Complications in Determining Faculty Minimum Qualifications


The high attendance at the Fall Session breakout entitled "Who Gets to Teach What: The Discipline's List and Its Complications" may well reflect the general uncertainties surrounding the laws, regulations, and Senate-recommended practices about determining minimum qualifications for faculty.

To carry out their collective responsibilities for maintaining a professional faculty, it is essential for faculty to know their roles in determining the qualifications to teach in our colleges.

Faculty are involved on two levels. On the state level, the Community College Reform Act (AB 1725) gave the Academic Senate the responsibility for recommending to our Board of Governors the minimum qualifications for hiring faculty and for developing lists of disciplines and related disciplines to define those minimums for all public California community colleges. In addition, statewide the Senate conducts a review once every three years to up-date the Disciplines List (the next review begins in 2004). On the local level, academic senates have the sole authority to recommend to their governing boards the discipline or disciplines into which each course in their college's curriculum is placed. In addition, the Education Code requires that all policies and practices for hiring faculty, including establishing equivalencies to the minimum qualifications, be developed jointly by the local academic senate and district administrations acting on behalf of their governing boards. So in principle, qualifications needed for a person to teach a course are determined by recommendation of the faculty working at both the state and local levels, although academic senates share with their districts' administrations responsibility for developing hiring policies and procedures.

The most troublesome areas relating to faculty qualifications have always been misunderstandings about Faculty Service Areas (FSAs) and equivalencies. FSAs, which are established by faculty working primarily through their bargaining agents jointly with the local governing boards, may establish additional requirements for a faculty member in a discipline. For example, English might be divided into FSAs such as journalism and composition, each requiring specialized educational preparation or experience. An instructor may have an FSA for composition but not for journalism. On the other hand, FSAs that are more broadly defined will include faculty members who may not have the minimum qualifications to teach all courses within his or her FSA. So if a college has a broad FSA of Language Arts, which includes speech and English, an English instructor with that FSA but only the minimum qualifications for English may teach English but not speech. In other words, you might have an FSA that includes a discipline in which you may not teach because you lack the minimum qualifications. You need both the minimum qualifications and possess the required FSA in your district in order to be considered competent to teach a course.

Why do we have such a confusing system? FSAs were established in law primarily to determine bumping rights in the event of reduction of force (RIF). Districts with broad FSAs (such as Language Arts) have given faculty with seniority the advantage, but in the event of RIFs, these districts may be left with those possessing an FSA but unable to teach classes in a discipline for which they do not also possess minimum qualifications. So that English instructor with an FSA in Language Arts may bump the speech instructor with the same FSA but less seniority, but she remains unqualified to teach the speech classes that the recently bumped speech teacher taught. While such broadly defined FSAs may benefit instructors with seniority, they will not preserve the integrity of programs.

Minimum qualifications and the concept of equivalencies were also an acknowledgement that our transfer partners then needed to be reassured that faculty teaching transferable courses indeed had the training and understandings common in those fields. So, when equivalency is misunderstood or applied in ways that undercut the integrity of our hiring practices, it may also jeopardize the faith placed in the community college faculty by our transfer partners. When the Disciplines List was first conceived, the authors of AB 1725 realized that some people earn degrees with names that are different from those that are traditional or standard at other graduate schools. A term such as Literary Studies might substitute for English, or Cybernetics for Computer Science. So the expression "Or the Equivalent" was added to the definitions of disciplines. The intent language makes clear that a candidate for a faculty position who claims equivalency must have qualifications at least equivalent to those specified (emphasis added). In addition, Title 5, 53430 states, "No one may be hired to serve as a community college faculty unless the governing board determines that he or she possesses qualifications that are at least equivalent to the minimum qualifications specified."

But many districts allow for equivalencies clearly less than what is indicated above. Some districts consider as equivalent someone who has completed all (or most) of the course work but not a required thesis for a degree. Some districts provide for a provisional equivalency, which allows for a candidate to teach classes provided that he or she is pursuing the required degree.

This single-course equivalency is particularly disturbing as it is fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of establishing minimum qualifications to assure students and the public in general that our instructors have the high degree of professional qualifications that we deem essential. One of our most strongly held principles, reflected in law, has been that minimum qualifications are determined for disciplines, not for courses or subject areas within disciplines. The Education Code and regulations refer to qualifications only in terms of disciplines (see particularly Education Code, 87357 and Title 5, 53410 and 53430). (The chair of the Standards and Practices Committee has requested that the Chancellor's Office provide a legal opinion on this matter, but whatever that opinion is, the concept of single-course equivalency remains inconsistent with Senate recommended practice as defined in the 1999 Senate paper on equivalency.)

Faculty members with minimum qualifications to teach only lower-level or introductory courses in a discipline, for example basic skills math, or only one specialty within a discipline, for example introductory to anatomy, will probably have the depth of knowledge to teach that limited area. However, people with limited expertise are less likely than those with minimum qualifications in that discipline to have an understanding of how each course fits into the sequence of courses in their respective disciplines. Single-course equivalencies would also lead to the establishment on campuses of a two-tiered system of the well qualified and the not-so-wellqualified. For these reasons the Academic Senate has always opposed single-course equivalencies. True, there are understandable reasons why single-course equivalencies and other abuses to the minimum qualifications system may appear from time to time, especially in remote areas of the state where finding well-qualified faculty members-especially those who will teach part-time-is very difficult. Department heads and administrators face the dilemma of pushing for loose equivalency policies and practices to make it easier to put less well-prepared people in front of a class or canceling a class that students may need, although these assaults on the principles of equivalency itself have consequences for students, for that institution, and for the entire system.

Allowing the less well-prepared to teach courses at the basic skills level might seem reasonable considering that the course being taught is, after all, similar to one taught at the near-by high school-maybe by that same candidate for hire. Do we really need to have some one with a master's degree in math teach arithmetic or the fundamentals of algebra, some may ask? There is room for debate on this issue, but, the overarching question we need to ask ourselves whether such courses really belong in our for-credit curriculum as college courses.

If we believe that the community colleges are truly partners in higher education, if we further believe that replacing the old credential system-a relic from when the community colleges were governed by K-12 rules-with minimum qualifications developed by community college faculty, if we truly believe that we, as discipline experts, have the responsibility to keep our profession strong, and if we wholeheartedly believe that all of our students deserve instructors who are at least minimally qualified in their disciplines, then we need to agree to the following actions:

first understand the rationale for those policies and practices that ensure the competency of faculty hires;
review-and update-your district's equivalency policy and processes;
offer training for faculty engaged in writing job descriptions for new faculty hires and for faculty serving on the district or college equivalency committees;
and finally, rigorously uphold those policies and their practices.