same time, we recognize that students sometimes have legitimate grievances and need to be fully informed of how to access grievance policies. We believe in guiding our students to follow long-term educational plans that would result in much greater future benefit to both them and the state economy, yet we also recognize that economic survival, not to mention state and federal policies, may force them to choose short-term goals. In the contentious political world of statewide articulation and transfer, we, as much as anyone, want to make articulation and transfer as simple as possible for our students, yet we know the realities that make all of this far from simple . outsiders express frustration that there isn't a magic wand that will instantly dissolve all the barriers to students mobility-for example the infamous "just give courses the same number and then they'll transfer easily" approach. But insiders understand that the short-term management objectives of the higher education systems are, to say the least, at cross-purposes. As selective institutions, uC and Csu desire to look effective and accountable by selecting, admitting and graduating their small group of students as simply and quickly as possible. Community colleges, on the other hand, seek to preserve as many different options, for as large a number of students, for as long a period of time as possible. It's hard to make those objectives match. A final internal example is our long and tortured discussion of the 75:25 ratio. Again, the principle that increased contact with full-time faculty is beneficial to students is abundantly clear. But balancing flexibility for times of genuine fiscal distress with statewide progress towards the 75% goal is more than tricky. And at the very personal level, what do you say to a colleague who says "i would rather have a pay raise than hire another full-timer."

Similar fundamental examples have been appearing in the tortuous process to produce the new strategic plan for our system. Many of you will recall that this process was put in motion by the Board of governors last year, a consultant was hired and a steering committee formed. You may have attended regional meetings and wondered what would become of the apparently random input being collected. A July version of the strategic plan framework began with system values that the faculty would enthusiastically endorse:

Lifelong learning is available to all;

All people deserve to succeed;

All people have a right to higher education;

An educated citizenry is the basis for democracy.

By August, the second and third of these values had changed in subtle, but important ways so that the fundamental principle was diminished;

All people deserve opportunities to succeed;

All people have access to higher education.

You can sense pragmatism creeping in. And as you move into implementation it becomes more obvious. That same July version of the plan framework included a core mission of lifelong learning but by August it had vanished and left no obvious way to implement the values implied by lifelong learning for an educated citizenry. What will eventually be adopted remains to be seen. The discussion hasn't even tried to write implementation actions yet. That level of detail will unleash all the conflicts and call for considerable leadership skills from everybody involved.

These are the very leadership skills that you are expected to deploy every day on your own campus. We hope the fall session will provide you with an invigorating environment to share these difficult conversations with your colleagues and to collect fresh ideas. You are not alone. Stay in touch with us over the coming year and let us know by email or telephone the conflicts that are causing you the most difficulty, and tell us what we can do to help. I look forward to working with each and every one of you.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.