On the Occasion of the Fortieth Anniversary of the Academic Senate

May
2009
Jane Patton, Incoming President

(This was presented during the Election Speeches at Spring Plenary Session)

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Academic Senate, it is appropriate to look back at our accomplishments and the founding principles of academic senates in California's community colleges, both locally and statewide. Taking stock of our achievements and our core values is a useful and informative exercise, and it helps us set the course for our future.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a turbulent time in the United States and out of that rebellious, take-charge time was born the Academic Senate for California Community College. Thanks to the courage of our founding fathers and mothers, the solid foundation for the faculty leadership in academic and professional matters was laid. Because we are teachers, let's consider a few of the lessons we have learned in the last forty years.

We have learned that the 1960s California Master Plan for Higher Education got it right when it proposed tuition-free higher education, although we know the dream was never realized, and we continue to argue that there are tremendous benefits to California as well as the individual when we have state-supported postsecondary education.

We have learned that through AB 1725 and the resulting changes to law and regulation, the faculty roles have been strengthened; but we must remember that it is insufficient to have the powers if we don't use them.

We have learned that the resolution process and committee structure of the Academic Senate serve us well. The resolutions encourage animated and thoughtful debate and drive the work of our committees. The committee structure provides sufficient breadth to permit progress on the varied tasks, and we have the flexibility to add new committees or put some on hiatus periodically.

We have learned to be adaptable: to review graduation requirements when needed, to adjust our focus in light of the tremendous increase in need for basic skills, to recommend changes to Title 5 in our 10+1 areas.

We have learned (and continue to try to teach others) that when faculty are involved in planning and decision-making from day one, not only are the results improved, but the commitment for implementation is strengthened. I am fond of quoting my USC professor as follows. (If you can get past the allusion to industry, the point of this excerpt is valuable).

The teacher in an institution of higher learning is an officer of the corporation.and not an employee or hired person in the usual sense. To misconceive the basic nature and role of the college or university faculty member threatens the whole concept and function of the higher learning.The college or university is fundamentally different from business, military or governmental organizations.
In a college or university, the faculty members are responsible members of a self-governing community whose relative autonomy is crucial to the nature and process of the higher learning.
This point is extremely complex and very difficult to make clear, yet on its acceptance may hang the welfare and perhaps even the survival of institutions of higher learning. ...the individual faculty member is a self respecting officer of the organization who after proper evaluation by senior members of the community becomes a permanent part of the organization.1

AB 1725 put those very values into law-professionalizing California community college faculty and moving them into higher education.

So, we've looked a bit at our past; how about our present? I have wondered: wouldn't it be helpful if the job of Academic Senate president came with high beam headlights and rear view mirrors? Senate leaders need to provide the vision to see where we're headed (or should be heading) as well as the rear view mirrors to understand our past.

I got a call last week from a senate president. At her college, the current practice is for the union to set class size limits, without the participation of the senate or the curriculum committee. The challenge for the senate was in determining what should be done and the best strategy for revisiting a practice that was instituted in the past but that may not be the best approach today.

I spoke to another senate president last week who was consumed with trying to help administrators understand why the senate was concerned about the implementation of a new administrative software system. She indicated that students we not receiving timely information about when and how to register and such processes as wait lists and pre-requisite enforcement were compromised with the new software. This senate president's challenge was in convincing administrators that these issues are a part of academic and professional matters, and not merely administrative matters. If students weren't getting into their classes and if prerequisites were not enforced, the senate did (and should) care.

These two cases exemplify local senates in their daily duties of asserting the academic senate's 10+1 responsibilities. I have no doubt that these two, very healthy senates under their capable leadership will resolve these situations. While local senates wrestle with many internal challenges, there are also pressures that affect our colleges from the state level. Here are a few of my concerns.

I am concerned about outsiders charting our course for us, and making policy decisions that rightly belong in the hands of those within the colleges and the system. (We will address a new resolution about nonprofit foundations, which raises this concern).

I am concerned about competing demands and stresses put on our colleges that stretch us beyond our means. Ideally, community colleges can set their own local priorities about which of the allowable missions will be their focus, depending on their local community's needs. The new Enrollment Management paper presents some strategies for senates to engage in a dialog about its institutional priorities or its balance of curriculum.

I am concerned about the end becoming more important than the means; the outcomes more important than the process; the destination more important than the journey. Education cannot always be measured and weighed, and if faculty do not keep clear about this, no one else will. General education helps to develop the student as an informed, thinking member of society, and the student's new awareness, new synapses, improved critical thinking skills cannot be measured by standardized tests.

I am concerned about shift towards using more contingent faculty-a trend that not only affects community colleges in California but all higher education in the country, as reported by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). It is not the people who teach part time that is the concern. The issue is ensuring the number of full-time faculty that is required to ensure the academic and professional responsibilities are completed, including advising students, writing curriculum, conducting program reviews and full participation in governance activities.

What are the solutions to challenges such as these? Likely because of my background in group communication theory, I believe along with Robert Frost that "The best way out is always through." Working through our governance structures is essential-both locally and at the state level. And if we don't like the governance structure, we should change it.

So on the occasion of our 40th anniversary, I conclude that we should be thankful for the institution of the Academic Senate-local and state. I suggest that if basic skills are the foundation for student success in California community colleges, then the academic senate is the foundation for faculty success in academic and professional matters.

I am energized by you, the faculty leaders in California's community colleges, and look forward to continuing our work together for the good of students, faculty and our colleges.


1 Pulias and Wilbur, Principles and Values for College and University Administrators, 1983.

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