Thinking Outside the Horse

September
2004
Greg Gilbert,

I was asked recently, "Has the State Academic Senate surrendered its opposition to the new accreditation standards?" My instantaneous reply was "NO!" But then I thought about how the Senate had hosted RP Group workshops and other accreditation related breakouts and discussions at its state plenaries. I considered the Senate's position paper on the 2002 accreditation standards, to be presented at the Fall 2004 Plenary, and the numerous visits by Senate representatives to local colleges to help them prepare to conduct self studies. At first glance, it may appear that after all the hoopla in opposition to the new standards, the Senate has capitulated, hunched its collective shoulders and put them to the SLO grindstone. Though some would welcome such an outcome, the Senate continues to represent one of our last great lines of resistance against a massive incursion of corporate values, and it remains tirelessly dedicated to helping faculty safeguard our colleges from an encircling culture of evidence and marketplace ideologies.

Based on Senate resolutions and resultant position papers adopted by delegates from throughout California, and upon ongoing communication with the field, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges remains forthright in its opposition to the standards, an opposition that is founded on deep differences with those who would impose strict outcomesbased accountability on our community colleges. Taken as a whole, the standards are but one among many inhabitants of a Trojan horse: the California Performance Review (CPR) - a four volume report of 500-plus pages that offers more than 1,000 recommendations for reorganizing California's state government. By loosening a plank and shining a light into the horse's dark interior, we see recommendations intended to consolidate state authority. Among them are proposals to eliminate local boards, diminish shared governance, modify 75/25 to exclude career and technical faculty, add at least a 16 hour community service requirement for students, increase the role of businesses at our local campuses, pilot a community college baccalaureate degree, and establish a state-wide system of accountability. While the surface of the horse is decorated with promises to "do no harm," and recommendations to "eliminate the fat within the government," it embodies an intrinsic ethos that the CPR contributors themselves may not fully grasp: What cannot be measured cannot be assessed and what cannot be assessed cannot be controlled and what cannot be controlled cannot be permitted.

While some may suggest that the CPR model is merely a management mechanism devoted to fiscal exigency, institutional efficiency and public accountability, it is a competing ideology with the academic model. The imposition of high fees and increased aid, for example, represents a corporate model for binding authority over the provision of services; in this instance, others seek to seize control of curriculum and enrollment priorities, in short what is taught and who will be allowed entry. Moreover the CPR recommends that students, "[i]n exchange for the significant investment of taxpayer funds in their education.should be required to perform a minimum amount of community service." Compare this to 1960 Master Plan's guarantee of accessible and affordable education and the difference turns on exclusionary class distinctions and authoritative interests. The CPR goes so far as to cite "California's 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education as an impediment to the development of a state-level accountability system." While CPR recommendations appear intent on contributing to the establishment of a more streamlined and cost-effective government, there can be little doubt that its core values are founded on corporate models that cannot adequately respond to the needs of real students, safeguard a well rounded and balanced curriculum, and engage the complexities of a lively consultation process. Rather, these are areas that require true vigilance on the part of local senates. As noted in a current System Office review, consultation "requires neither consensus nor a majority view," but it does entail "[g]ood faith listening and a sincere desire to understand."

When an autocratic and corporate model takes hold and accountability becomes SOP (standard operating procedure), when collegial consultation is weakened, and when enrollment priorities are determined primarily by marketplace considerations, the stage is set for a decline in the teaching of anything but the "marketable." This point is illustrated when we consider the significance of the Australian experience as a possible precursor to our own immediate future. In the mid-1980's, 85% of higher education in Australia was publicly funded without fees. When the national government changed the mission to that of an entrepreneurial approach, fees were imposed, academic functions of teaching and research were supplanted by nonfaculty staffing, and the traditional roles of the humanities and social sciences went into steep decline.

The question of where the Senate stands on the 2002 Accreditation Standards is a related issue. We cannot accept them as merely a peer process dedicated to improved instruction, for within that Trojan horse there skulks someone determined to dismantle our profession's very standing-and nothing less. Where unyielding power holds sway, intellectuals and educators are always at risk-as is the ineffable and vibrant beauty of a readily available, affordable, comprehensive and dynamic college experience for all who desire it.

Though the Trojan horse offers a logical and mellifluous appeal to employ outcomes for the benefit of our students, and while we have long used assessment strategies as a useful tool for instruction, we understand also that this is not where the standards stop. The Commission insists that we are obliged to disclose the details of our students, classrooms and programs to an ever attentive cadre of taxpayers and government officials-and the standards stipulate that educators are to be evaluated against how well they deliver on SLO requirements. The Commission suggests that compliance with this new "culture of evidence" will hopefully dissuade our elected officials from eliminating peer review and taking over higher education. In a very real sense, the teaching profession hangs between its dedication to students and fear of the government. Though the situation is lamentable, there are things that we know and things that we can do.

First, what we know:

SLO can produce little meaningful aggregated assessment data for reporting purposes beyond the institution. The compilation of SLO data cannot begin to encompass the diverse circumstances of our student base. Cultural, ethnic, racial, and individual variances, student mobility, non-traditional class designs, and regional idiosyncrasies cannot be quantified into a stable portrait of student needs over time.

The implementation of formal assessment, beyond the classroom, involves issues of reliability, validity, feasibility and therefore a requirement for expertise in assessment. The unreliable results of informal local assessments when compounded with erratic demographic information cannot produce valid reportable data.

The new standards are an expensive, unfunded and unproven mandate which places training and production demands on local faculty who already sit on a range of committees, teach courses and work, on average, more than fifty hours per week. Time devoted to obtaining "evidence" does not serve students as well as time devoted to instruction, even when the two endeavors are not mutually exclusive.

So, what can we do? What follows is condensed from the Senate's soon to be released position paper on the new standards. Parenthetical references to resolutions and other documents may be read in their entirety at .

Faculty should familiarize themselves with the basis for local senate rights and responsibilities in the Education Code and Title 5.

Local senates are well advised to take the lead in establishing the processes, timelines and guidelines for creating, identifying and assessing SLO in all matters related to accreditation and ongoing planning, including curriculum, program review-and in close cooperation with all student service related programs (S04 2.01).

Local senates have responsibility for the selection of certain key people involved in the self study process (F03 2.02).

Local senates are strongly advised to employ methodologies that create a blind between individual class sections and the institution to protect the privacy of students and faculty. Institutions should adhere to the 1974 Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), as well as statements on academic freedom and privacy adopted by the Academic Senate and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) (F03 2.01).

Local senates should take measures to safeguard the academic freedom of untenured and adjunct faculty.

Finally, faculty must remember: "We are not victims. We are the largest, hardest working, most creative postsecondary system in the world" (Guidelines).

I, for one, do not doubt the good intentions of many who serve on the CPR teams or with the Accrediting Commission, but the light is dim inside a Trojan horse, and in that cramped space there is a shared mindset loath to think outside the horse. Now, therefore, it remains for us, the faculty, to seize the initiative and do all that we can on behalf of our students, potential students, and to preserve a comprehensive curriculum at every college.

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.