Controversies at Disciplines List Hearings


Two statewide hearings on proposals to amend the Disciplines List of minimum qualifications for faculty serving in the community colleges attracted people eager to debate the merits of the 36 proposals submitted for consideration. Among the most controversial were those affecting physics/astronomy, environmental studies and environmental science, and forensics.

The Academic Senate conducts two statewide hearings to allow for comments on proposals sent to all local senates to amend the Disciplines List of the minimum qualifications used to hire all faculty in the California community colleges. These hearings are part of the process that the Board of Governors must use to make changes to the Disciplines List, which is part of Title 5 Regulations. The Standards and Practices Committee uses testimony at the hearings, along with letters and email messages from interested parties, to suggest to the Senate Executive Committee which proposals to recommend for approval by the body at the Spring Session. After reviewing the Standards and Practices Committee's report, the Executive Committee prepares a resolution or resolutions recommending adoption of the proposals to amend the Disciplines List that it finds viable. Resolutions to adopt those proposals that the Executive Committee doesn't recommend are also forwarded to the session for a vote.

The proposal to separate astronomy from physics created the most vocal debate. The rationale for separating these related disciplines is that astronomy should be established as a separate discipline because master's degrees that currently satisfy the minimum qualifications for Physics/Astronomy; engineering, math, meteorology, geophysics, or physics alone are not always appropriate preparation for teaching the core topics in contemporary astronomy at the college level. In short, some one could have a degree in one of these related areas but have no upper division or graduate level course work in astronomy. Proponents further argued that some community colleges offer courses that include somewhat advanced sophomore-level content for astronomy majors and therefore need instructors with a solid preparation in astronomy. Opponents countered that most faculty with master's degrees in physics have taken some coursework in astronomy and are prepared to teach the basic principles of astronomy common to introductory courses. Also, they explained that very few community colleges teach astronomy courses above the introductory level. Furthermore, they said, finding applicants with the proposed astronomy minimum qualifications to teach the relatively few astronomy courses their colleges offer would pose an unreasonable and unnecessary impediment. They suggested that colleges with more robust astronomy programs raise their minimum qualifications for astronomy faculty-as at least one college has done-in order to hire applicants with a master's in astronomy.

Some physics instructors who now teach astronomy were concerned that adoption of the proposal would prevent them from continuing to teach astronomy courses. But Title 5 53403 allows for anyone hired to teach in a discipline to continue teaching in that discipline when changes are enacted. In other words, our minimum qualifications, like our lifetime credentials, are grand-parented.

A second hot issue was the proposal to add the new discipline of environmental science/environmental studies. Because of the growth of the environmental disciplines, many agree that it is time to recognize these new areas as a discipline. Currently environmental science and environmental studies courses are designated as "interdisciplinary." The proposal includes a master's in environmental studies, biology, geography, meteorology, environmental compliance and law, environmental science, environmental management, environmental policy, environmental engineering, and ecosystem management.

A number of opponents pointed out that while this proposal was well-intentioned and that both environmental science and environmental studies should certainly be recognized as disciplines, the proposal was flawed in that it would bring together two disciplines that are very different from one another. Environmental studies includes administration and public policy development but little or no science. Environmental science, on the other hand, is primarily a science discipline. Opponents pointed out that establishing a discipline that combines these two areas could result in the hiring of someone who has little preparation in either the appropriate science or the studies related to social science and policy development.

Because of the complexity of the issues and the desire by the author to craft a proposal that would satisfy the field, the author has asked that this proposal be pulled so that it can be refined and considered in the next review. Once a proposal is rejected on a vote of the body, it may not be considered again unless it comes with a different rationale.

Many proposals were submitted affecting disciplines on the Non-Masters list, which includes disciplines for which a master's degree is generally not available or expected. We need to keep in mind that this part of the list includes one set of minimum qualifications for all included disciplines: a bachelor's degree and two years of experience or an associate degree and six years of experience. The reason for this uniform designation is to require some formal educational background to assure breadth of knowledge but to allow districts to establish the specific educational preparation and experience they find appropriate for the faculty positions they need to fill.

Of the six proposals affecting administration of justice, the one to establish the discipline of forensic science created the most debate. It included the following proposed qualifications: A bachelor's degree in forensic sciences, any of the biological sciences, or chemistry AND two years of experience in a crime laboratory or as a crime scene analyst. The rationale for creating this specialty noted that because forensic science is such a well-established discipline in law enforcement, we need to put into regulations appropriate qualifications for teaching the basic course in this discipline. Crime scene investigation courses are no longer sufficient for training people in charge of forensic investigation and handling of evidence. We need courses that go beyond those and instructors with more educational preparation to teach them.

No one took issue with this rationale; however, one professor of Administration of Justice indicated that although the Academic Senate should recommend raising the minimum qualifications in this area, this particular proposal is flawed. For one thing, we should consider adding forensic science to the master's list because master's degrees and doctorates in that discipline are now available. He added that we need more input from POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) Council and Administration of Justice faculty throughout the state before adopting a proposal for this discipline. We should also point out that these qualifications might now be put into effect by any district that elects to do so.

Those who attend the Spring Session breakout on the Disciplines List review will no doubt hear much more of this kind of debate.