Recently the Academic Senate forwarded to local senates the draft recommendations from the Student Success Task Force. They are also available at http://www.cccco.edu/ChancellorsOffice/TaskForceonStudent-Success/tabid…
The Board of Governors (BOG) established this task force in response to Senate Bill (SB) 1143, which was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in September 2010. The purpose of the task force was to develop recommendations for the BOG of strategies to improve the colleges and the system such that student success would be strengthened. The task force convened in January 2011 and met monthly until October.
Fortunately, the task force included five faculty members representing different geographic and disciplinary groups. They included Cynthia Rico-Bravo, a counselor from San Diego Mesa College; Rich Hansen, a professor of mathematics at De Anza College and the president of CCCI, the Independent unions organization; David Morse, a professor of English at Long Beach City College; and me as the president of the Academic Senate (until June 2011) and a professor in communication studies at Mission College. In addition, one appointee from the BOG was Manuel Baca, who is a trustee at Mt. San Antonio College but is also a professor of political science at Rio Hondo College. While it would be impossible to have faculty from all our programs, among these representatives we had the perspectives of student services, basic skills, transfer, and bargaining. So during the nine months of deliberations, five faculty members were at the table. In addition, the task force had more than 15 other members, including representatives from the BOG, college administration, the business community, K-12, and two university professors. A full list of task force members is available on the website cited above.
In this article, I’d like to give you the faculty perspective about our experiences regarding the process as well as the outcome.
One faculty representative summarized the faculty role in this way: “The faculty on the task force made efforts to shape the conversations, and although we may not have been 100 % successful in how the recommendations should read, we did put up strong arguments.” Another said, “In the end I believe that we did make a difference. We had to insist, and insist repeatedly in some cases, on our voices being respected, but I am certain that the draft report would look very different if we had not been there.”
The task force released its recommendations on September 30, 2011, and during October task force members and representatives from the Chancellor’s Office are making around 15 presentations to groups across the state to seek their feedback. In addition, the Chancellor’s Office website provides space for comments from statewide constituents. If you are reading this article before November 8, we urge you to register your thoughts about the draft recommendations, either individually at http://studentsuccess.ideascale.com/ or with a group on campus such as the senate, union, or your program. Input will be reviewed by the task force in November and will inform the final recommendations to the BOG in January.
The Academic Senate has closely followed every step of the task force and directed its Futures Ad Hoc Committee to devote its attention to the issues that arose and the topics explored over the last year. For example, the Futures Ad Hoc Committee read a great deal about performance based funding, about strategies being employed in other states, and about the literature on improving student success and provided the faculty on the task force with insight, resources, and guidance.
THE DRAFT RECOMMENDATIONS (AS OF SEPTEMBER 30, 2011)
The draft recommendations could lead to significant changes in the way colleges operate and span such topics as enrollment management and priorities, course sequencing, and student behaviors. It is not hyperbole to say that the recommendations could alter the very mission of community colleges. The faculty on the task force are quick to point out that the draft recommendations are evidence that faculty perspectives did not prevail on a number of fronts, so readers should not assume that the proposals necessarily reflect our personal or organizational positions. As is the case with all task forces, there was heated discussion and a range of viewpoints advanced and no one perspective won on every battle.
The recommendations propose an array of changes either in the California Code of Regulations (i.e., Education Code, requiring legislation to modify), Title 5 (which is under BOG control), or changes to local policies and practices. In some cases, the BOG already had legislation in the pipeline on topics at least tangentially related to the recommendations (e.g., AB 743 on assessment and AB 1056 on E-transcripts, both of which were signed into law in October), and it is likely that more bills have already been drafted that are not yet public (with some positions that faculty would support and others that we would oppose).
Although it is easy to be critical of aspects of the recommendations, there are strengths in the report, some of which advance positions of the Academic Senate in areas such as remediation, prerequisites, and assessment. One faculty member said, “If implemented well, many recommendations could indeed strengthen what we do in our colleges and systemwide. But of course, the devil is in the details.”
The faculty on the task force agreed that there were things that the task force should have done differently. For one thing, we wished there had been clear agreement in the group about its guiding principles and an understanding about what would constitute a final recommendation; sometimes the group voted, other times not. Sometimes sufficient time was allotted to reach consensus; other times, not. There were periods when hidden agendas were evident and when it appeared that there were predetermined outcomes. Sometimes the view of one individual controlled the will of the group, and had we taken more time for consensus building, that minority perspective might not have won. The task force should have done more to really test the consensus around the recommendations.
A positive outcome—in discussions as well as recommendations—was the recognition by all around the table that student services is an essential component of strengthening student success, and because of that the group would have benefitted from having more student services personnel on the task force: We had one counselor, one classified staff from student services, one administrator, and another member had previously served as a student services dean. It appears that once local discussions begin following any BOG action, each college will look at its delivery of support services as well as classroom instruction. Of course, the sad irony is that services have been slashed systemwide.
Various members, both faculty and administrators, felt strongly that the recommendations should forcefully highlight the tremendous fiscal crisis in our system, yet the topic is downplayed in the draft document. The state has not fulfilled its obligation to public colleges, yet it expects dramatic change in student outcomes. That suggestion, on the surface, is pretty bizarre. However, that said, everyone would agree that there are some changes that can occur with minimal cost. Some recommendations will likely never be implemented due to cost implications.
For several months, the task force spent most of its meeting time hearing presentations from scholars and leaders from other states about success strategies and performance based funding. The faculty representatives were frustrated with the large expenditure of time spent passively listening rather than beginning discussion and debate about possible recommendations months sooner, and they are united in wishing much more time could have been allotted to wrestling with the difficult issues. As a result, the time pressures at the end of deliberations caused rushed or insufficiently discussed conclusions.
When the task force broke into small groups, each group always had at least one faculty member, and we felt we had a positive influence on those discussions. A faculty member put it this way: “Most of the people around the table were capable and sincere. When we finally got to discussions, some of them were very interesting. Most of us were open with each other, and the majority did seem to give real consideration to each other’s viewpoints.” Faculty as well as other group members had a number of opportunities to suggest changes in early draft recommendations, and many of the suggestions were indeed incorporated.
While the task force included student representation, there has not yet been enough student input, so it will be vital to ensure that students’ voices are included in the feedback about the draft recommendations, many of which will have a direct effect on them.
Because of the far-reaching implications of the recommendations, the Academic Senate Plenary Session in November will devote a general session and several breakouts to this topic. In addition, resolutions have been drafted on topics from basic skills pedagogy to noncredit offerings to categorical programs. We hope that faculty take the time before the recommendations are finalized to register their reactions both online and through the Plenary discussions and resolution process. The task force will meet in November, the week following Plenary Session, so any new Academic Senate positions can provide direction to the task force members. Please note that this summary barely scratches the surface of the recommendations, which demand extended dialog and thoughtful consideration of potential ramifications.
One faculty member summarized the faculty role in the following way: “We defended the interests of faculty and students to the best of our ability. We need (everyone’s) input, in all forms possible, to take back to the task force when discussions continue. And the task force needs to hear it directly from (local faculty). It’s not over. We are not done fighting on the recommendations we are not comfortable with.”
Regardless of how the final recommendations to the BOG will be written, to me the most critical outcome will be how the implementation occurs—both at the state and local level. The Chancellor has said that he hopes the recommendations stimulate local dialog and change, and that is an appropriate aspiration. As always, both local and state-level faculty will need to be vigilant about their leadership regarding any policy change. Title 5 §53200 makes it clear that “standards or policies regarding student preparation and success” is a responsibility of the academic senate, but that will only remain true if all faculty ensure it is practiced.