Local Senate Succession Planning: Some Considerations

ASCCC Secretary

Unless your local senate has procedures in place for selecting a new president automatically (i.e., a president-elect, or a bylaw or constitutional requirement that the vice president becomes the president automatically), succession planning is integral to being a senate president. Yet, succession planning can be one of the more difficult things for a senate president, especially a new senate president, to begin considering. In recent months, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) has received a number of inquiries about the ASCCC’s view on the “requirements” or qualifications to be a senate president, and, while this article does not represent an official ASCCC position, it does provide some suggestions and effective practices for succession planning and recruiting individuals to serve on your local senate.

One of the most frequently asked questions the ASCCC has received is about the practice of having an untenured faculty member serve as a senate officer or senate president. Unless your college or district has a restriction on electing untenured faculty, the practice itself is allowed, and the ASCCC has not taken a position on the service of an untenured faculty member on the senate executive board at a local college.

However, there are a number of issues to consider based on local practices and views on the tenure process. Is the emphasis in your tenure process on teaching and scholarship, or is there also a service requirement that tenure track faculty have to meet in order to progress in the process? How close is the faculty member to receiving tenure? There is a significant difference between being in the first year or two of the tenure process versus being in the final phase, and that difference should be a consideration as well. Faculty who are early in the tenure process might have a more difficult time speaking out for fear of retaliation by college administration or even the board. Because the senate is the only organization given the right in statute to address the board, it is essential that the senate president (and members of the executive board, in case of the president’s absence) feel comfortable addressing the board, including potentially criticizing or speaking against the administration. Untenured faculty leadership may find direct confrontation more difficult, as they may worry that this action would be used against them in the tenure process. Finally, is the faculty member being considered for the senate executive board someone who has been around the campus for a long period of time (as a former part time faculty member, for example) and who has been involved and is knowledgeable about the components of the campus? If someone served on the senate as a part time faculty member and already has a relationship with the campus leadership, it might be easier for that individual to step into a leadership position at an earlier time in the tenure process than someone who is new to the campus.

Another consideration to take into account when considering succession planning is the combination of disciplines, modalities, and experiences of the members of the senate overall. Does the meeting time of the senate automatically disqualify members of the faculty from being able to participate in senate meetings and therefore prevent them from not only serving on the senate, but potentially serving as a member of the executive board? Is the size of a department also a barrier for select faculty members? For example, what if a department only has one faculty member, which is often the case in some of our Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, and that individual is also the program director? Or, if meetings are held in the afternoons, and all science labs are held in the afternoons, do senate meeting times preclude science faculty from having the opportunity to serve? If so, is it possible to move the meetings or have interested faculty talk to the department chair or dean to allow them the freedom to attend the meetings? The introduction of the position of the CTE liaison has enabled more career technical faculty to serve on local senates, but these same issues (labs, timing of courses, single person departments) may preclude faculty who want to be involved in senate leadership from having the opportunity to do so. Conversations with administration, department chairs, and individual faculty about the importance of diversity within the senate in terms of not only ethnicity and race, but also disciplines, modalities, and experience are essential to ensure that all faculty voices are heard.

Finally, what should the role of the outgoing president be once a succession plan is in place? At some campuses and districts, the position of “past president” exists, which enables the former president to assist the incoming president; however, if the former senate president goes into an administrative position (which is happening more and more often), this model may prove too difficult. It is important for former senate presidents to recognize that they are a valuable resource for the new president and to be available for information and questions; however, it may be difficult for the new president to find footing if the former senate president is present at meetings, as the senate may turn to that individual for leadership. Balancing cooperation and mentorship with the ability to let go of the president’s role is one of the most difficult but most important aspects of succession planning.

If your campus does not have a succession plan in place, it might be time to begin to consider adding one to your bylaws or other governance documents. A strong, vibrant, and well-led senate is crucial to the faculty voice for any campus community, and planning for succession, especially in the early stages of a presidency, may prevent issues from arising as a senate president prepares to step down. While change is unavoidable, and indeed important, a smooth transition of leadership can ensure that the senate remains the voice for faculty on local academic and professional matters regardless of who comes into the leadership position.