Survey of Equivalency Practices Reveals Problems

Standards and Practices Committee Chair

Results of the 2004 Academic Senate equivalency survey, completed by faculty representatives from 74 colleges, presented at a fall session breakout included generally encouraging news but also revealed a major problem. First the good news: most senates are satisfied with the way that equivalencies are determined at their colleges and districts.

Faculty reported that they are fully in control of their campuses' equivalency procedures. There is no widespread evidence that administrators play a major role in determining equivalency. Eightyfive percent of respondents indicated that either discipline faculty or discipline faculty and a senate equivalency committee decide equivalencies. Furthermore, over 90% of responding colleges reported that their senates have expressed no dissatisfaction with their college's equivalency policy and practices. Those who did report dissatisfaction complained that their policies were not consistently followed. Thus it is clear that senates are overwhelmingly satisfied with the way equivalencies are handled on their campuses.

Now the bad news: 37% of colleges reported that their policies allow for single-course equivalencies.

This response is shocking in light of the fact that single-course equivalencies are inconsistent with the Education Code and Title 5 Regulations, an opinion expressed consistently by the Academic Senate and supported by the Chancellor's Office legal opinion L 03-28, issued in December 2003. Considering the fact that over 90% of responding colleges report no dissatisfaction with their college's equivalency policies and that the faculty control the equivalency processes on their campuses, we may conclude that these senates are not opposed to single-course equivalencies and in fact participate in granting them. Such complicity places these local senates in direct opposition to the position of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.

The Academic Senate's position on this matter is clear. It can be found in its paper Equivalency to the Minimum Qualifications, adopted in Spring 1999, and in Qualifications for Faculty Serving in the California Community College, adopted in Spring 2004. The Senate has consistently held that in order to ensure that faculty are sufficiently well qualified to teach and perform other faculty functions, they must possess minimum qualifications, which include equivalencies. It is critical to understand that equivalencies are granted to faculty for disciplines, not courses or course sequences within disciplines. The reason why we do not recognize minimum qualifications and equivalencies for anything less than disciplines rests on the principle that someone teaching a course needs to be expert in a whole discipline and thus understand how each course within that discipline fits within the framework of that discipline. This perspective is important for all faculty, both full-time and part-time.

Other problems that some of the attendees at the breakout on equivalencies pointed to other problems such as some applicants for faculty positions who are given assignments while determination of their equivalencies is pending. The danger of such a practice seems obvious. Someone may be teaching who does not in fact possess the required minimum qualifications. The penalty for such a breach of regulations is that the district loses apportionment for any class taught by someone without minimum qualifications. Also, students in any such class would lose the credit they earned for that course. Another common problem identified by those at the breakout is lax standards for establishing equivalency at some districts. For example, some districts award equivalencies based on completion of the course work for a degree even though the applicant has not completed the writing of a thesis or passed required exams. When we allow such a broad interpretation of equivalency, we ignore the meaning of the word equivalent. Both AB 1725 and Title 5 53430, explicitly state that equivalencies are for preparation that is at least equivalent to those minimum qualifications specified in the Disciplines List. This means that applicants who have almost completed a degree are not equivalent to those who have earned that degree.

Of course, pressures of finding qualified faculty can tempt department heads and administrators to relax standards, especially for colleges in areas where the pool of qualified applicants is small. We might even be persuaded that those without minimum qualifications may be capable of teaching courses that are desperately needed to satisfy students demand, especially basic skills classes. Also, the law allows each district, on the advice of its academic senate, to establish its own standards for equivalency.

But staffing faculty positions with those who do not truly possess the minimum qualifications abrogates our obligation to our students to provide them with faculty who are fully prepared to perform as faculty. We also need to keep in mind that AB 1725 (1988) established the system of minimum qualifications to replace the old community college credentials in place when we were more closely aligned with the K-12 system and were called junior colleges. This change was part of the reforms that brought our system into partnership with the other segments of postsecondary education.

Staffing our classes is important - but only if we can assure our students that their instructors are fully qualified to provide them with a college-level experience.

Ultimately it is the local senate that must agree to any changes in the policies that govern hiring. California Education Code 87359 (B), states that the governing board of a community college district must rely "primarily upon the advice and judgment of its academic senate" in establishing its equivalency policy. Faculty may insist that their districts establish policies for hiring faculty, including reasonable and unambiguous equivalency policies that do not result in the erosion of professional faculty standards. The logical alternative is to develop policies, beginning at the state level, that allow for accommodations that may very well compromise our profession.