No Liquids or Gels

September
2006
Ian Walton, President

Will it rain? Will it get too hot? Will the person next to me chain smoke the whole day?

I'm sitting in a large cow pasture in North Oxfordshire on my annual pilgrimage to the Fairport Cropredy Convention music festival-an astonishing tribute to a sixties british folk rock band that most people think split up in 1979. But you should never give up on your dreams that easily. A year later came the first of the ever larger annual reunions that now gather 20,000 people for this three-day outdoor festival. Next year's the big "40" and the ever changing cast of musicians that make up the band are well on the way to achieving their self-described vision of being the first "self perpetuating rock band in history."

But I digress. Gone for a fleeting moment are the nuances of Sacramento politics, the delicate balance of personalities and priorities and the overwhelming volume of phone calls and emails. Everything comes down to a few creature comforts like cold and wet. It may not even matter much if the music is good-but of course it always is in one way or another.

Suddenly though, work is intruding in an unusual way. The rules have just changed. Heathrow Airport is a nightmare of cancelled flights and scared, confused passengers. I have three days to figure out how to repatriate all the fragile, valuable items that can no longer come with us in the cabin-the travel guitar that was no problem on the outbound journey and the Scottish crystal vase that we were given as a wedding present to take back for our daughter.

The rules have changed and the old answers don't work. But there are new possibilities.

And that's where work reared its ugly head. Our system operates under a complex set of rules embedded in Education Code, Title 5 regulation, and local policies and procedures. Some people argue that we should simply abolish them all-of course that would only produce a new set of problems. But a simple change of viewpoint or a minor adjustment to the rules can open up endless new possibilities-like a scintillating kaleidoscope or perhaps a distorting hall of mirrors. What does it take to see those new possibilities? And how do you get enough buy-in to make them actually happen. If we're effective leaders we do these conjuring tricks every day-the "six impossible things before breakfast."

At the local level it sometimes takes a friendly nudge from outside to shake loose those entrenched personalities that prevent the solution of a problem-or to find them a new job elsewhere. And that raises a good example of this type of challenge. I'm frequently told that there's a serious shortage of new administrative leadership in our system and i'm asked when the Academic Senate is going to fix the administrative retreat rights problem. but it's really a broader problem of limited professional mobility in our system. Potential new administrators are loathe to give up the security of tenure in their own district. But correspondingly, senior faculty can't move to another district without sacrificing salary and benefits. In a normal system, movement is a way of getting promoted and it's a way of getting new blood and ideas. Even "impossible" individuals often blossom in a new setting. An obvious solution would be some sort of state level agreement to preserve tenure and salary and benefits when transferring to another district. But that's tricky because it would affect the budget, and budgets are determined locally. The very advantages of local control in bilateral governance sometimes make systemwide solutions difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

At the state level a very similar challenge is the conversation about ensuring that noncredit courses eligible for increased apportionment funding should demonstrate a comparable level of academic quality in the services they provide to students. From a faculty point of view the two most glaring discrepancies are full-time/parttime ratio and faculty load. the current systemwide percentage of full-time faculty in noncredit programs is 10%. That could be changed by the introduction of a new Title 5 regulation comparable to the one for credit. But is there enough support to ensure passage by the Board of Governors? As for load, many noncredit faculty teach the full-time equivalent of a 30-37 hour class load. that assumes no activity outside the classroom: no research or class preparation and no additional meetings with students. How can you offer an educationally sound package in these circumstances? Our often-disadvantaged noncredit students deserve the same level of instructor interaction, inside and outside the classroom, and the same level of support services as our credit students. If the state provides funding comparable to credit classes it ought to insist on comparable classroom preparation and interactions with students. But load is locally bargained and the state has no mechanism to require that districts negotiate a reduction in noncredit load. So there's the same difficulty as with mobility. How do we achieve statewide solutions to issues that are determined locally?-even though the same problem may exist in every district. It's the old conundrum of state revenue and local expenditure.

And lest you think that it's all hopeless, I think the trajectory of the graduation requirements in math and english is an example where changing viewpoints allowed for an unusual solution that should meet everybody's needs and prove an enormous gain for our students. At their September meeting in Sacramento, the Board of Governors unanimously approved the change in degree requirements. They also supported a massive injection of funds and activity into the basic skills initiative targeted towards improving performance in our basic skills courses. They sent a clear message that we must succeed in both areas. So in this case, the original conversation about graduation requirements led directly to a larger issue where all the constituency groups came together in remarkable unity to propose a comprehensive package of activities. The Board has already held a whole-day retreat and approved project funding for research and professional development in this budget year, plus a budget change proposal for local implementation funding in 2007-08. Of course it took a while-conversations in the math community began in 1999 and we may finally affect all students by about 2013. Deliberation R Us!

I'm sure you can think of many more examples where seemingly intractable problems can be solved with a fresh perspective. we're going to explore this further as the theme of our Fall Plenary session in Newport beach-New Possibilities: radical solutions to Perennial Problems. So i hope you'll bring your own set of challenges and solutions and share in the exploration. I look forward to hearing the stories.

Meanwhile, back at heathrow the answer was fairly easy to obtain. Just ask one of the astonishing number of helpful british Airways personnel and you'll get the official interpretation of the day-subject, of course, to approval by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. By tomorrow the rules will have changed again. Fortunately or unfortunately that's not how we do business in the California community colleges. We get to craft our own solutions together.

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.