Beyond the Classroom: Fostering Local and Statewide Engagement in Our Faculty

June
2013
Harrell, Kim, Folsom Lake College & Napoli-Abella Reiss, Cynthia, West Valley College, Governance and Internal Policy Committee
Harrell, Kim, Folsom Lake College & Napoli-Abella Reiss, Cynthia, West Valley College, Governance and Internal Policy Committee

The title of this article alludes to another Rostrum piece written in 2010 entitled “Beyond the Classroom: Fostering Civic Engagement in Our Students.” The previous article demonstrated that faculty aspire for civic engagement from students. We want our students to develop a sense of being part of a larger community, and we want them to contribute to, actively participate in, and take responsibility for their local and global community. We also seek to cultivate skills that will prepare students for productive citizenship and a strong sense of civic engagement. These same attributes and similar skills can be applied to faculty regarding our roles in college, district, and system governance. We should not expect more of our students than we do of ourselves, and therefore, in order for governance activities to be effective and well-informed, colleges must have faculty who are engaged and connected at both the local and state levels.

Engaging local faculty can be a very difficult job for a senate leader who is himself or herself not well connected to statewide issues and resources, especially given the ever-shifting landscape of educational policy. Senate presidents and other faculty leaders sometimes struggle to stay abreast of current events and provide meaningful input in a timely manner. Conducting senate business in a reactive manner rather than a proactive manner can result in disengagement, dismay, and apathy, whereas engaging faculty in productive conversations about current issues can more effectively encourage participation, debate, and ownership of decisions made. Senate leaders must ensure that their constituents are informed and empowered and that their voices are heard.

Academic senate presidents and participatory governance chairs can stay current on policy proposals at the state level by becoming involved with the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC). One of the most effective ways to participate is to send local senate executive teams to the ASCCC’s bi-annual plenary sessions, where they can network, engage in breakout sessions to discuss, debate and vote on senate resolutions, and gather information to take back to their home campuses. In addition, new and potential leaders as well as those with more experience can benefit from attending the ASCCC Faculty Leadership Institute, and participatory governance chairs may obtain more focused information from such events as the ASCCC Accreditation and Curriculum Institutes. Local senate leaders and other faculty can also serve on ASCCC committees, which often place members in direct contact with the Chancellor’s Office and the policy work going on at the state level. Such involvement can benefit not only the individual faculty member and the system as a whole, but also the local college if the faculty member carries relevant and current information from the committee’s work back to his or her home campus.

Other resources for remaining connected to state levels issues include the various ASCCC listservs, to which one can subscribe at http://www.asccc.org/signup-newsletters. All of these listservs, including those for senate presidents, curriculum chairs, discipline groups, and others, are open to anyone interesting in signing up. Likewise, signing up for the Community College League of California’s updates and listservs can be extremely beneficial and allows committee chairs to provide regular reports to their members about upcoming policy changes. A host of other excellent resources are also readily available to faculty and can address a variety of higher education issues at the state, local, and national levels, including FACCC’s magazine (available to FACCC Members), the Chronicle of Higher Education (available by subscription), and The Community College Update. These resources are all one-way providers of information that do not allow for dialogue, but less formal discussion forums exist for academic senate presidents (CCCSenates [at] googlegroups [dot] com) and curriculum chairs (CaCurricChairs [at] yahoogroups [dot] com) and can provide helpful input and answers to many questions. For these reasons, one for the most important ways for a senate leader to stay connected is to set aside plentiful time to read and take advantage of these resources.

Local senates may also wish to consider developing a legislative watchdog committee or a legislative liaison position whose sole purpose is to stay abreast of current legislative proposals that affect California community colleges. For example, Long Beach City College’s local senate executive committee includes a legislative liaison, elected from among the members of the academic senate, whose primary role is to track legislative and regulatory changes at the state level. One useful way to remain informed about such issues is by signing up for the Chancellor’s Office Advocates Listserv. To do so, send an e-mail from the address to be subscribed to listserv [at] listserv [dot] cccnext [dot] net and put “subscribe advocates” in the body of a blank, non-html e-mail with no subject or signatures.

Once a senate president or other representative becomes more connected at the state level, the next step is to use that involvement to inform, include, and inspire local faculty. Senate leaders often have difficulty motivating their own local faculty into senate service at both the local and state levels. Although the ASCCC offers many opportunities for faculty involvement and further opportunities abound on all campuses, many faculty in the 112 colleges choose not to participate. Some possible impediments to faculty involvement are as follows:

  • faculty are simply not interested or are too busy
  • faculty see the senate as irrelevant and feel they have no reason to get involved, as decisions will be made regardless of what they say
  • faculty perceive a lack of mutual understanding and respect from administration

When faculty do not participate in shared governance because of being too busy or being disinterested in external issues, faculty are, in essence, delegating authority on academic matters to the administration and the local Board. As such, we are allowing others to make the decisions that affect the very core of what we do: teaching. Though we may be uninterested in political issues or would rather focus all our energy on the primary task of teaching, we must remember that our primary task is not insulated from legislative, economic, and social factors that are external to the institution. Our engagement within the institution and our ongoing education on state issues will enable us to dialogue with members outside the institution about educational and pedagogical issues that are often misunderstood.

Though the Academic Senate at the state level certainly has an impact on local senates, discussions and presentations do not always reflect internal agenda items and thereby seem disconnected from the pressing issues at individual colleges. The listservs maintained by the ASCCC and other bodies, as well as the ASCCC President’s Update and the Rostrum, provide ways in which senates can connect local with statewide issues. These resources allow local senates to be both internally and externally informed. However, senate leaders must assume the responsibility to analyze, share, and discuss this information with their constituents so that meaningful participation is enacted.

In order to integrate statewide and local matters for a college or district senate, important issues existing at all levels should be discussed at local senate meetings before each ASCCC plenary session. Local senate members should discuss resolutions sent out by the ASCCC Executive Committee so that they may both educate themselves and help to inform their plenary delegate’s vote on the issues. Local senates may also wish to develop their own resolutions on matters important to them and send those resolutions forward to the next plenary session. Proposing resolutions prepared by local senates empowers the voice of college faculty and involves them in state policy in a meaningful way. Seeing change enacted by resolutions your college wrote demonstrates the effectiveness of the system and can help the local senate to feel more connected to the state level.

A perceived lack of understanding or respect from the Board or administration can be a major impediment to involvement at the local level. If faculty do not believe that their voice will be heard or their efforts appreciated, they will see no reason to remain connected and involved. The following strategies may help to enhance mutual understanding between faculty and their local Boards and administrations: 1

  • New faculty and trustees should be oriented regarding board, faculty, and administrative responsibilities regarding shared governance and expectations about faculty involvement in governance.
  • Faculty, administration, and board members must have opportunities to interact, both formally and informally.
  • The governing board’s policies should acknowledge the expectation that faculty exercise expertise and responsibility in the areas of academic and professional matters.
  • The various college constituencies should have an opportunity to provide reasonable input into major college decisions.
  • A predisposition toward and commitment to mutual respect and trust should exist among all parties, even when they seriously disagree.
  • All members of the college community should support successful compromise as the highest end and be willing to negotiate differences.
  • Colleges and districts should establish generally accepted and codified rules for settling disagreements among constituencies.

Academic senate leadership is not easy, and leaders must constantly be aware of all the changes and developments that occur at the state level, especially in the current era of calls for performance accountability. Faculty leaders can remain well-informed and educated by connecting with the ASCCC through both events and publications and by staying abreast of issues through resources produced by such bodies as Chancellor’s Office and the Community College League of California. Senate leaders must also work to keep faculty at their own colleges informed by disseminating appropriate information, promoting the relevance and importance of participation in governance, and establishing an environment of mutual respect in which involvement at both the local and state levels is valued and encouraged. By employing the various resources available to keep themselves and their faculty informed and connected, local academic senate leaders can foster greater engagement in their senates and in their faculty as a whole regarding involvement both with statewide issues and with their local college communities.


1. Lucey, Carol, “Civic Engagement, Shared Governance, and Community Colleges.” Academe 88. 4 (Jul/Aug 2002): 27-31.

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.