In spring 2011, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges adopted Resolution 13.03, “Democracy Commitment.” The resolution calls for three activities: that “the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges endorse ‘The Democracy Commitment,’” that the Senate “commit to further the aims of the "The Democracy Commitment" in general,” and that “the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges produce an action-oriented guide furthering the aims of "The Democracy Commitment" for use by the California community colleges.”
Started in 2011, The Democracy Commitment (TDC) is modeled after the American Democracy Project, a movement involving four-year, public universities that is sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The co-founders of TDC as credited on the organization’s web site are Bernie Ronan of the Maricopa Community Colleges and Brian Murphy, President of De Anza College. TDC describes itself as “a national initiative providing a platform for development and expansion of community college programs, projects and curricula aiming at engaging students in civic learning and democratic practice across the country.”1 The initiative’s goal is to ensure that every graduate of an American community college has a strong education in and understanding of democracy.
The Democracy Commitment has sponsored or initiated various programs since its inception. The first signature initiative was “Engage the Election 2012,” which encouraged member institutions to hold political forums voter registration drives, and other activities to promote participation in the 2012 elections.
A follow-up initiative, “Engage the Election 2014,” encourages member institutions to present events through which faculty and students can participate in dialogue about the midterm elections. A third major initiative, “Bridging Cultures to Form a Nation: Difference, Community, and Critical Thinking,” is a three-year curriculum and faculty development project intended to promote “difference, community, and democratic thinking into transfer courses in the humanities,” “promote greater adoption of proven high-impact practices that advance important civic learning outcomes,” and “create a series of humanities-enriched professional development opportunities for community college faculty, especially adjunct faculty” (http://thedemocracycommitment.org/bridging-cultures-to-form-a-nation).
At the time that the Academic Senate passed Resolution 13.03 S 11, the Democracy Commitment was a new movement. However, in the intervening two years, several California community colleges have established local chapters, including Cabrillo, De Anza, Foothill, Laney, Mt. San Antonio, Long Beach, Saddleback, Santa Monica, and Skyline colleges.
Each of these colleges has a strong local academic senate, and most of them also have a strong on-campus presence from the Faculty Association for California Community Colleges (FACCC). The connection of strong senate leadership and FACCC representation at colleges that have embraced the Democracy Commitment should come as no surprise: Both the Academic Senate and FACCC have a long history of encouraging student activism. Indeed, for several years FACCC has been a very strong supporter of the Student Senate of California Community Colleges’ “March in March,” a yearly demonstration and advocacy event for student leaders in Sacramento. Likewise, the Academic Senate played an instrumental role in the creation of the Student Senate, guiding and advising the SSCCC throughout its early years.
The primary mission of both the Academic Senate and FACCC is to represent faculty. However, the primary mission of faculty is to educate students, and because faculty are committed to the democratic mission of the California community colleges, finding ways to promote student democratic activism should be a natural extension of both organizations.
Although several California community colleges have established local Democracy Commitment chapters, much more could be done. Of the 112 community colleges in the state, only eleven individual colleges and four multi-college districts are listed as member institutions on the Democracy Commitment website. Academic senate leaders and FACCC members on the remaining campuses around the state might consider collaborating to establish their own local chapters that further the aims of TDC and the education of their students.
At the state level, ASCCC and FACCC frequently work in conjunction on various issues, and the two organizations will certainly continue to collaborate whenever possible to enhance the educational experiences of our students. The Academic Senate will also continue to pursue the final resolved clause of Resolution 13.03 S11, which calls for an “action-oriented guide” that would further promote TDC.
The Democracy Commitment is an initiative with admirable goals that seek to benefit our students and our communities. The Academic Senate has formally endorsed the aims of TDC and urges local colleges to explore the possibility of joining this constructive educational movement.
1. For more information on the goals and origins of the Democracy Commitment, see http://thedemocracycommitment.org.