California’s community college faculty wield too much power: Regulations which let academic senates veto decisions by elected boards are invalid and illegal, complains a legal challenge by California Competes, a nonprofit group of business and civic leaders.
Robert Shireman, the group’s executive director, said that the regulations create a tangled, dysfunctional bureaucracy that does not respond to the needs of students. “It creates a situation of gridlock instead of cooperation,” he said. “In order for any large organization to move forward, somebody ultimately has to make a decision.”
Under the proposed changes, local governing boards would be required to seek input from the faculty, staff and students prior to policy decisions. However trustees would have the final decision-making power.
Divided governance has given California’s community colleges a “national reputation for dispute and dysfunction,” said Shireman.
Faced with a $15 million deficit and the threat of losing accreditation, City College of San Francisco‘s board has voted to “dismantle a decades-long system of faculty leadership,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Returning more than 60 department chairs to full-time teaching will save $2 million and streamline governance, trustees said.
“The accrediting commission made it clear as recently as yesterday that they are concerned we are not moving quickly enough,” interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher told the board.
City College has until March 15 to prove it should to stay in business. The accrediting commission has said one major problem is the college’s byzantine and costly governance structure – unparalleled among California community colleges.
More than 60 faculty members earn extra pay as department chairs. They are released from teaching to do administrative work, such as scheduling, that other colleges assign to deans. City College employs 11 deans. The chairs have their own labor union, work 10 months rather than 12, as deans do, and must have their classes covered by other faculty.
Trustees also voted unanimously to close a preschool to save $84,000 a year, and to end summer hours at three other college-run child care centers. “City College spends $700,000 a year on the centers that serve as laboratories for child-development majors and as places where parents can learn alternatives to corporal punishment,” the Chronicle reports.
The board hired a “special trustee” who will have veto power on accreditation-related decisions and agreed to start collecting fees at registration. Uncollected fees cost the college district $400,000 a year.
Plagued by weak leadership and budget deficits, California’s largest community college, City College of San Francisco, may lose accreditation and face closure in eight months, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The “show cause” order by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools is more serious than probation. Without accreditation, City College’s 90,000 students wouldn’t be eligible for federal financial aid, causing the nine-campus college to fold.
College leaders vow to stay open, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. But they’ll have to balance the budget — the college has been running deficits for three years — in a year of high financial uncertainty. While many blame state budget cuts for the CCSF’s problems, only two other community colleges in the state face similar financial troubles, the commission said.
The accrediting team said the college’s problems were structural: failing to live within its means, ignoring a growing retiree health obligation, and paring administration to skeletal levels.
To improve budgeting and planning, City College needs more administrators, the commission found. With only 39 administrators and more than 1,800 faculty members, City College finds it hard to make decisions.
“There exists a veil of distrust among governance groups that manifests itself as an indirect resistance to board and administrative decision-making authority,” says the report, which points to a confusing structure in which everyone – chancellor, vice chancellors, faculty, staff and students – has a say.
“The team did not find evidence of clearly delineated roles and authority for decision making, thereby hindering timely communication, decisions and results,” the report said.
City College’s “shared governance” system includes faculty, administrators, staff and students in advisory roles, reports the Chronicle.
“Let’s say I have an idea to change the grading system,” said math instructor Hal Huntsman, former president of the Faculty Senate. “I have to start four or five levels down from where the decision gets made. The authority is at the Board of Trustees. But down from that, there are councils. Down from that, there are committees. Then subcommittees.”
City College “is probably too big to fail,” predicts Inside Higher Ed. “Most of those students would have no other local option, and the rest of the state’s community colleges could hardly absorb them, anyhow, given that the system will turn away an estimated 200,000 students this year because of financial shortfalls.”
But nobody’s sure the trustees will remain in charge if they can’t turn around the college by next spring.
Trustees and presidents of community and technical colleges will meet this summer in Washington state and Texas to discuss college governance and student success. The Association of Community College Trustees and the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas is sponsoring the Governance Institute for Student Success program with funding from the Gates Foundation.
The Washington institute will be held June 26 to 28 at the Suncadia resort in Cle Elum, Washington in conjunction with the state’s Trustee Association of Community and Technical Colleges‘ annual meeting.
The Governance Institute for Student Success-Texas is set for July 31 to August 2 at the Dallas-Fort Worth Marriott. Trustees and presidents from 23 community and technical colleges are invited to participate.
Go here for information and registration.