It Really is Like Making Sausage (Sacramento Update)

Jane Patton, President

I now really understand why folks say that legislation is like making sausage. You don’t want to know what goes into it or why.

Every few years a bill comes along that directly affects our curriculum, and this year’s is Senate Bill (SB) 1440, the “Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act.” In its previous life, this “transfer degree” bill had been AB 440 (which the Senate opposed), but when it did not advance, the topic was picked up by Senator Padilla and morphed into SB 1440. While there are aspects of the bill that faculty oppose, the good news is that the newer bill preserves the integrity of associate degrees and provides our students not only with more opportunities to earn degrees but also guarantees admission to CSU. You might recall that the Academic Senate reversed its previous opposition to “transfer degrees” when Resolution 4.03 was passed at the Spring 2010 plenary session. Our position now is to support SB 1440 if it is permissive rather than mandatory.

The bill states, “This bill would require the California State University to guarantee admission with junior status to any community college student who meets the requirements for the associate degree for transfer.” The degrees must include 60 transferable units including either IGETC or CSU GE, and at least 18 units in a major/area of emphasis and may not include additional local requirements.

Because at the time of this writing the bill has not become law, we do not know its final form, so I recommend that you go to to see the final version. It is expected that the bill will be signed in September, with great fanfare. During the summer, the bill was moving along, enjoying widespread support. But in early August, some dramatic changes suddenly appeared which caused a huge uproar. Scott Lay, CEO/President of the Community College League of California (CCLC), summarized the situation this way in his newsletter to CEOs on August 10, 2010.

“Because the bill mandates local community colleges to develop and offer these degrees, it falls under the California State Constitution’s clause that requires the state to reimburse colleges for any associated cost. While we believe the costs to our colleges are absorbable and waiting until the state has additional money is unacceptable, the legislation was recently amended to tie receipt of state apportionment funds to the local adoption of transfer degrees. We believe this sets a bad precedent and could be used in the future to impose more costly and less educationally critical mandates. Therefore, we are working with the Chancellor’s Office to get all college districts to sign a waiver that opts out of the mandate claim process for the requirements for the bill. If we can get seventy-two district waivers, we are fairly certain that we can get the apportionment language removed from the bill.”

Amazingly, all 72 districts did sign a letter and the apportionment clause has been rendered inoperative, although the language will remain in the official record.

In the last few weeks of August, faculty and staff members raised a great number of questions about the details of the bill’s implementation, and of course those details have not been worked out yet. The Chancellor’s Office and the Academic Senate will provide information especially to senate presidents, curriculum chairs and CIOs all along the way, and the best advice I can give right now is to wait and see. It is premature to make any local changes and unwise to speculate or panic while the implementation guidelines are worked out. The goal will be to encourage some system-wide processes rather than each of the 112 colleges developing 112 responses to the bill. The Academic Senate will be very active in every phase of implementation.

So, back to the sausage metaphor. What has been evident in the last weeks as the bill kept changing is that competing constituents have added their two cents’ worth to the bill; unfortunately that can result in changes that are piecemeal and uncoordinated. For example, one group (e.g., CSU) might ask for certain language; then the next day another group (e.g., the Campaign for College Opportunity or the CCC Chancellor’s Office) pitches their changes. The trouble is the two (or ten) constituent groups may never talk directly to one another. How bills change appears to depend on who gets there the most often and what compromises the sponsors or authors need to make with others. And in this system of term limits, the staffers and legislators may have limited knowledge about the subject of a bill. In this case, language changes sometimes occurred daily. I imagine what occurred was that either the CSU or CCC Chancellor’s Office would propose something but because simultaneously a different revision was being added, no one knew what the actual current language was. From my perspective, it seemed to be similar to someone editing an earlier draft of a paper when the document had already been modified.

Trying to keep up with the evolution of bills during August—the last month of the legislative session—has been crazy making. When I try to make sense of things, I keep being reminded that using logic doesn’t work in Sacramento. Legislation is not accomplished the way we normally try to behave, as academics. In governance activities, for example, whether local or state, we recognize there are different constituents who each want their voices heard. I get that. But at least some of the time we can all sit down together, discuss and debate our views, and come to some sort of consensus. Not so with legislation. One has to wait and see what surprises are around the corner.

You may be aware of recent discussions among some articulation officers opposing the SB 1440 requirement that the new degrees include at least 18 units in a major or an area of emphasis (which mirrors the current requirement for all degrees in Title 5). Over the last several years, the Academic Senate has written papers, Rostrum articles and resolutions that clarify the need for students to demonstrate some in-depth knowledge of a discipline if they are to earn a degree. It is noteworthy that under SB 1440, students are not only preparing to transfer, but also earning a degree; hence the need for the specialized, in-depth study beyond the minimal transfer preparation. The students earning an AA for transfer under SB 1440 are simultaneously preparing for the university, but should they never complete the baccalaureate degree, their associate degree must be able to stand on its own as a college degree, like any other AA or AS degree.

In the Academic Senate 2005 paper, What is the Meaning of a California Community College Degree, Title 5 is quoted, a passage that is now in section 55061.

The awarding of an Associate Degree is intended to represent more than an accumulation of units. It is to symbolize a successful attempt on the part of the college to lead students through patterns of learning experiences designed to develop certain capabilities and insights. Among these are the ability to think and to communicate clearly and effectively both orally and in writing; to use mathematics; to understand the modes of inquiry of the major disciplines; to be aware of other cultures and times; to achieve insights gained through experience in thinking about ethical problems; and to develop the capacity for self-understanding. In addition to these accomplishments, the student shall possess sufficient depth in some field of knowledge to contribute to lifetime interest.(p. 6)

So what’s next for SB 1440? The saying “the devil’s in the details” is often quoted in regard to the implementation of SB 1440. The list of details to be worked out following the passage of SB 1440 grows longer by the day. Please know that the Academic Senate aims to facilitate the response to this bill that will most benefit students and preserve the academic quality of associate degrees. We have already begun discussions with the CSU Academic Senate and with the C-ID Steering Committee, the course identification numbering initiative, to coordinate the implementation efforts. While SB 1440 does not require CSU discipline faculty’s concurrence with the content of associate degrees, our intention is to find every possible way to facilitate intersegmental discipline faculty consensus-building, as we believe students will be best served if all the 60 units they take help prepare them for upper division. We will keep you informed and involved through senate and curriculum listservs, conferences, and additional events and publications.

P.S. I am happier than ever that I never go near sausage.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.