Votes of No-Confidence: An Academic Senate Perspective
The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) has received many questions regarding exactly what a vote of no-confidence means when directed at an individual administrator, a board or office, or an idea or plan. At a college or district, a vote of no confidence by the academic senate can have a variety of meanings. The reasons for such a vote should be clearly spelled out in the resolved statements of a resolution that explicitly indicates what the action is intended to convey—alarm, a concern, a broken trust, or a call for removal of an individual. Resources exist for academic senates considering local action and are listed at the end of this article. In all cases, an academic senate should think carefully, evaluate the principles involved and the political landscape of the environment, and generally take the step of a vote of no confidence only when all other mechanisms of communication have failed.
The ASCCC and local academic senates have at their core an obligation to utilize the educational expertise of faculty to evaluate and make recommendations about how institutions should best serve students. Local academic senates are empowered by their boards of trustees with the authority to make recommendations in academic and professional matters as explicitly spelled out in Title 5 §53200. However, although the role of the ASCCC with the Board of Governors is similar, matters work somewhat differently at the state level. The ASCCC is ordered by law to work with the Board of Governors and the Chancellor’s Office. For example, California Education Code 66025.71, which deals with granting credit for military experience, states, “The Office of the Chancellor for the California Community Colleges, in collaboration with the Academic Senate for the California Community Colleges, shall do both of the following…” Numerous similar examples exist in which the law orders the ASCCC to work with the administration. For the ASCCC, therefore, working collaboratively with the Chancellor’s Office and the Board of Governors is not just a right and a responsibility, as it is for local senates, but also a legal obligation.
At the state level, the ASCCC has only utilized a vote of no-confidence once, in Spring 1994, Resolution 07.01 regarding Chancellor Mertes. In the June 1994 issue of the Rostrum, ASCCC President Regina Stanback-Stroud cited “the years of frustration by the faculty combined with the Chancellor’s disengagement with the faculty” as the reasons for the vote of no confidence in Chancellor Mertes. Previous consideration of a vote of no confidence was placed on hold in Fall 1993, and Chancellor Mertes was advised that a vote of no confidence was being discussed but “did nothing to address his alienated relationship with the faculty” (Stanback-Stroud, 1994). Thus, the only vote of no confidence taken by the ASCCC came after an extended period of consideration and repeated attempts to address the situation in other ways. At all other times in which dissatisfaction regarding individuals, organizations, or initiatives has existed, the ASCCC delegates have chosen to use language that indicates protest, concern, or even condemnation but not to take the step of a no confidence vote.
Given the context of the one instance in which the ASCCC issued a vote of no-confidence, the defined role of the ASCCC, and specific laws that direct the organization at the state-level, a vote of no-confidence by the ASCCC would mean that we collectively believe that complying with our legal obligation to consult with the Chancellor’s Office is more harmful to our students than not. Such an action would mean that local academic senates would cease to work on directives or initiatives from the Chancellor’s Office and abdicate their right to influence local policy to their boards of trustees. In 1994, this situation is what transpired. Nevertheless, the Board of Governors at the time reviewed the concerns expressed and did not remove Chancellor Mertes, who eventually resigned of his own accord. Such an outcome is typical with votes of no confidence: they may create pressure and draw attention to issues, but no board or individual has a legal or technical obligation to respond to or act upon such a vote.
Other organizations may undertake an action with similar or the same language as a vote of no-confidence. For example, a collective bargaining unit representing the faculty may in some cases do so. Since collective bargaining units exist to protect faculty in areas of working conditions and fair compensation, these votes may not be rooted in the same rationales as those taken by academic senates and may have different implications. In fielding questions about the meaning of other state-wide organizations, we have referred those inquiries to the organization in question.
While other faculty groups can and should act in accordance to what their organization and their constituents believe is the right thing to do, the ASCCC must take care to only issue a vote of no-confidence after it has exhausted all other options, as the organization has a legal obligation to work with the Chancellor’s Office. A vote of-no confidence must be thoughtfully and thoroughly examined and must be rooted on the grounds that continuing with the status quo produces more harm to the institution and ultimately, to students. The ASCCC, as the organization that represents all of the community college faculty, has a duty to ensure that the system can continue its work to serve all our students, and as such, must exercise great care when deciding to conduct a vote of no confidence.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
Bruno, J. (2017, April). “Power in the Collective: Faculty, Collegial Consultation, and Collaboration.” Rostrum. Retrieved from https://asccc.org/content/power-collective-faculty-collegial-consultatio...
Patton, J. (2003, October). “So, You’re Thinking About a Vote of No Confidence: 10+1 Questions to Ask.” Rostrum. Retrived from https://asccc.org/content/so-youre-thinking-about-vote-no-confidence-10-...
Simpson, H. (2003, April). “Power and Paranoia: Effective Senates are Victors, not Victims.” Rostrum. Retrieved from https://asccc.org/content/power-and-paranoia-effective-senates-are-victo...
Stanback-Stroud, R. (1994, June). “An In-Depth Look at the Mertes ‘No Confidence’ Vote.” Rostrum. Copy preserved in ASCCC archives.
1. The text of Resolution 7.01 S94 can be found at https://asccc.org/resolutions/no-confidence-chancellor-mertes.
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.