Curriculum and Legislative Processes

ASCCC Vice President and Legislative and Advocacy Committee Chair

Attendees at recent ASCCC plenary sessions may have noticed that the Academic Senate has been taking more positions about legislation than it did in previous years. While more bills in general are indeed being introduced through the legislative process, the amount of legislation that has implications for curriculum has also increased, and therefore more action is required on the part of the ASCCC and local senates. The ASCCC tracks a variety of bills ranging from those with direct academic and professional impacts on academic senate purview or local colleges to those that may be of interest to faculty.

Over the past decade, the degree of legislative involvement in curriculum has become more prevalent. Some legislators are former educators who believe that they have a solution to fix certain issues with our system; others are advised by consultants and outside groups to create legislation designed to correct perceived problems. Bills that concern curriculum fall into several categories. Some bills may ask for the creation of model curriculum or request specific changes or additions to extant curricular models. Others may change graduation requirements for transfer institutions or otherwise alter pathways for students. These legislative involvements raise challenges that the ASCCC has been trying, with varying levels of success, to address. For example, some legislators wish to see the creation of model curriculum in disciplines that do not currently exist or that they believe need to be modified. These proposals present a variety of challenges. For one, the creation of curriculum is clearly an area of academic senate purview, as defined in both California Education Code and Title 5. In many cases, the legislator writing a bill that requests the creation of model curriculum does not realize the necessary role of the academic senate in this work and fails to mention the academic senate in the bill. In these cases, the ASCCC attempts to work with the author of the bill to ensure that faculty primacy in these areas is respected, that the bill is workable, and that the bill does not result in unintended consequences that might be detrimental to students.

Of greater concern is that when a legislator introduces a bill that calls for curricular development, that bill may result in changes to the California Education Code. While changes to Title 5 language require action from the Board of Governors and therefore may involve multiple readings and meetings before action can be taken, changes to the Ed Code require a legislative act and are far more difficult to make. When a legislator wants to introduce specific curricular requirements into law, a bill can create even more challenges. For example, a legislator might decide to introduce a bill requesting the creation of model curriculum in a particular branch of computer science or internet technology. Given the rapidity with which these fields have changed over the past decade and continue to change, such curriculum may likely be outdated before the bill had even been put into law. In these cases, the ASCCC also attempts to work with the author of the bill to explain the implications of specific curriculum being put into Education Code.

In many cases, the ASCCC is successful in working with legislators and their staff to make the necessary changes to a bill to ensure that faculty and academic senate primacy are respected and that the bill does not have unintended consequences that might cause harm to students. The bills that led to the creation of the associate degrees for transfer provide an example of how the Academic Senate worked closely with the author and his staff to create legislation that was acceptable to both faculty and to the legislature. Occasionally, however, for a range of reasons, bills are introduced that the ASCCC cannot support. If working with the author to amend the bill does not result in an acceptable piece of legislation, those bills are opposed through formal processes—either a vote at a plenary session or, if time does not permit such a vote, an action of the ASCCC Executive Committee that results in a formal letter of opposition to the author. Such a response often results in the bill being further amended or with legislators in one or both of the houses opposing the bill so that it does not pass.

Despite the ASCCC’s efforts, bills that the Academic Senate has opposed do become law. While the ASCCC might have taken an official oppose position on a bill, if the bill is passed and becomes law, the system is obligated to follow the law, and the Academic Senate must provide information to colleges to enable the law to be enacted in a manner that is most beneficial, or at least less harmful, to students. At that point, the ASCCC works with the Chancellor’s Office and other entities to ensure that guidelines and support are offered to faculty in order to enable colleges to implement the bill. In an attempt to ensure that this circumstance does not happen often, the Academic Senate has increased its communication with the legislature, including monthly—and occasionally weekly—meetings and visits with legislators, consultants, and staffers to clarify the position of the Academic Senate and to provide lawmakers with information about the roles of faculty and academic senates. The ASCCC will continue its work to support faculty in all disciplines and modalities in all 73 California community college districts regarding legislation, to educate the legislature about the reasons that faculty primacy is needed in all areas of curriculum, and to guarantee that students are not ill-served by legislation that does not provide for their best interests.