Discipline Specialization

Wheeler North, Chair, Standards and Practices Committee

When faculty are assigned to teach a course (for which student enrollment earns state apportionment and/or credit), they must meet discipline minimum qualifications as defined in Minimum Qualifications for Faculty and Administrators in California Community Colleges (AKA the Disciplines List). But what can a district do in those cases where skills are required beyond a discipline’s specific minimum qualifications? What if there are specific instructional reasons for some class instances of the course to be bilingual as allowed in Legal Opinion O 06-10? What if Allied Health, Public Safety or other career technical education (CTE) courses require state or federal certification of the faculty? How does a college assure faculty have the required additional skills needed to teach a section via distance education (DE)?

It is important to note that a district can hire faculty based upon any requirement that is equal to or higher than the minimum requirements listed in the Disciplines List. The question this article is addressing is how to assure faculty assigned to teach a given course possess the additional skills that are required for that instance.

The primary mechanism most of us are familiar with is the typical right-of-assignment. This is usually a negotiated condition which gives administration the authority to assign faculty to teach courses. Many districts additionally have negotiated consultation requirements where these assignments are made in consultation with faculty such as department chairs or other governance groups.

But one caveat to this is some districts also have negotiated seniority rights for certain faculty to be given preference in assignments. In one district part-time faculty who have taught a given section four times can apply for a seniority status that gives them the right to teach that course over other faculty with less or no seniority. Hopefully districts are able to hammer out these arrangements in a manner that assures seniority rights do not undermine a program’s ability to properly assign faculty where class instances require additional skills and competencies.

Title 5 §55202 obligates districts to assure that every DE course is delivered with the same rigor and quality as its face-to-face counterpart. §55204 requires effective instructor contact with the students for DE sections and §55206 specifically requires a separate curriculum approval process for courses to be delivered via DE. Thus there is an implied authority given to the curriculum committee to assure DE curriculum appropriately details those teaching and learning components which are necessary for quality, effective contact and equal standards for student success in the DE environment. Some districts have negotiated a requirement for additional DE teaching skills and they may provide this training in-house or rely on development opportunities such as those provided by the community college system’s @ONE project. In the end this creates a district-wide qualification for DE faculty.

Title 5 does not prohibit the above ‘process concepts’ from also being exercised to assure other specialty skills are possessed when a given course is taught. Many CTE courses and programs are designed to lead students to one or more certifications. A common requirement is the faculty must possess these same certifications. The simple solution is to require these certifications at the time of hiring; thus no one gets hired who does not possess them. Where it gets problematic is when there are a variety of skills or certifications that exist within one discipline. This is not uncommon in Allied Health and Public Safety programs. So curriculum developers can rely on right-of-assignment, or there may be a negotiated element that limits right-of-assignment where specialty skills or certifications are needed.

It is also possible to tie specific requirements (beyond discipline assignments) to a course. Title 5 §55002 is very clear, in three places, about the curriculum committee’s obligation to assure every course is taught by a qualified instructor. However doing this means faculty delivering every class section must then meet those additional requirements. So in the case where a course may need section instances that are bilingual, and others that are not, reliance on right-of-assignment via consultation is likely the most practical method. Another option would be to create two distinctly different courses with both having similar goals but intended for distinctly different audiences. In some ways the above mentioned legal opinion, O 06-10, would be best implemented by this latter means since it requires a pairing of the bilingual offering with another course.

And language may not be the only reason for needing auxiliary skills in a given course instance. Expertise comes in many forms, in many disciplines. Take the disciplines of Art or Humanities for example. Many specializations exist within these disciplines to the degree that the best achievable student experience comes from having those most qualified in the specific specialty teach those courses. Where a course has fixed objectives but the content varies (special topics), faculty assignment should be based upon expertise. Again, right-of-assignment is probably the most practical way to go, but there are other options.

It is important to exercise caution about some of these options to remain flexible. A consultation-based right-of-assignment process tends to provide this in most cases. Over-proscription can back a program leader into requirements that exclude all available candidates. Some disciplines contain many units of major preparation ranging over incredibly diverse spectrums of skills and capabilities. A faculty’s ability to teach across this gaggle of courses varies quite a bit for a variety of reasons. Yes, they all can be taught by any discipline faculty in a rigorous manner, but many courses will entertain a much greater student experience when faculty with specialized skills and currency deliver them. So, departments often aim for this lofty ideal via right-of-assignment, if they can. However, when fulfilling loads collides with the class schedule and section reductions, or other institutional maladies, then sometimes teaching it in a rigorous manner is better than not being able to offer the course at all.

In closing, it is important to end this discussion on the idea that a strong and effective working rapport between faculty and administration is central to a functional assignment process. This is a complex, ongoing evolution where greater flexibility is usually beneficial as long as it can be had without sacrificing high quality, rigor and compliance.

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