Forging Alliances-Inside and Outside the College

Vice President
AAUP Senior Program Officer and liaison to the Academic Senate

Faculty leaders are only as good as their alliances, but it is easy to get caught up in our myriad daily tasks and forget the importance of building and maintaining alliances. Have you ever been in a meeting and needed to take a principled stand but looked around the room to find no supportive allies? Have you ever been surprised that individuals who you thought agreed with the faculty perspective did not step up to support you? In contrast, it is most gratifying to hear an administrator, trustee or union leader say, "Folks, this is an academic senate matter and we need them to lead this discussion!"

Alliances come in many forms and are developed for an array of reasons. Some are internal to the college (e.g. with unions, students, classified personnel, administrators and trustees) while others are external (e.g. with business or advisory groups, the media, other educators). Some relationships are formal (e.g. an MOU between the union and senate) while others are informal (See also Rostrum February 2008 Three Cups of Coffee).

Inside the College

Effective senates know and work well with students, staff, and administrators to accomplish our goals. Local senates often invite student representatives to senate meetings, and they establish regular communication with student senates and other student organizations. Many senate presidents have weekly meetings with the college president; many curriculum chairs routinely meet with deans and vice presidents. Senates that concentrate on representing the entire faculty ensure that in senate deliberations we hear the voices of part-time faculty and faculty across the breadth of departments. Senates can often draw support from the faculty union on campus, and senates and unions can each use their own influence to support their mutual interests in representing the wide range of faculty concerns. The Academic Senate's paper about Senate-Union relations provides excellent strategies for building cooperative alliances between these two primary faculty organizations (see Developing A Model for Effective Senate/Union Relations). Similarly, senates can often receive valuable information from staff and their unions, for example about impending procedural changes, the effectiveness and efficiency of recent changes, or the implications of budget redistributions.

Having people on our side requires that they understand and appreciate our roles, positions and the reasons for our positions.

A fundamental task for senates, then, is to provide routine orientations to the senate-not only for new faculty and senators but also for administrators, trustees, and students. The Academic Senate has resources to make that task easy, including Rostrum articles (e.g. September 2005 How Much Do You Know About Your Academic Senate and May 2007 Administrators Need an Orientation to the Senate).

Outside the college

Faculty generally concentrate on campus-based alliances, but they can also find sources of strength in the broader community and among faculty at other institutions and in other sectors of higher education. Most occupational programs maintain advisory committees with workplace and community representatives (See also Rostrum April 2006 How Important is an Advisory Committee?). Some faculty have connections with their counterparts at local high schools and universities, and these relationships have become more vital than ever for providing smooth transitions to our students. Every community college faculty member is a part of the Academic Senate and the most effective senates maintain their connection to the Senate by attending the Senate's plenary sessions and institutes and routinely using Senate resources as an aid in their local deliberations. Many faculty also have professional relations with faculty in the UCs and CSUs that can help provide information regarding transfer issues, changes to shared governance that may be coming our way, and strategies for engaging in budget fights. All of these connections that faculty already have can be tapped for senate purposes too, thereby greatly expanding the senate's information-providing avenues, outreach capacity, and ability to draw on external alliances to influence local administrations.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is a good example of the type of external organization that can assist local senates, particularly if local senators have connections to AAUP members, committees, and resources.

California community college faculty already serve on AAUP's national Committee on Community Colleges, its Committee on Accreditation, and on the Executive Committee of the California Conference of AAUP chapters. These are good sources of information, useful venues for publicizing the Senate's work, and potential providers of expert speakers for senate events.

In building external alliances, a good starting point for the senate is to simply ask each faculty member to submit a list of external organizations with which they have contacts that might be in a position to support senate initiatives. With hundreds of faculty on campus, you might be surprised how many know a local business leader, the editor of a newspaper, a professor elsewhere doing research on issues of importance to the senate, or a member of a governing board for a foundation that funds higher education activities.

If you have ever heard one of the Academic Senate's presentations about the 10+1, you may recall someone saying something like this: "These are our areas of authority under law and regulation, but ultimately it's up to YOU." What really makes things happen (or not) are the processes and relationships developed and maintained locally. Strong local relationships and processes may be our version of the adage about repairing the roof before the rainy season.