The History of the ASCCC Project: A Partial History of the Passage of AB 1725

History of the ASCCC Project Chair

(In 2013, the Academic Senate Executive Committee approved a project to record and preserve the history of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.  The April 2017 Rostrum contains an article that explains the intent and structure of this project and the reasons for the delay in moving its work forward.  However, the project is now making progress: the History of the ASCCC Task Force has developed a questionnaire to gather information on the organization’s history and sent that questionnaire to approximately 60 individuals who have worked with or had close connections to the Academic Senate in the past, including former ASCCC presidents and executive committee members, former system chancellors, past and current leaders of partner organizations, past and current members of the Chancellor’s Office staff, and others. This effort to collect information is still very much a work in progress, and the requested deadline for responding to the surveys is not until later in Fall 2017.   However, some of the individuals who received the surveys have already returned them with thoughtful and fascinating responses.  The following article is based primarily on the survey responses received to date.)

Anyone who has been involved with academic senates in the California Community College System has likely heard of the landmark 1988 legislation Assembly Bill 1725, authored by the late John Vasconcellos.  AB 1725 is still cited regularly in discussions of governance and other issues involving California community colleges. However, many current faculty members and others in the system are not familiar with the history behind the bill, including the factors and events that led to its creation, the difficulties involved in both its passage and its implementation, and the many important individuals who contributed to establishing the strength of the faculty voice in community college governance at the state and local levels.

The final votes on AB 1725 in the legislature were nearly unanimous:  the senate passed the bill 38-0 and the assembly 74-1, showing a rare level of bi-partisan agreement. Yet the creation and passage of AB 1725 and its implementation through Title 5 regulations did not take place without opposition.  Dona Boatright was the Vice-Chancellor for Educational Services at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office from 2002 to 2005, a leader of the statewide chief instructional officers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and a local academic senate president at Allan Hancock College in the 1970s and early 80s.  Boatright notes, “During the period both before and immediately after passage of AB1725, there was a great deal of contention between the Senate leadership and those in administrative positions at the state level and at a significant number of colleges. The ‘we/they’ syndrome was in full force. But as the transitions settled in, cooperative relationships began to form.” Likewise, Arnold Bray, Director of Legislative and Public Affairs for the Chancellor’s Office during the 1980s, observes that management and faculty had some “very thoughtful, but sometimes contentious discussions.”  The concept of strengthening the faculty voice in governance ultimately won broad support and was institutionalized within the system, but this change did not happen without resistance.

Administrative representatives were not alone in their opposition to the concepts regarding governance included in AB 1725; some faculty union leaders also voiced serious reservations.  Marty Hittelman was a member of the ASCCC Executive Committee from 1989 to 1991 and a long-time leader of the Los Angeles Community College District Faculty Guild, the LACCD District Academic Senate, and the California Federation of Teachers as well as a local senate president at Harbor College in 1972-73.  Hittelman notes, “At the beginning of the achievement of collective bargaining rights [in the 1970s], the senate became the area for anti-union faculty. It took many years for those that had opposed collective bargaining on their campus to fade from the scene, and gradually they were replaced by those that saw the unions as allies, not enemies.”  This tension between senates and unions existed for some time and helped set the stage for some difficult discussions regarding the appropriate roles for both organizations.

Patrick McCallum, Executive Director of the Faculty Association for California Community Colleges (FACCC) from 1981 to 1988 and the administrative assistant and higher education consultant for AB 1725 author John Vasconcellos from 1979-1981, recalls that discussions and negotiations regarding governance took place for many years and comments on a specific meeting with faculty representatives that included Karen Sue Grosz and Mark Edelstein, both of whom served as ASCCC presidents, as well as Robert Gabriner, Cy Gulassa, and Larry Toy:

There was this ongoing argument between what role the union and senate would have when it came to faculty. The negotiations were tough, and tough language was going on between the participants. I remember just off the fly saying what if the senate deals with the faculty quality issues before a faculty is hired and union with faculty issues after the hire. The room went quiet and there was this nod of agreement and from then on we were able to negotiate the details.

While ultimately the senate’s role encompassed far more than just pre-hire quality issues, McCallum’s description shows the difficult discussions that were necessary among faculty in order to clarify senate and union roles.

Of course, once AB 1725 passed the legislature, it had to have the governor’s signature.  McCallum also recalls some of the difficulties regarding that step of the process:

The start of AB 1725 was to follow a successful K-12 strategy with a republican governor. K-12 had agreed to a set of reforms in exchange for more money. . . We did have to get some agreement around reforms and had to push hard to get the faculty unions to agree to a longer tenure period and peer review along with the accountability reporting. Without those reforms, there was no way Governor Deukmejian was going to sign the bill. 

The strategies employed by the ASCCC, FACCC, and other interested parties proved successful in the end, as the governor signed the bill into law on September 19, 1988.

Once the bill had passed, the next challenge was implementation through Title 5 regulation. One important individual in this effort was Tom Nussbaum, who worked with and in the community college system for nearly 30 years as legal counsel for the system office, Vice-Chancellor for Governmental Affairs, Vice-Chancellor for Legal Affairs, and finally as Chancellor of the California Community Colleges from 1996 to 2004.  As Vice-Chancellor for Legal Affairs, Nussbaum worked with the ASCCC and other constituencies to help craft AB 1725 and later to develop the pertinent Title 5 regulations.  He recalls that discussions regarding the Title 5 language were “gridlocked as to major aspects of these regulations” and that the ASCCC representatives pushed for an even stronger voice for academic senates:

Phil (Hartley) and Mark (Edelstein) insisted that . . . the regulations should simply require that the governing board “rely primarily upon the advice and judgment of the academic senate,” or the policy “shall be developed and agreed upon jointly by representatives of the governing board and the academic senate.” Representatives of the CEOs and local trustees took the position that the regulations must be drafted in such a way that local boards could have the final say.  They were supportive of greater involvement of the academic senates as to policies relating to academic and professional matters, but they insisted that, after extensive consultation, the governing boards should retain legal authority to have the final say.

Hartley, a member of the ASCCC Executive Committee from 1982 to 1991 and ASCCC President from 1989 to 1990, has a similar recollection of the central issue in the task force’s sometimes difficult discussions: “The biggest issue was the fact that local governing boards are given approval authority over most every college function by state law.  So how do you provide a meaningful governance role for academic senates without usurping the statutory authority of local boards?  Per our proposal, Title 5, Section 53200 was the agreed upon answer.” As both Nussbaum and Hartley note, compromises were ultimately reached:  local boards retained the final decision-making authority, but the regulations developed by the task force gave academic senates a clear and strong advisory function.

Another point of contention was the scope of academic senate purview and the definition of academic and professional matters.  The ASCCC argued for a very broad definition that would include issues such as budget development and management structure.  The CEOs and trustees agreed that senates should be involved in such discussions but resisted the idea that boards should be required to rely primarily on or reach agreement with senates on these issues.  Nussbaum notes that both sides of the debate were willing to go to extreme lengths to advance their positions:

Behind the scenes, the Senate reps noted that if they didn’t get their way, faculty would go to John Vasconcellos and secure legislation to put their interpretations into statute.  On the other side, CEO and trustee representatives threatened to sue the Board of Governors for going beyond the scope of its regulatory authority if the final regulations defined academic and professional matters too broadly or if the final regulations didn’t preserve the legal authority of governing boards to make the final decision.

After considerable effort and contentious debate, the task force agreed on language that finally moved forward through the consultation process and became the text that remains today in Title 5 regarding the roles of academic senates.

Nussbaum also recalls that “the agreement almost came undone at the eleventh hour.”  A group of CEOs in Southern California planned to oppose the new regulations and were prepared to sue the Board of Governors to stop their implementation.  Nussbaum and Chancellor David Mertes addressed these plans at a statewide meeting of CEOs and called in ASCCC President Hartley to help explain the meaning and intent of the new regulations.  “Phil and I argued that the regulations did indeed give governing boards a legal way to make the final decision,” Nussbaum states.  “It was very important for CEOs to hear the representative of the Academic Senate clarify the meaning and interpretation of the regulations.”  After this meeting, the CEOs “grudgingly” agreed not to oppose the regulations.

However, CEOs were again not the only group that needed to be convinced to accept the new regulations; as with the crafting of AB 1725, competing faculty voices had to be reconciled as well.  As Hartley recalls,

Because the unions (CTA, AFT) and FACCC were not on the committee, they understandably had concerns.  This was at a time when local senates were not generally strong or well understood and local unions were used to having the larger voice on campus.  Therefore, Mike Anker and I met with the presidents of CTA, AFT, and FACCC in a long marathon meeting to seek common ground.

After intense discussions, all of the major faculty organizations agreed to support the proposed regulations or to remain neutral before the Board of Governors, and the proposed language became the basis for the academic senate’s role in governance in the California Community Colleges.

As important as AB 1725 was at the time and remains today, it was no silver bullet that could solve all of the problems of the system.  Implementation was a difficult and lengthy process, first in the writing of Title 5 Regulations and then at the level of creating local board policies.  McCallum notes that “there were some difficult years after AB 1725 was signed of the senate figuring out their roll given their new power.”  In addition, several aspects of AB 1725 were dependent on funding that either was never provided or did not last; Arnold Bray notes that one of his greatest disappointments in working with the community college system was “the lack of necessary financial resources for the system to function as envisioned by the landmark legislation AB 1725.”

Still, the significance of AB 1725 is indisputable.  As Hartley reflects, “AB 1725 was the capstone for a paradigm shift in the role and status of the California Community Colleges.”  Despite the many difficulties involved with its passage and implementation, the bill helped to create perhaps the most inclusive system of governance enjoyed by any system of higher education in the world.  Faculty and all others in the system should always remember and appreciate the dedication of the many individuals who fought for AB 1725 and the principles and vision it included.