Where, Oh Where, Does the Curriculum Go?


As with most things, a lack of formality is fine until there is disagreement or discontent. When controversy arises and relationships are not clearly delineated, the manure hits the fan. While we can consider this quandary with respect to many things, I'll take on the relationship between your curriculum, your senate, and your board. Do you know what your "power" structure is? Does anyone? Perhaps "power" is not the right word-but you get the idea.

Somewhere, somehow, sometime, bylaws that establish how your senate and your curriculum are related should have been developed. There should be some document out there that makes this relationship clear. as you know, better to have these things in place before problems arise-but, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. What do we have to guide us in establishing this relationship?

Title 5 (Section 5500 ) states that "The college and/or district curriculum committee recommending the course shall be established by the mutual agreement of the college and/or district administration and the academic senate.

The committee shall be either a committee of the academic senate or a committee that includes faculty and is otherwise comprised in a way that is mutually agreeable to the college and/or district administration and the academic senate." Thus, the delegation of curriculum to a "college and/or district curriculum committee" that makes recommendations is clearly established in Title 5. The question to then ask is who does this body make recommendations to? Does it make recommendations to your local senate or to your board? How has this language been interpreted?

It has been my personal experience that curriculum committees make recommendations directly to the local board on routine curriculum matters, as the board is formally our highest level local governing body-but that the decisions made by the curriculum committee (CC) generally go unquestioned.

The exceptions to this are those things that explicitly require board approval, such as new programs or degrees. And there are some things that necessarily go through the senate, such as graduation requirements, new programs, and, possibly, GE decisions. Otherwise, one generally considers curriculum approval to be the final word. But is it? Does your local senate have the ability to "veto" what the CC has done? Can the decisions of the CC be challenged? This is where the need for more formality can save your neck, or cook your goose-depending on the situation. Hopefully all matters can be handled with collegiality and minor controversies dealt with effectively, but are your processes in place to deal with that minor irritant that has the potential to escalate?

A look at the paper "The Curriculum Committee: Role, Structure, Duties, and Standards of Good Practices", adopted in fall of 1996, can help inform this discussion. I encourage you to give this paper a read-it makes the point that there is no one best way to do things, as we are all unique (local control triumphs!). But looking at what others do and why they do it can aid in local decisionmaking. the introduction makes clear the answer to one aspect of this discussion:

"Given the diversity of disciplines and faculty and the varying degrees of shared governance currently operating in the system, practices utilized by curriculum committees throughout California's community college system vary widely. Nevertheless, a clear consensus about the main function of the curriculum committee has emerged. The main function of the curriculum committee is that of primary responsibility for the development, review, renewal, and recommendation of curriculum to be approved by the Board of Trustees."

The paragraph above suggests that most of the time the CC makes recommendations to the local Board of Trustees. This paper also reinforces the common practice of local senates delegating the authority over curriculum to the CC:

The curriculum committee is the vehicle upon which the local academic senate relies in carrying out its responsibility to develop curriculum recommendations for presentation to the local governing board. .courses and programs must be recommended by the curriculum committee and approved by the governing board of a college district. the curriculum committee may either be a committee of the senate or a college committee whose composition is mutually agreed upon by the senate and the administration.

While it is always nice when a paper says what you think it should say, my conscience would not permit me to stop there. so, I read on and I did a quick survey. How our curriculum and senate interact is a local matter, ultimately. As is made clear here:

The link between the academic senate and the curriculum committee can be accomplished in several ways. A common practice is to specify that the chair be a member of the senate. Often this is done by assigning the chairship to the past president or vice president of the senate. Alternately, the chair may be selected by the curriculum committee and then become an ex officio senate member. In any case, reports by the curriculum committee should be a regular senate agenda item.

Title 5 states that recommending programs and courses to the local governing board is the role of the curriculum committee as stated in Title 5 55002 "the college and/or district curriculum committee recommending the course shall be established by the mutual agreement of the college and/or district administration and the academic senate. The committee shall be either a committee of the academic senate or a committee that includes faculty and is otherwise comprised in a way that is mutually agreeable to the college and/or district administration and the academic senate." While not specified, curricular recommendations may be reviewed by the senate before being passed on to the board, leading the paper's authors to make the following comments:

The nature of the senate report requires comment. Typically, the committee reports both on the courses and programs to be recommended to the board for approval (usually just a list) and on the procedures used (usually as committee minutes). Because title 5 specifies that curriculum is recommended to the board by the curriculum committee [Title 5 55002(a)], it is not the role of the senate to change the recommendations (emphasis added). However, it is appropriate for the senate to review the policies and procedures used [Title 5 53203(a)] and call attention to any irregularities which might require a recommendation to be returned to the committee for reconsideration.

What are other colleges doing? Of the few that I heard from, one CC was completely under the arm of the senate (so to speak). The CC seems to give things a first pass, but then the senate votes. As the senate rarely questions the decisions of the CC, this has worked well. While this structure has the potential to leave CC members feeling disempowered, this tends not to be the case as their decisions are generally not questioned. A another, the CC is a standing committee of the senate that periodically makes a report to the senate. The senate can opt to return the report for reconsideration or forward it on. The other 4 respondents all indicated that the cc had the final word, except for the "biggies" (things like degree requirements and new programs must go to the senate). Interestingly, one respondent noted that previously the senate had been able to trump the CC but that this was changed as the senate had not questioned any decision of the CC for years. Another noted that the use of an online curriculum management system allowed everyone to see what was happening, meaning that senate was aware of what was happening with curriculum, even if no formal report was made.

Alas, there is no clear right or wrong for how your Curriculum Committee and your senate should interact, but there should be clearly stated guidelines.

That your senate should be informed of the curriculum's activities is for certain, as is the need for the "biggies" to go to senate. And you can't remove your board from the process, so those board agenda deadlines will necessarily impact your curriculum deadlines. Things that have to be decided upon locally, with respect to curriculum governance, include whether or not the senate has the final say in curriculum, how often curriculum reports to senate, and how CC decisions can be challenged. Topics to be considered include why you might want your senate to have the ultimate control of the curriculum, what impact this might have on curriculum timelines, what is your CC's charge, and what aspects of your overall process might need improving. An effective and efficient CC (and campus culture) is one that emphasizes collegiality. Everyone on your CC should keep that in mind-no decisions of the CC should be a surprise if everyone is doing their job properly. I smell a whole other article coming on, so I will leave you with in mind-an emphasis on collegiality is one means of preventing problems-as is having clear and consistent processes.