Shooting the Messenger
"DUCATION IS NOT JUST A BUSINESS," concluded a recent Los Angeles Times1 article commenting on published national and statewide reports on charter schools. Analysts' conflicting interpretations about data reported by K-12 charter schools' successes or shortcomings do nothing to diminish a larger conclusion: schools cannot be run like businesses, student attendance isn't a marketing strategy, knowledge and understanding are not produced like a commodity, and regardless of "market demand" generated by parents, a for-profit corporation financed on taxpayer dollars needs to do as well as if not better other tax-funded school systems. Education is not a business.
We community college faculty have said the same thing-in papers, resolutions, and deed-resisting the imposition of corporate models upon our community colleges, rejecting accrediting efforts to tie faculty evaluations to student outcomes, as though students' education were a result of an assembly line effort. We bristle when our supporters argue that community colleges are a capitalist's "bargain" when honestly, the "cost savings" is a result of policy decisions that result in chronic underfunding that provides us significantly less per student than the national average: approximately $4300 vs. $8400.2
We could have told those in Sacramento that the effort to redirect UC and CSU students to the community colleges was unlikely achieve savings or reap enthusiastic endorsements from students. We could have told them that waiving enrollment fees of redirected students was a grave insult to our other traditional students. We could have told them that such last-minute decisions made for nightmarish administrative planning, that increasing students' fees 144% in 18 months was likely to disenfranchise the most needful of our students. Certainly newspaper editorials noted that these increased fees were poorly disguised tax increases. We could have told them. Oh, wait-we did tell them!
We also told the administrators and Board of Trustees of the California State Universities that their proposed but imperfect Title 5 change could be improved upon, that progress had been made in faculty discussions over guaranteed admission, unit ceilings and counseling obligations, if they'd just wait until their next meeting. It was a message that those determined to march forward did not want to hear.
No one seems to listen. How is it that we can be so singularly unsuccessful at persuading policy makers, when we voice faculty's resolutions and positions, and when we become a harmonic member of the community college system? After all, we are academics. We understand the value of metaphoric militarism in arguing a case against those who wage war against the poor, or those who would seek the American dream through the community college system: we can marshal evidence, rally proponents, arm ourselves with others, gird our positions, parry cause with effect, deed with consequence, unleash a volley of facts in support. Instead, faculty are subjected to sniping and potshots, or, worse yet, simply ignored.
Why are policy-makers hostile or even disinterested, unwilling to hear the advice we proffer, ignoring the expertise we can bring to discussions? What can account for our surprising ineffectiveness, and their inattention to us whether in unison or solo in expressing its concerns?
HAS IT BEEN THE MESSENGER?
Perhaps. Though increasingly the constituency groups throughout the system have been speaking as a chorus, not a cacophony, on student needs identified across the system: Master Plan and textbook bills come to mind. Even the Chancellor has been frustrated in his efforts to convey our system's position to policy-makers or to his counterparts in other post-secondary segments. Moreover, other community college faculty voices have shared our Academic Senate plaints in particular. Our partners in the Council of Faculty Organizations (CoFO)-union and FACCC representatives-have consistently objected to student fees, for example. We have worked with others to redirect legislative efforts to confer teaching tenure on administrators without appropriate peer review in midnight bills on the Master Plan. Presently we are collaborating with the Community College League of California (CCLC) and other interested Consultation parties to create a system-wide response to the recommendations of the California Performance Review (CPR). And, with a remarkable degree of harmony, a trio of voices is drawn from the academic senates of CCC, UC and CSU as the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates (ICAS). We collaborated to improve legislative efforts regarding transfer, common course numbering and articulation in SB 1415. This group, too, will address the CPR this fall.
The Academic Senate has shared our analyses of the CPR document, published in an effort to root out "fraud, waste, and abuse." We urge faculty around the state to use our data and the forums sponsored by CCLC, scheduled in September, to educate your local boards, your local state representatives, and particularly prospective candidates for office. We know that our outspokenness has already caused Schwarzenegger's Performance Review Executive Director, Billy Hamilton, to call our reasonable concerns the "yell" of "stuck pigs."3 We have spoken for the faculty perspectives, and we hope to speak in concert with others on behalf of the system itself throughout the fall and early winter as these recommendations find-or fail to find-legislative support.
If through our Senate resolution processes, and through our leadership, we find ourselves to be the least convincing voice, we nonetheless contribute to the analysis and rationale of others. Those efforts suggest that it's not just faculty, not just the community colleges who have served as messengers, subjected to the slings and arrows of policy-makers' indifference. Insofar as our message conformed to their desires, we were welcomed. All right, we were tolerated or perhaps coopted. However, when our widely held views are not congruent with their own views, or when they don't serve the private ambitions or personal predilections of the few, it matters little who the messenger is.
SO HAS IT BEEN THE TONE OF THE MESSENGER?
Certainly the Chancellor's Office Agency Review believes that to be the case. In a draft to be submitted to the Board of Governors, the authors report that "pleadings" for adequate funding was "derided as `whining' by the control agencies."4 Those in the capital branded us "whiny" for drawing attention to the inequities of our funding, for insisting on the $9200 that the Real Cost of Education Project determined was a base, equitable minimum. For wanting our students to succeed, for complaining like angered parents (in local parentis) or feisty siblings on their behalf, we have been judged "whiny."
Has our message from faculty been couched in "strident" tones-as suggested by some members of Consultation? Or have we been merely insistent when adopting and acting upon our principles? Have we maintained consistent, if not necessarily popular views? Have we persisted in asking the state and its various economic interests to contribute its fair share to the education of our students? I believe that our paper on student fees, to be presented this fall, will justify not only our position but our tone on this particular matter; as readers, you may decide for yourself whether the previous tone of adopted resolutions and papers have undermined the intended message. I, for one, don't think so.
HAS IT BEEN THE VERY MESSAGE ITSELF?
Let's consider some of the messages we've carried forward recently.
Funding: Even in boom times, no one has appreciated our system's requests for increased funding. Instead, Sacramento policy makers seemed more eager to hear expressions of delight over what we were given. Continually, it seemed, we were given what we didn't ask for (a mysterious $26 million for instructional equipment, then deleted from PFE), and denied what we needed (faculty professional development, more growth funding). So in times of bust, when we asked for funds, is it surprising that we would be ignored again?
Equalization: As an article in this Rostrum explains, the Academic Senate has always supported the concepts of fair and equitable funding, of some pattern of "equalization." We have supported the need for such funding and our resolutions are clear. But we did not support the use of dated information from 2002-03 that would provide funds to at least one district that under current and available data would no longer be eligible. We demurred, and we said so.
Professional Development: For several years now, and through several administrations, we have argued that only faculty professional development can ensure our teaching is current and effective, can lead to intersegmental cooperation and curricular continuity, can provide faculty with cutting-edge discoveries about student learning and success, best practices, and research. That seems self-evident truism. It's a message that continues to be rejected.
PFE: As a system, faculty and other constituents alike expressed our concerns-first when the compact was initiated, and then when accountability standards remained while the anticipated funding declined by $392 million over the life of the project. This year, once PFE was rolled into the base, smaller rural districts-not slated to receive equalization funds-were subject to a double whammy. To receive what was fair to districts, during negotiations the Chancellor's Office had to consider budget act language that mandates consideration of district-level accountability. The dilemmas posed by unanticipated "Funds for Equalization" made us appear ungrateful as we scrambled to find an equitable distribution method. But then, the distribution mechanism was always the problem. We'd been saying it all along.
Last-minute legislative efforts: We don't like "gut-andamend" legislation, offered in the waning hours without fair hearings, without public debate or citizens' access to printed versions. We're neither ignorant about political machinations, nor nave about why such non-transparent means are used to complete political ends. We understand how these things work; we just don't like them, and we don't believe that's how a democracy should be run. We've said as much.
Students and "unnecessary classes": We are insulted by erroneous observations of some who claim our transfer students take "too many unnecessary classes." Unsubstantiated by credible research, such claims are contradicted by at least two factors: (1) the review of transcripts conducted by the CSU academic senate5 and (2) the discovery that CSU native students take almost as many lower division courses as our students do. Nevertheless, these misguided claims about "excess units" have acquired a life of their own and now require more formal and respectable review to inform our discussions in the Intersegmental Coordinating Council (ICC), ICAS, and system governing boards.
IS IT THAT WE AND OUR SYSTEM ARE IGNORED BECAUSE OF THOSE WHO LISTEN.OR DON'T?
State Administration: The Department of Finance (DoF) seems poised to urge the Governor over the month of September to veto legislation that would benefit our transferring students; the DoF, however, as I draft this article, has not yet even conducted a cost analysis of the bill. Is it a claim for local mandate they fear-that articulation has a price? We have tried to explain: it is nearly impossible to differentiate between the new articulation arising indirectly from legislation, and the articulation we already do as part of our annual work. The value to our students far outweighs any ancillary costs a district here or there may encounter when they shift or augment existing responsibilities. Will the DoF listen to both the CCC and CSU systems as we argue on behalf of legislation sponsored by Senators Brulte and Scott? Why is it not in the best interest of citizens for districts to perhaps pay small amounts to save student/taxpayers an estimated $88 million in long-term savings? Will the Governor hear the voices of the Senate and Assembly who passed these bills? Or the two systems-CCC and CSU-who see slightly different benefits to students in arguing for the legislation? Will the administrative agencies-individuals not elected by the citizenry-make sound, reasonable, evidence-based recommendations rather than attempting to initiate policy on their own? Isn't the responsibility of the executive branch to administer the pronounced will of the people rather than to thwart it?
It doesn't seem to matter who we faculty are or what our position. We are seen as having no power, small and rather shallow pockets hardly worth picking-unless it is the Prop 98 funds or workplace preparation moneys that some seem to covet. Unlike the lessons of our classrooms, their decisions don't have to rely upon evidence and reason. Objections don't have to be articulated clearly-or at all. Ad hominem attacks are permissible. The values we teach and the truths we seek are undercut in Sacramento. There, armed with ammunition for another sort of battle, we enter the arena only to face an unanticipated opponent, with a battle plan designed for another front.
HOW CAN THE MESSENGER REARM?
So why are we so unsuccessful? Who are these people and why don't they hear or comprehend us? What features of our diction or their listening interfere with communication? And how can we ever carry forth the messages we must bear?
We have an immediate opportunity to experiment with new strategies. The California Performance Review is before us. As faculty, we have grave reservations about the CPR proposal to abolish our Board of Governors and our Chancellor's Office as independent entities. This effort would simultaneously abolish public input and consultation of constituency groups, as well as responsibility and reporting to the public and bilateral governance partners, the local boards. We see this act as relegating our system to a mere reporting function under the Secretary of Education, or rather, under a Deputy Secretary for Higher Education. Shifting policy making to political appointees without public input, without scrutiny and transparency, without input from faculty, students, and local districts-we find that inappropriate for a public post-secondary segment. It is a strategy that offers even less than is afforded the struggling K-12 segment with its independent Superintendent and the State Board of Education. That particular recommendation is one of the 33 recommendations contained in the chapter on Education, Training, and Volunteerism and in the report's Appendix II. Faculty will find some recommendations worthy of additional discussion, but most appear to be recycled ideas from the past without substantiation and relying on misconceptions and fundamental misunderstandings. Some recommendations proved unworkable then, and they merit no more attention now. Other recommendations were resurrected from earlier Master Plan discussions or were personal peccadilloes that had been rejected by legislators.
The very preparation of the CPR didn't include those with expertise, though it included dozens of representatives from business and industry. CPR team members were reportedly assigned on the basis of their distance from their field of inquiry. One member of the Education Team was proud to mention in a casual elevator conversation that, no, she had not been affiliated with an educational group, but she "had gone to college and had children in school," so she "guessed that made [her] an expert." Were faculty asked about ideas on transfer and articulation? Were members of the Chancellor's Office asked about the implications of shifts of vocational education to K-12? Only briefly-after the report had already been written. As faculty, we know that's not how independent research is conducted. We know that reports must verify evidence and specious claims. Our message? While we find some recommendations worthy of more discussion, the report contains other suggestions to which we object. That message has been reported widely. It's the only message likely to have impact.
Several shifts in strategy emerge for our discussion this year: (1) Without compromising our principles, perhaps we should form new alliances with unexpected partners who share our aims, if not our reasoning. Find a duet to which we can add our dulcet tones while others carry the melody. (2) We can modify our message: keep our message simple. Details, subtleties, complexities seem to confuse rather than elucidate. Offer what appear to be simple (but not simplistic) solutions. (3) Adopt a new lexicon so our important concepts are couched in a refrain familiar to those who have not heard us-"A rose by any other name."
After all, given our lack of success to date, we have little to lose. That others do not consult us, that others do not listen, does not obviate our obligation to talk about what matters, to share our expertise with one another, to support and inform one another, to help. Faculty are not reticent or silent. We must continue to speak out on behalf of our students, to speak with and for them. We will continue to raise our voices. And our hopes.
1 H. Blume. (2004, August 29). Sixty charter schools fall, with a little shove. Los Angeles Times, p. M1.
2 Chancellor's Office, California Community Colleges. (2003 March) The real cost project. Sacramento: Author, p. 4.
3 J. Hinch. (2004, July 16). Colleges fear losing power. The Orange County Register, p. News 14
4 T.W. Fryer & M. Davies. (2004, September). An aspiration for excellence: A review of the system office for the California community colleges [draft]. p. 24.
5 California State University Academic Senate. (2002, December). Facilitating student success in achieving the baccalaureate degree: Report of the California State University task force on facilitating graduation. Retrieved September 1, 2004 from http://www.calstate.edu/AcadSen/Records/Reports/FacilitatingGraduation.pdf
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.