What the Reindeer Said.

December
2006
Ian Walton, President

Tis the season to be jolly, to get along with family and friends, and to spend with abandon. Ho, ho, ho.

My holiday offering to you is a somewhat random collection of observations wrapped in a glittering cover of interpersonal communication and adorned with festive dollar signs. If you discern a more fundamental pattern be sure to let me know. Send an email to headreindeer at northpole.fable.

Just as in any family, many of our ongoing difficulties stem from an inability to get along with those closest to us-often mere coexistence is problematic, let alone the active, cooperative, creative work that would actually allow us to solve problems and move forward together. And perversely this struggle is often hardest in times of supposed plenty. Take relations, in this, our best budget year in history. We have several local senates that are split down the middle with personal animosity and that can't find a way out. We also have several examples of two senates in a district where the presidents spend their time scoring points off each other, egged on by inflammatory emails from their less inhibited constituents. Finally, we have several senates embroiled in open warfare with their collective bargaining colleagues-you would think they could at least unite in opposition to their district, assuming that complete cooperation is hopelessly beyond their grasp. And lest you feel that I'm picking on your personal senate situation, rest assured that there are senates across the state grabbling with these problems.

Identifying the problem is easy. Solving it is much harder. Divorce for senates is usually not an option. Although personally I think, in many multi-college districts, divorce into separate colleges would bring about a radical improvement. Perhaps we need an enterprising freshman legislator to propose a simple mechanism for dis-aggregation.

So we're left with modifying our own behavior. In Senate leadership training we always emphasize that if you're a local senate president it's the very heart of your job to establish and nurture a good working relationship with your fellow faculty presidents-both union and senate. And you need to do that successfully even if you personally dislike them. We trust that our statewide union leaders are conveying the same message to their local leaders. And of course wouldn't life be wonderful if more than just our leaders could play nicely with others? (and staff and administrators and trustees and students too.). Now who's living in a holiday fantasy? But from the point of view of the statewide senate the evidence seems very clear, for example, that the decision to choose the "cooperate to address concerns" option rather than the "nuclear academic and professional matter" option played a large part in the success of the graduation competency and subsequent basic skills debates.

Another challenge for our system is recruiting good leaders-both at the college and the system level. As a district chancellor once said to me (probably anonymously) "there just aren't that many good CEOs in the system." If this is true, it's a problem for all of us. I was invited to participate in an interesting session on exactly this problem at the recent League conference in Costa Mesa. The invitation arose because earlier in the summer I had commented on the UC Santa Cruz decision to turn to a proven faculty leader in a time of crisis (when UCSC professor George Blumenthal, recent chair of the UC statewide senate was selected as interim Chancellor to help the campus recover from the turmoil caused by the untimely death of Chancellor Denton). My comment was that I couldn't see the comparable thing happening in our system, and to wonder what that said about our leadership culture.

This cynical response seems to have been borne out almost immediately. When we needed an interim replacement for Vice Chancellor of Finance Turnage it was fine to temporarily bring in chief business officer, Jim Austin, but when it was proposed by the System Office that the subsequent interim be business/accounting instructor and statewide faculty leader Dennis Smith, somebody else didn't like it. The offer was quickly withdrawn. Now perhaps it was because he's a Democrat, or because he's an organizer of the Community College Ballot Initiative, or.. But perhaps it's just because he's a faculty member.

Or perhaps it's about the dollars. The other perennial problem in our system is that most decisions are made for the wrong reasons. They're made for financial reasons first, and educational reasons a distant second. You're familiar with many examples over the years.

? Our associate degree holders don't need information competency because Department of Finance thinks it would cost money;

? We have lots of good answers to success in basic skills programs. But they're in "boutique" programs of a few hundred students. So we search for different answers because we can't afford to do what works for all our students;

? We fund critical, ongoing system needs with one-time grant funds. And then we stop that and fund something else because it's easier to get another short-term grant for something new rather than to continue something that works;

? We finally reach astonishing system unanimity on increased funding for our most vulnerable noncredit students. But Department of Finance (again) blocks the implementing regulations.

You're going to see several studies in the next few months suggesting that we should use our available funds in other ways, when in my opinion the publicity could much more usefully be used to say that we don't have enough funds, period. The studies will point out, for example, that our completion rate/enrolled student is low compared to other states. But our state dollar/enrolled student is also low compared to other states. In a presentation at the Hewlett Symposium, David Longanecker, Executive Director of WICHE (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) made the interesting observation that if you combine these two measurements and tabulate completion rate/state dollar, then California is right in line with other states.

Which in this frantic, non-sectarian gift-giving season suggests that, just perhaps, you get exactly what you pay for.

And with that happy thought, Nollaig Shona Dhuit and Dliain r faoi Mhaise.

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.