The community colleges represent the best hope for legions of Californians whose economic fortunes and personal efficacy will rest on their ability to secure ever-increasing levels of sophistication with regard to processing information and applying critical judgment in their work and everyday lives. Beyond that, the community colleges are the space for literate public discourse in a multiplicity of communities across the state. The close of the century presents an opportunity for reflection on the state of the community colleges. As we reflect, we cannot but help register concern, even as we turn hopefully toward the future.
At our Fall 1998 Plenary Session, the adopted paper entitled The Future of California Community Colleges: A Faculty Perspective (available on our website, www.academicsenate.cc.ca.us). In the paper, the Academic Senate committed itself to a vision of the colleges as teaching institutions par excellence. Re-embracing our teaching mission means re-embracing the teaching profession, broadly defined, and dedicating ourselves to a higher level of professional service to our students.
To accomplish those aims, we need to rebuild. Our institutions and our profession are both in need of repair. The largest system of higher education in the nation emerges from this decade among the most underfunded per student. It is staffed by a growing number of part time, adjunct faculty who do not enjoy the protections of due process or tenure. Full-time faculty teach higher loads to larger classes than in the rest of the nation, (2005 Task Force Report) and carry increasing responsibilities for institutional maintenance as the part-time ranks swell. The system is under attack by a growing number of outside commissions and special bodies who pronounce it inept or dysfunctional, and the system is expected to expand its activities to include welfare reform and economic development. Our colleges are misunderstood by many who see the transfer mission to the exclusion of serving the vast majority of our students who visit us to shore up their job qualifications, attain a certificate in a particular vocational area, or catch up on educational needs unmet at earlier times in their lives. The rehabilitation of our institutions will require leaders whose starting point is pride in our accomplishments, and who build on that pride to inspire confidence in the public, support in the Legislature, and ongoing aspiration for excellence in the colleges themselves.
Our profession, too, is in need of rehabilitation. If we are to replace the mushrooming retirements and expand as well as diversify our ranks to meet the demands of "Tidal Wave II," we will need to attend to teaching as a profession. If we are to draw more people into the profession to serve the coming generations of Californians, both the spirit and the reality of an honored profession must be established. Norton Grubb of UC Berkeley, in his book Honored but Invisible: An Inside Look at Teaching in Community Colleges (New York: Routledge, 1999), notes that while the community colleges were established as teaching colleges, in too many cases there is not much there for teachers. Based on extensive interviews and classroom observations in community colleges (primarily but not only in California) Grubb concludes that institutional support for teaching is absent in the majority of community colleges.
AB 1725 envisioned the basis of faculty expertise as twofold: their knowledge as discipline experts and their experience as classroom teachers. While the reform legislation noted that community college faculty were no less in need of intellectual nourishment than their four-year partners, that vision of professional development opportunities for faculty remains stalled. The ongoing increases in professional development funds never materialized and have remained woefully low since the inception of the fund in the late 1980's. With barely enough to cover a conference here or there, little attention has been focused, in recent years, on funding the needs of instructors to maintain currency in their disciplines or recency in occupational developments and technologies. Little material support has been available to encourage vibrancy and creativity in curriculum and program design or to enable faculty to be well-schooled in pedagogy and the arts of teaching. Without ongoing resources-and time-for academic renewal and opportunities for engaged dialogue and communities of practice centered on teaching, faculty efforts to improve instruction and related services tend to remain episodic and individual, rather than sustained and systemic.
Funds alone, however, will not do the job. We, as faculty, must take the initiative and let ourselves believe, as perhaps we once did when our careers began, that teaching is not an isolated activity, to be mastered through a process of trial and error. We must commit ourselves to the view that to teach is to belong to a community whose members share a common purpose and where there is an ongoing concern with mutual support in the improvement of instruction and related support services. Only if we create a culture of teaching excellence will increased funding make a difference in the quality of what we do.
As Grubb points out, in all too many colleges, where the culture of instructional improvement is absent, the flexible calendar days envisioned in AB1725 have devolved into mandatory flex days involving meaningless and tedious group sermons on the need to produce more with less or harangues by outside consultants on yet some new project which denigrates teaching. Faculty are frequently told to experiment with new approaches to pedagogy and student learning, but, according to Grubb, are rarely supported when these new approaches require more resources. Creating communities of learners in blocked classes, team teaching in interdisciplinary contexts, case management approaches to counseling and student services linked more directly to instruction, more time on task and reading and writing across the curriculum, greater student-faculty interaction-all have been linked to enhanced student achievement and satisfaction in the educational literature. But these have in common an increased resource base-more hours of faculty time with fewer students in richer educational contexts.
It is critical that we take advantage of the current opportunities to advocate for the best educational practices. That advocacy must be at both the local and statewide level. Local academic senates have the tools to insist upon the role of informed educational expertise in planning and budgeting processes, in educational program develop-"Teaching" from previous page ment, program review, and approaches to student preparation and success. Academic senates are responsible for policies and processes for hiring new faculty and for curriculum development and approval processes. Rebuilding our profession means taking hold of these tools to forge better approaches, honed to the diverse educational needs of students and the communities we serve. It means rediscovering the impetus for teaching, that passion that drew us into our fields and convinced us to make the community colleges our institutional homes.
At the state level, the recent establishment of the Joint Committee to Review the Master Plan for Education, including K-12 as well as higher education, provides an opportunity for faculty to articulate a vision of community college education re-centered on our teaching mission and organized to ensure that excellent teaching is the institutional priority of each college and the system as a whole. Moreover, the recent economic recovery provides the possibility of more funding for public education and a window of opportunity to restore and to improve our colleges.
Faculty can take a leadership role in raising the issues and concerns regarding the direction of our colleges. Our concerns are those of our students and of the state as a whole. How can we foster humane and effective education for our students? Engaged teaching requires engaged advocacy-at both the college and the state level. The community college movement in California has been about noble ends. It's up to each of us to ensure that movement -and its bright promise of a democratic future for ever more Californians -is kept alive and vibrant.