Why Legislative Advocacy Matters

FACCC Legislative and Advocacy Committee Chair
ASCCC Vice President and ASCCC Legislative and Advocacy Committee Chair

Throughout the half-century since the founding of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC), the ASCCC has become an invaluable source of guidance and leadership in academic and professional matters, but for a range of reasons the ASCCC hesitated in many cases to become involved in statewide advocacy efforts. However, for much of the past decade, various parties with a desire to effect transformative change in higher education have been applying pressure to the California community colleges through legislative efforts that clearly involve the purview of the ASCCC, such as SB 1440 (Padilla, 2010), the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act that created Associate Degrees for Transfer. In response, the role of the ASCCC in the legislative process has taken on a new turn.

For many years, the ASCCC’s status as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization seemed to preclude it from active advocacy; this situation continues to be true today around certain types of issues. In addition, even after the passage of SB 669 in 1967, which separated the California community colleges from the K-12 system, some legislators continued to see the colleges and K-12 as a somewhat joined entity. Thus, while legislation did come about that had specific impacts on the colleges, it was only infrequently in areas that could be considered academic and professional matters and therefore did not typically touch on the purview of the ASCCC. More recently, and in response to the growing number of legislative actions that impacted curricular and academic issues, the ASCCC Executive Committee began to prepare to become a more resolute voice for advocacy on the state level. In 2014, then-President David Morse suggested the re-creation of the Legislative and Advocacy Committee, which would spearhead statewide efforts in legislative advocacy. As a 501(c)(6), the ASCCC may engage in advocacy activities germane to the common business interests of its members and may encourage members to participate in the process in a non-biased, neutral manner so long as it does not constitute the organization’s primary activity.

The Legislative and Advocacy Committee helps to follow legislation that has implications for academic and professional matters and provides structure and suggestions for the annual ASCCC Legislative Advocacy Day at the capitol. For the past four years, teams of committee members and Executive Committee participants have visited legislators and staff around the capitol to discuss the core concerns of the ASCCC. In 2018, for example, participants spoke to legislators and their staffers about the implementation of AB 705 (Irwin, 2017), the need for consistent funding for the Course Identification Numbering System (C-ID), and the Open Education Resource Initiative (OERI). While this year’s agenda has not yet been fully developed, it is likely to follow the priorities adopted by the Executive Committee, including funding for faculty diversification, improvements in financial aid for students, and apportionment and other support for tutoring for students.

The need is now greater than ever for faculty to be informed about and involved in statewide projects, programs, and initiatives. With so much happening, local senates have often struggled to keep faculty informed of and engaged with statewide issues. In response to a need to strengthen communication between the ASCCC and local senates, the ASCCC suggested that local senates create a local legislative liaison position. The legislative liaison attends local senate meetings, reports regularly about legislative issues, acts as a resource for local discussions of legislation, identifies legislation issues of particular local concern, and conveys those issues to the ASCCC Legislative and Advocacy Committee.

As the cliché suggests, all politics are local, and therefore advocacy must be done on the local level. The ASCCC encourages all local senates to appoint a legislative liaison to be the conduit between the local senate and the ASCCC. Legislative liaisons should be informed and prepared to engage in the state legislative process. The legislative and budget process in California is complicated, and in order to be effective advocates, faculty should educate themselves regarding California’s legislative and budget development process. The state legislative site (http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/) provides a good primer. Although not all proposed bills apply to the community colleges, each legislative cycle includes thousands of new bills, and determining which bills demand attention and tracking takes concerted effort. The ASCCC maintains a legislative positions site (https://www.asccc.org/legislative-positions) that is particularly helpful, and several system partners also maintain legislative websites and listservs, such as the Faculty Association of the California Community Colleges (http://www.faccc.org), the Community College League of California (https://www.ccleague.org), or the California Community Chancellor’s office (listserv [at] listserv.cccnext.net).

Faculty should begin their advocacy efforts by visiting their assembly member’s or local senator‘s office. Those who are unsure of the names of their representatives or the location of their offices can find them at http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/. Although meeting with a legislator can seem intimidating at first, legislative representatives need to hear from their constituents, and faculty members are firsthand experts in conveying the needs and struggles of students. Advocacy training is offered at systemwide conferences by the ASCCC, FACCC, or others, but practice does make the process less intimidating over time.

The most effective faculty advocates are those that build personal relationships with their local legislators as well as the representatives’ staff members. One can prepare for a meeting by reviewing current community college legislation. Generally, the objective is to inform the legislator of the faculty position, not to completely win him or her over. Meetings with representatives should always be polite and respectful, no matter the political views of the legislator. If the meeting is to discuss specific legislation, one should refer to the bill number and author. At the end of the meeting, the faculty member can leave a business card including a cell phone number and a one-page document with information summarizing relevant viewpoints. Within a week of the meeting, one should send a note thanking staff members or legislators for the meeting and reiterating in writing positions or concerns that were discussed.

Faculty should also stay connected between visits by email or telephone or may even connect with representatives on social media. Once a faculty member has established himself or herself as a trusted expert in academic and professional matters, the legislator may reach out as community college legislation comes across his or her desk. While districts, including local senates, are forbidden from using district funds to advocate for or against ballot measures, the law does allow for districts to provide non-biased education on ballot measures as well as take a position for or against a bill.

As voices outside the system continue to lobby for change to the California community colleges, faculty who have an expertise of both academic and professional matters, as well as students’ needs, must assert their voice in order to influence the legislative process in ways that are positive for their institutions and students.