If I Have to Explain, You Wouldn't Understand


There is a saying in the biker world (I mean the Harley Davidson world) that seems apropos to our state of affairs on the front line as community college counseling faculty.

That saying is: `If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand." What do I mean and how does it relate to riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle?

Well, my husband opened my eyes to the biker world-the love of the outdoors, and the "feeling" of freedom in riding on the open road. The beauty of that "feeling" makes everything else seem insignificant. It is meditation on wheels-words just cannot explain this "feeling" better. Bikers have a hard time explaining "that feeling" to folks who don't understand "that." In other words, if a biker gets into a situation when there is a need to explain "it", then you just wouldn't understand "it". There is a deep connection of bikers to bikers since within that subculture there is no need for explanation; they share that mutual appreciation for that freedom of riding. No words need to be spoken, no justifications for the choices made. There is an "us" reality, and for those that don't understand, a "them" reality.

In the last 20 months as your South Representative for the Academic Senate, I have had the opportunity to realize how this "us and them" phenomenon in the biker world is oh so similar and prominent in the educational world within the California community colleges. When I get around "them," I realize how absolutely complicated it is to explain the frontline truth that in the counseling "us" world we know so well as faculty. "They" want us to explain why our transfer numbers to CSU and UC are not rising more steadily. "They" want "us" to explain why we need retirement positions replaced with another full-time counseling position. "They" want "us" to explain why we need new positions to accommodate the growth happening at so many community colleges in the state. Counseling faculty are consistently put on the defensive unlike other faculty on campus. The reality for many counseling faculty is "If we have to explain, we know you won't understand." For the sake of this article, I am going to try to explain.

"We" are the faculty on the front line who are counseling and educating the most diverse students on the planet in the largest educational system in the world. We must wear a number of hats in accomplishing this mission and adapt quickly to the ever changing needs of our students. In a nutshell, we are our students' advocates, teachers, mentors, healers, tutors, parents, sisters, brothers, holistic guides, diplomats, cheerleaders, academic and personal coaches, friends, politicians, and drill sergeants. We are the lucky ones to witness first hand the enormous changes our students go through to attend class, to achieve simple goals, to transfer, and overcome unbelievable odds. We feel our students' journey as we guide them like sherpas up the Himalayan mountains. We feel their pain, we rejoice in their victories-however small or large. We provide the ingredients that will never be explained through numbers and statistics that are so heavily relied upon by "them" in measuring our success. We are that powerful a force in many of our students' lives. We know that.

As counseling faculty we also know that many of our colleagues and administrators on our own campuses do not fully recognize, understand, acknowledge or value what we really do. Recently, I heard a story of a college president who walked into the counseling department and saw the hordes of students waiting in the lobby. The president asked a counselor, "What are all these students doing here?" The counselor said, "It's fall registration. This is our busiest time." That seems trivial, but to have a college president not understand this, shows the lack of understanding about what we do.

With $22 million dollars cut from matriculation, $30 million cut from CalWORKs, and all of the $5.2 million Staff Development monies eliminated, the target of the cuts show an obvious attack on where we are most vulnerable-student services, specifically counseling. I have asked my colleagues across the state-at conferences and on the counseling listserve-"How are the budget cuts affecting your college?" Many counseling faculty responded to that question. Here are just a few responses.

At one college, all adjunct counseling resources have been eliminated. At another college, all counseling positions have been frozen. At a number of colleges, since all staff development money is gone, there will be no college conference money for counselors to attend the counselor training conferences at UC and CSU. At another college, the Learning Disabled students will no longer have tutoring. Many CalWORKs programs are eliminated or will have a skeleton crew to transition the CalWORKs students to other programs. At one college, there was a reduction to their counseling contracts for seven counselors that were moved from 215 days to 195 days, a 20-day reduction. The total savings was $38,943 and the loss to students was over 4,000 student contacts. This same college asked counselors to return to work for reduced pay. Several counselors chose take the lower rate of pay to protect their jobs. They were told there wasn't any money, and then more money was found. One college simply slashed 38% out of the counseling department. Some colleges are consolidating positions, eliminating others and downsizing support staff. Another counselor mentioned the issue of "college starter" programs, whereby the K through 12 students can attend the community college-yet the state is not funding such programs. Instead the state is slashing the budget and allowing the youngsters access to community college education.

These are only a handful of examples of the fallout counseling faculty are seeing as the budget knife has cut into the heart of counseling and student services. Many counseling faculty are trying to do the best they can with the set of cuts that have hit them and to see as many students as possible. However, the consensus is "we" know our students are being hurt. This is happening at a time when our colleges, "they," are asking "us" counseling faculty.

Why our transfer numbers are not rising more steadily.
Why we cannot open for longer hours and on the weekends.
Why we cannot start an online, web advising program.
Why we cannot start an ambassador program.
Why we cannot do more outreach with less release time.
Why we cannot offer more classes.
Why specialists cannot be in different department areas.
Why we cannot be more involved on committees.
Why we cannot see more students in less time.
Why we cannot provide more career counseling workshops, transfer workshops, probation workshops, time management, stress management and life skills workshops.

"They" want "us" to explain why we can't do more with less. "They" want more transfer numbers, more graduation numbers, more outreach numbers, more application numbers, more FAFSA numbers. The goal is to have more, more, bigger and more impressive numbers to display and revel in.

How do we get those larger numbers? Outcomes, Student Learning Outcomes is the current mantra in the planning circles that are humming the answer to our prayers, saying outcomes over and over again. "Outcomes" -we are now expected to go along the "outcome" path to la la land without truly questioning the legitimacy of what that really means. What does that mean for counseling faculty? Just what are we doing and for what reason? Is our success solely dependent on bigger numbers? What about our students?

These are really bad budget times. We all know that. The one thing that seems clear to me is that as colleges struggle to adapt to the budget cuts, something has to go. That something comes down to either we reduce access, or we reduce services or quality of services to our students. There are going to be consequences for either path. Since most colleges will not consider reducing access, what option does that leave?

It is unmistakable in these economic times that "we" counseling and library faculty fall on the 50% law's dark side of the ledger. As long as we are not considered faculty on the other side of the 50% law, we are open targets. The matriculation cuts have hit deeply into of many of our counseling departments and Transfer Centers. How can we continue to give our students less than they deserve? As long as "we" are on the dark side of the 50% law, we will be treated differently than other faculty. "We" are vulnerable and the Academic Senate has adopted resolutions in support of our position on the issue. (See below.)

So one way to move beyond "us" and "them" is to stay current with the issues we are dealing with in the state. We must work together as a united counseling faculty and bring our insight and expertise to the table. Get involved on a local level. I urge you to become involved with your local academic senate and your unions. It is up to "us" to attempt to bridge the gap of understanding with "them." Our students depend on us. We know that.

*(If you would like to be on the counseling listserve, please e-mail Renee Tuller reneetuller [at] cox.net)


Fall 1999

REAFFIRM its previous position that counselors, librarians, and other faculty whose assignment may not be primarily in the classroom are faculty.

Spring, 2001

WORK to amend California Education Code 84362(b)(1) and (d) to include the salaries of "counseling and library faculty"; WORK to amend California Education Code 84362 (d) such that the minimum percentage of any district's apportionment spent on classroom, library, and counseling faculty salaries increases from the present standard of fifty percent to a percentage that is commensurate with the inclusion of counseling and library faculty members; and REAFFIRM the importance of establishing a statutory minimum percentage of instructional expenditure by districts and the value that such a criterion has in protecting the academic standards and central importance of instruction in the California Community Colleges.

Spring 2001

URGE the Chancellor to protect counseling faculty and library faculty form unwanted attacks and work with the appropriate associations in gathering data and developing a survey to assess the impact of the 50% law on student success; and WORK with the Chancellor on re-convening the 50% law task force to review and study the data and to consider whether to recommend amendments to the 50% law (such as substantially increasing the percentage to include counseling and library faculty).

Spring 2002

OPPOSE the layoff of any counseling faculty as a result of matriculation budget cuts.