Elevating Unheard Voices Through Critical and Intentional Evaluation of Academic Senate Foundational Documents

ASCCC At-Large Representative
ASCCC Area C Representative

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” [1] This statement reflects the need to redesign systems that are inefficient or are not producing the desired results. A good place to start is to critically reexamine local academic senate foundational documents with the specific purpose and intent to design a system that increases the representation of perspectives that are missing from shared governance and leadership spaces. Some examples of foundational documents are the academic senate’s constitution and by-laws, handbooks, policies, and processes.

Faculty can begin by looking at the composition of their local academic senates and standing committees and asking whether these bodies reflect the diversity of the faculty population, whether they resemble the student population, and whether faculty of color are in faculty leadership positions on campus and within the district, perhaps as academic senate officers or committee chairs/co-chairs. If the answers to these questions is no, then a reconsideration of local structures may be in order.

The mission of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) reflects its commitment to advancing inclusion, diversity, equity, anti-racism, and accessibility (IDEAA). Local academic senate foundational documents provide one of many possible starting points for continuing IDEAA work at local colleges and districts.


California Education Code and Title 5 Regulations establish the basis of academic senate authority, with primary responsibility for curriculum and academic standards under Ed Code §70902 (b)(7)) as well as collegial consultation in academic and professional matters under Title 5 §53200. Locally, academic senates are actualized via constitutions, by-laws, handbooks, board policies, administrative procedures, and other policies and documents. Meetings are frequently governed by established procedures such as Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. Academic senates employ these structures and processes in order to perform their important roles at their institutions, but these same structures and processes may create either opportunities or barriers.


Local implementation of academic senates varies widely, though every academic senate has foundational documents that describe the actualization. The basics of the academic senate structure are likely provided in a constitution or by-laws. Each college may also have other documents that describe what participatory or shared governance looks like on its campus or in its district, which may include information on the standing committees of the academic senate.

Academic senates may be well served to critically review their membership with an equity lens. Some questions on which to reflect are as follows:

  • Are all faculty considered to be part of the electorate that chooses and is represented by the academic senate?
  • What is the basis of representation on the academic senate, or the representative body—however it may be named locally—that meets regularly to discuss and make recommendations on academic and professional matters?
  • Are part-time faculty able to be academic senate representatives? Are positions specifically designated for part-time faculty?
  • Are all members voting members? Does the academic senate also include non-voting members?
  • How are academic senate members selected? Are they appointed? Are they elected to represent specific areas?
  • How are academic senate officers selected?
  • Do academic senate officers have term limits? Do other representatives on the academic senate have term limits?
  • Do the officer positions receive release time, and if so, how much?

Another vehicle for institutional self-reflection of the academic senate is through goals and initiatives. These items are typically set at the beginning of the academic year and should reflect the principles of IDEAA. At the end of the year, a summary of goals and accomplishments will help track progress and perhaps provide ideas for goals for the following academic year. Sharing goals and accomplishments with the college president informs administration of faculty priorities each academic year and progress made towards those goals.


Many academic senates have an executive committee whose membership varies across colleges and districts. It may include only the academic senate officers, officers and faculty co-chairs that lead standing committees, or an even more expanded membership. In some cases, the executive committee may act on behalf of the academic senate on time-critical items or perhaps over the summer when the academic senate does not meet. Academic senates should therefore consider carefully who is included on the executive committee and how the members are selected.

Standing committees of the academic senate or of the college fall at least in part under the direction of the academic senate and sometimes have shared leadership between faculty and administration; they may include classified professionals as co-chairs on some specific committees as well. Membership and processes may differ among these committees. Every college will, for example, have a curriculum committee [2], but many other committees are a local decision. Some questions on which to reflect for standing committees are as follows:

  • What is the basis of representation on these committees?
  • How are representatives selected? Are they appointed or elected?
  • How is the faculty chair or co-chair position selected?
  • Do committee representatives have term limits? Do committee chairs or co-chairs have term limits?
  • Do faculty chairs or co-chairs receive reassigned time?

Standing committees may also develop goals at the start of the academic year and reflect on progress at the end of the year by reviewing goals and accomplishments.


Another layer of committees and structures often exists at the district level for multi-college districts. Some multi-college districts have a district academic senate to complement those at individual colleges. The same basic questions regarding local academic senates and committees also apply to the district level, as does the possibility of setting goals and reflecting on progress with goals and accomplishments. Each college should consider whether the academic senate representatives on district committees are accurately reflecting the will of the college academic senates.


Charges and missions represent the daily actions and responsibilities of organizations and thus provide an opportunity for institutionalizing advancement of the IDEAA framework and social justice in academic senates and standing committees. All too often, charges and missions are mistakenly thought to be colorblind and are perhaps from another era, particularly if constitutions, by-laws, and other operational documents have not been reviewed and revised in quite some time.

Barriers that limit access to leadership opportunities are often unintentional and sometimes rather subtle. Qualifications, meeting times, and a variety of other factors can contribute. Some items to consider on qualifications for leadership roles and committee membership are as follows:

  • Do both part-time and full-time faculty have access to these opportunities?
  • What are the effects on part-time faculty?
  • What are the effects on non-tenured, probationary faculty? Is tenure required to participate?
  • What are the modality and schedule for meeting participation? Is the organization looking to adopt procedures that are inclusive to a wide variety of personal and professional lives of faculty and students?

Academic senate and standing committee meetings can be rather intimidating to someone who is first attending. On-boarding with training for new faculty, both part-time and full-time, can help provide a common foundation and understanding of participatory governance in the college and district. It will inform faculty of opportunities to participate, for example, through the academic senate and standing committees. Trainings for senators and other committee members will reinforce the understanding of participatory governance, the special role of faculty, and the roles and expectations of senators and committee members. Meeting procedures adopted at the institution should be covered as well so that everyone knows how to participate in the conversations and take action.

Faculty leaders should be intentional about reaching out to faculty to participate on the academic senate and standing committees. Tapping individuals on the shoulder by encouraging them to run for leadership positions may result in greater participation. If a particular group is underrepresented or entirely missing on academic senate and committees, academic senate leaders should reach out to specific individuals, encourage them, and let them know that they are welcome. Creating an inclusive culture that values diversity and a welcoming environment that encourages free dialogue with diverse perspectives provides a foundation for increased involvement.


In addition to the questions for self-reflection by the academic senate and the institution offered above, some additional questions to consider are as follows:

  • Who is missing?
  • Why do we do it this way?

Often, practices develop over time that are not reflected in process documents, such as constitutions, by-laws, board policies, and administrative procedures. Local academic senate leaders should welcome questions and questioning as opportunities to have open dialogue and interrogate current practices.

Developing and adopting organizational norms [3] can help guide discussion and debate, particularly for sensitive or controversial topics. Norms are standards of behavior expected of members in order to work productively. Going through the process of developing the norms can be as informative and productive as the final product, if not more so.

IDEAA work is a journey, and people and institutions are at different places on this journey. The ASCCC has developed the cultural humility toolkit [4] to provide a framework for facilitating discussions around IDEAA. The ideas offered here are intended to help start conversations at local colleges and districts with the goal of increasing the representation of perspectives that are missing from shared governance and leadership spaces, providing and empowering the voice of the often-voiceless faculty on campuses.

1. The original source of this a matter of debate. See https://deming.org/quotes/10141/ for a discussion of the possible origins.
2. California Code of Regulations §55002(a)(1): https://govt.westlaw.com/calregs/Document/I61F3AFC34C6911EC93A8000D3A7C4BC3?viewType=FullText&originationContext=documenttoc&transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default)
3. Academic Senate for California Community College Executive Committee Norms can be found near the beginning of each ASCCC Executive Committee Meeting Agenda: https://www.asccc.org/executive_committee/meetings
4. The toolkit is available at https://www.asccc.org/sites/default/files/Cultural_Humility_Toolkit_FINAL_Fillable.pdf.