Integrating Expectations for Cultural Competence into Faculty Evaluations

April
2021
Cheryl Aschenbach, ASCCC Secretary

The system-wide effort to diversify faculty rests on evidence that a diverse faculty improves the retention and success of diverse students served by the California community colleges. The 2019 Literature Review on Faculty, Staff, and Student Diversity compiled by the Board of Governors Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force summarizes a sampling of this research (California Community Colleges Diversity Taskforce, 2019). As evidenced by multiple resolutions on increasing faculty diversity, this subject has been an on-going interest of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges and has included not just the hiring of diverse faculty but also the retention of faculty of color. Retention of diverse faculty includes employee evaluations and tenure review, which together are a focus of current system-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Some might question why cultural competence should be included in faculty evaluations and tenure review; however, this focus is not new, as it is already called for in California Education Code Part 51, Chapter 3, Article 4, §87663, which includes “requirements for the frequency of evaluations (subsection a), inclusion of a peer review process (subsections c and d), considerations of diversity (subsection d), inclusion of student input (subsection g), and the rights of probationary faculty (subsection h)” (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2013, p. 3). Consistent with many elements of faculty contracts that are bargained locally, this section of Education Code does not specify how these considerations are to be included.

The 2016 EEO & Diversity Best Practices Handbook included a provision to incorporate diversity into employee evaluation and tenure review: “Multiple Method 8 requires that diversity is incorporated into criteria for employee evaluation and tenure review... For Multiple Method 8, the Advisory Committee looked for districts that provide specific criteria to measure diversity and included clear benchmarks demonstrating sensitivity to diversity in employee evaluation and tenure review” (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2016, p. 25).

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Implementation Plan also expresses the need to include diversity-focused criteria in evaluations. Strategy A for Vision for Success Commitment 5 states, “Encourage diversity-focused criteria in employee evaluations and tenure review” (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2019).

Given the long overdue racial reckoning that occurred following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, a greater sense of urgency focused on action is needed. As was noted in the June 5, 2020 letter to the California Community Colleges from Chancellor’s Office leaders, with “more than 69 percent of our students identifying with one or more ethnic groups... we serve the most diverse student body in all of higher education” (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2020). The letter also served as a follow-up to Chancellor Eloy Oakley’s June 3 Call to Action, in which he urged colleges to mobilize around six strategies to take action against structural racism. Strategy #2, “Campus leaders must host open dialogue and address campus climate,” calls for all stakeholders, with a sense of urgency, to have open and honest dialog about how to come together to build safe and inclusive campus communities and learning environments. Strategy #3, “Campuses must audit classroom climate and create an action plan to create inclusive classrooms and anti-racism curriculum,” calls for campus leaders to together engage in an evaluation of courses and programs and for faculty and administration to “develop action plans that provide proactive support for faculty and staff in evaluating their classroom and learning cultures, curriculum, lesson plans and syllabi, and course evaluation protocols.” Strategy #3 also asks district leaders to “[e]ngage with local faculty labor leaders to review the tenure review process to ensure that the process promotes and supports cultural competency.” (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2020).

These system-level documents and directives, developed with representation from groups across the system, should provide motivation for colleges to act. However, if more motivation or a greater sense of urgency is needed, then one can listen to students, who have also spoken directly about the need for the system and colleges to act more urgently and deliberately to develop and support safe, anti-racist, inclusive campus environments. In Fall 2020, tired of talk about change but seeing little meaningful action, the Student Senate for California Community Colleges (SSCCC) created an Institutional Success for People of Color Task Force and held two town halls to engage students, hear their stories and experiences with California community colleges, and collect feedback about SSCCC work. The result was the SSCCC’s Anti-Racism: A Student Plan of Action, adopted September 4, 2020 by the SSCCC Delegate Assembly (Student Senate for California Community Colleges, 2020). Two elements of the Student Plan of Action directly call for or support the need for inclusion of an element of cultural competence and anti-racism in faculty evaluations: cultural awareness and respect and classroom experience.

In the SSCCC’s Anti-Racism: A Student Plan of Action, cultural awareness and respect calls for “Creat[ion of] a climate of cultural awareness and respect to allow students of color to feel welcome, free to express their opinions, and safe in every collegiate environment” by engaging the following strategies:

Confront and address racial profiling and microaggression
Appreciate contributions of Black Americans and other people of color to society
Establish appropriate etiquette sensitive to cultural backgrounds
Create an environment where students can thrive while being their authentic selves (p. 2)

The classroom experience focus calls for “Creat[ion of] a classroom environment that is conducive to learning by ensuring that faculty are representative of the student population, providing students with an opportunity to give feedback to improve their learning experience,” which recommends that faculty evaluations include cultural competency and classroom management. The SSCCC has since developed a DEI Compact with the intention that it be endorsed by system partners, including ASCCC, and integrated into the Board of Governors DEI Integration Plan. At its February 5, 2021 Executive Committee meeting, the ASCCC board endorsed the SSCCC DEI Compact.

Integrating an element of cultural competency, DEI, or anti-racism into evaluations is necessary, but uncertainty may exist about how to make it happen. Since evaluations are largely seen as the purview of bargaining units, questions may be raised about the role of local senates in making this change happen. Education Code §87663(f) includes the provision that “[i]n those districts where faculty evaluation procedures are collectively bargained, the faculty’s exclusive representative shall consult with the academic senate prior to engaging in collective bargaining regarding those procedures.” As noted in the ASCCC paper Sound Principles for Faculty Evaluation (2013), this language means that while bargaining units may negotiate the language specific to faculty evaluations, they must do so with input from academic senates (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2013). The Sound Principles paper further explains that with the purpose of faculty evaluations being to promote professional development and effective student learning, senates and unions should work together to develop processes that support this aim.

This work requires communication, collaboration, respect, and trust, all of which can be developed with intention if the academic senate and union do not already work well together. Meeting together regularly can help senates and unions to discuss areas of shared interest or concern and learn more about each other’s priorities; this practice can better position senates and unions to act proactively together. As senates and unions dialog, they can explore what can be done to integrate cultural competence and DEI into faculty evaluations while respecting the concerns each may have.

While clear impetus exists for including cultural competence in faculty evaluations, doing so is not without concerns. These concerns include worries about possible shaming or punitive consequences. This reservation may be a product of evaluation and professional development programs that seem more focused, either through intent or past actions, on compliance, deficit-mindedness, or correction. It may be a result of a history of mistrust among campus groups, including faculty, or of bad actors. Senates and unions can work together with professional development leaders and administrators to re-envision faculty evaluation and tenure processes as constructive, supportive processes of continual growth and learning. A shift in the culture of evaluation from compliance or deficit-mindedness to supportive, on-going growth can also better enable support for the inclusion of cultural competence in evaluations. Using evaluation processes to explore opportunities for growth for each faculty member, from the exemplar to those still evolving as instructors, counselors, and librarians, can help to remove the stigma associated with a professional development or, as it is sadly sometimes called, a remediation plan.

Another concern is the difficulty of measuring cultural competence, as assessing a faculty member’s effectiveness in regards to DEI matters requires evaluators to be proficient in their own understanding and application of cultural competence in order to evaluate others. Senates and unions can work with college leadership to prioritize and coordinate ongoing professional learning, including on equity, cultural competence, and anti-racism, for all stakeholders, which can serve to establish a common understanding of cultural competence for all involved in the evaluation process. Further, in preparation for the dialog and negotiation of cultural competence in the faculty evaluation process, academic senates and unions together can investigate and recommend viable means of assessing cultural competency, ideally finding potential solutions that are amenable to senates, unions, and administrations while fitting with local evaluation culture and practices.

Some may question whether this issue is purely about faculty or whether all personnel evaluations should include elements of cultural competence. In fact, all should. The DEI Integration Plan calls for cultural competence to be included in all evaluations, including the self-evaluation of boards of trustees. While academic senates and faculty unions can discuss how cultural competence can be included in evaluations and tenure review specific to faculty, if equity and a safe, inclusive environment for all is truly a campus priority, broader dialog should occur with human resources, classified professionals, and other personnel groups in an effort to embed an understanding of and sensitivity to diverse populations into all personnel evaluations.

Academic senates and faculty unions should engage together in honest and meaningful dialog with the intention of integrating an element of cultural competence into faculty evaluations and tenure review. This change may not be easy to achieve, but it is urgent. Advancing local cultures of equity and nurturing safe, inclusive learning spaces for students is needed; local senates and unions can do this work, and they can do it together. Doing so may mean setting aside past differences. It may mean spending time in dialog focused on other topics of joint interest to further develop the respect and trust needed to prepare for recommendations and negotiation together. It may mean joining together and with others to re-orient evaluation and tenure review with an asset- and growth-minded intention and then continuing to work together and with others to ensure professional learning is in place to support the continual equity- and cultural competence-focused growth of faculty and all employees. It should mean senates and unions both honor the Education Code directive by giving senates opportunities to make recommendations on evaluation processes and then having unions handle the negotiations.

REFERENCES

Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (2013). Sounds Principles for Faculty Evaluation. https://www.asccc.org/sites/default/files/publications/Principles-Facult...
California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (2016). EEO & Diversity Best Practices Handbook. https://www.cccco.edu/-/media/CCCCO-Website/About-Us/Divisions/Office-of...
California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (2019). Vision for Success Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Integration Plan. Board of Governors Agenda Item. https://www.cccco.edu/-/media/CCCCO-Website/Files/Communications/vision-...
California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (2020). Memo to California Community Colleges. https://www.cccco.edu/-/media/CCCCO-Website/Files/Communications/vision-...
California Community Colleges Diversity Taskforce. (2019). Literature Review on Faculty, Staff, and Student Diversity. Success Center for California Community Colleges. https://www.cccco.edu/-/media/CCCCO-Website/Files/Communications/vision-...
Student Senate for California Community Colleges (2020). Anti-Racism: A Student Plan of Action. https://studentsenateccc.org/news-events/newsroom/newsroom.html/article/...

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