To Refer or Not to Refer? That is the Question

April
2024
Area C Representative and Resolutions Committee Chair
ASCCC Treasurer

Resolutions are the instrument through which the member senates of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) direct the work of the Executive Committee and the organization. Some proposed resolutions generate significant discussion and debate, leaving delegates unsure of how to vote on them. Normally, proposed resolutions authorize or require clear courses for action, but sometimes the intent of a proposed resolution is unclear. Considerations for proposing resolutions were outlined in the November 2023 Rostrum article “Resolutions Considerations” (Reese & Aschenbach, 2023), but the option of referring resolutions to the Executive Committee can create confusion for some voting delegates.  

Updates to the Resolutions Component of ASCCC Website

Recent updates to the ASCCC website under the resolutions heading have created three subheadings to assist faculty seeking information on resolutions:

  • Resolution Process—This subheading details the current resolutions process, including information for the ASCCC’s Spring 2024 Plenary Session.
  • Adopted Resolutions—This subheading contains resolutions adopted by the ASCCC at past plenary sessions.
  • Referred Resolutions—This subheading contains resolutions referred by the plenary delegates to the ASCCC Executive Committee, denoted with an “R” next to the number.

Basics of Referred Resolutions

The ASCCC’s Resolutions Handbook (ASCCC, 2021) states that resolutions can be referred to the Executive Committee for the following reasons:

  • More information or clarity is needed;
  • More time to debate the issue on local campuses is needed; or
  • The resolution may be worthy of consideration for adoption but is written in a manner that makes the intent unclear.

The motion to refer a resolution to the Executive Committee requires a second, is debatable, and requires a majority vote of delegates to adopt. In addition, the maker of the motion to refer must articulate the reason for referring the resolution, and the motion should specify whether the Executive Committee is to either research the issues and report at a later date or research and take action. The Resolutions Handbook further states, “A motion to refer must include a date by which the resolution is to be returned to the body upon completion of the referral instructions by the Executive Committee” (ASCCC, 2021).

In recent years, motions to refer resolutions have most often opted for the “research and report” option. Referred resolutions may be addressed in a number of ways, including but not limited to the ASCCC President reporting back at a plenary session, working with authors to clarify resolutions for re-consideration at a future plenary session, or writing Rostrum articles that provide updates on the issues the resolution concerns. A resolution cannot be referred to direct the Executive Committee to accomplish what the resolution seeks to do.  

The statements and descriptions in the Resolutions Handbook do not provide an entirely clear process for referrals. The ASCCC Resolutions Committee is working on recommendations to the Executive Committee in order to address gaps in clarity concerning the resolutions referral process.

Considerations When Deciding Whether to Refer Resolutions

Resolutions that are voted down and are not adopted do not set a position of the ASCCC. Only adopted resolutions may establish an ASCCC position. Therefore, if the intent of a resolution is unclear, delegates may vote down the resolution, after which the author may bring an improved version to the next plenary session. Such a returned resolution would still require only a majority delegate vote for adoption, whereas reversal of a previously adopted position requires a two-thirds vote by the delegates. Thus, voting down a resolution rather than referring it may in some cases be a preferable choice, as doing so will not impact the process for future approval and will allow the resolution’s author greater control over the revision.

Executive Committee members are always available to assist faculty in writing resolutions, with the Resolutions Committee being the first point of contact through resolutions [at] asccc.org. If debate on a resolution that was referred suggests that the intent of the resolution is unclear, Executive Committee members can work with the resolution’s authors to rewrite and clarify the intent of the resolution. If the authors are amenable to this process, then the improved resolution can be brought to the next plenary session for consideration by the delegates.  

A recent example of this process is referred resolution 01.04R F22, which concerned alternating area meeting days and was referred to the Executive Committee to research feasibility and report back information by the Spring 2023 Plenary Session. After a number of conversations exploring the ideas in this resolution and considering possible options, including the history and logistics of area meetings and feasibility, Executive Committee members collaborated with the original resolution’s author to create a new resolution that was subsequently adopted at the Spring 2023 Plenary Session as Resolution 01.03 S23. [1]

Without the clear guidance of an adopted resolution, Executive Committee members are often in the awkward position of trying to research and address referred resolutions without fulfilling the directions of the resolved statements of the resolution. For example, the delegates to the Spring 2023 Plenary Session referred Resolution 13.04 S23, which sought to add a definition of academic freedom to Title 5 regulations, along with its associated five amendments due to a lack of clarity and to disagreement among the delegates. Academic freedom is a critical and expansive topic with much interest from faculty. In this case, significant research on academic freedom and also inclusive stakeholder input would be needed to produce recommendations and an updated resolution, which would come close to addressing the intent of the resolved statement of the resolution. Instead, a Rostrum article summarizing the state of academic freedom in the context of the ASCCC was produced by the ASCCC’s Educational Policies Committee, to which the referred resolution was assigned. With the background information provided in the Rostrum article, the hope is that the ASCCC’s member senates will be able to make an informed decision on how to proceed.  

Adopted resolutions reflect the will of the member senates. Referred resolutions do not reflect the will of the delegates, and yet the Executive Committee must expend resources on addressing referred resolutions. Considerable time and effort is often spent in order to simply provide background information on a referred resolution, leaving fewer resources for the Executive Committee and other ASCCC committees to address adopted resolutions that provide direction that is clearly supported by the member senates. Therefore, limitations on and use of resources should be a consideration in determining whether to refer a resolution.

Delegates often seem to feel some trepidation or unwillingness to vote down proposed resolutions. However, resolutions may be rejected for a variety of reasons, including lack of clarity or avoiding potentially unintended consequences, rather than the majority of the delegates not being desirous to support the general intent of the resolution. Often, the nature of the debate and discussion at the plenary session will elucidate the reasons for reservations concerning a resolution. However, voting a resolution down does not set a position; only adoption of a resolution determines a position of the ASCCC. Voting against a resolution is simply a vote against the resolution in its current state, not necessarily all the ideas it contains. Referral of resolutions is an option available to plenary session delegates, but this option should be exercised thoughtfully, as voting down a resolution may in some cases be a more productive choice.

References

Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. (2021). Resolutions Handbook.

Reese, E., & Aschenbach, C. (2023, November). “Resolutions Considerations.” Senate Rostrum


1. Full text of all ASCCC resolutions