Administrators in Our Midst: Retreat Rights and Evaluation
The unfortunate truth is that faculty generally do not think about administrative retreat rights or administrative evaluation until something goes wrong. This reactive approach is the wrong one to take with either issue because it generally compounds an already bad situation. At the Spring Plenary Session, the Relations with Local Senates Committee presented breakouts on both issues from a proactive perspective rather than the reactive stance that we too often take.
We are all aware of behaviors or actions of administrators for which we faculty had no mechanism or remedy. For example, a particularly unqualified administrator decided to leave the administrative ranks and used your current retreat rights policy to plague the faculty in one of your departments. Another administrator repeatedly ignored the valid viewpoints of faculty; but aside from a vote of no confidence, no mechanism was in place at your college to provide feedback on this administrator's performance. However negative these experiences have been, it is more important to focus on creating mechanisms that support both the work of faculty and administrators and the learning of our students. That's it. Breathe deep and release all that negative energy-let our hostilities go.
ADMINISTRATIVE RETREAT RIGHTS
Let's begin with administrative retreat rights. The first step to making sure your retreat rights policy works is to know what your existing college's policy says and what Education Code says. Your college's policy should reflect Education Code, which has three important provisions. First, only educational administrators have retreat rights (Education Code 87458). Educational administrators are defined in Education Code 87002b and in Title 5 53402 as administrators having direct responsibility for instruction or student services and they must meet certain minimum qualifications as such (Title 5 53420). Second, Education Code 87458 also specifies that such administrators are only granted the right to retreat as a probationary first-year faculty member. Third, the process for granting retreat rights needs to be jointly agreed upon by your board and faculty senate.
What do you do next? If your retreat rights policy needs revision, choose a time when there is no controversial administrator positioning to retreat to the classroom. Choose a time of peace so that you can focus on the actual policy and not an individual. Present to your board your desire to update and clarify your administrative retreat rights policy and explain why it is in the best interest of students and the district to do so. Then consider the following four provisions as proactive ways to make sure that administrators who retreat to the classroom will be positive additions to your faculty and positive contributors to your students' learning.
First, at the time of an administrator's hire, evaluate minimum qualifications if the individual may retreat. This step gives potentially affected faculty the chance to impartially review an administrator's qualifications. Those faculty should also review the locally determined minimum qualifications over the course of the administrator's service, since the administrator may have taken additional course work that may indeed qualify him/her for a faculty position based on local minimum qualifications, or those minimum qualifications for teaching may have been adjusted subsequent to the administrator's hire. Department faculty must also be involved if equivalency needs to be established.
Second, it should be made clear to the administrator what locally determined criteria are in place for moving between departments, which might affect his/her ability to retreat. A common criterion many districts use is recency of teaching experience, often within five years or less. The administrator's ability to retreat recedes if he/she is out of the classroom for too long.
Third, a clear definition of "educational administrator" needs to be in place. At some colleges, a list of positions that qualify as "educational administrator" is included in policy. In all cases, however, the administrator must meet the requirements of Title 5 53402(b).
Fourth, local senates may need to work with their bargaining unit to consider protections for current Retreat Rights and Evaluation faculty, both full- and part-time. Some colleges specify that a retreating administrator cannot adversely affect the teaching load of a continuing full- or part-time faculty member.
Administrative evaluations are a second matter about which faculty give too little proactive thought.1 The fact is, the lack of ability to evaluate administrators is often the cause of no-confidence votes. Faculty resort to such votes because they have access to no other process to provide feedback to administrators and their supervisors. While Education Code 87633(i) stipulates that the legislature intended the "evaluation of administrators include, to the extent possible, faculty evaluation," Title 5 51023.7 more concretely provides students a specific right in the formulation of "policies and procedures pertaining to the hiring and evaluation of faculty, administration, and staff."
However, there is no regulation that stipulates that evaluations of administrators must take place. Therefore faculty need to make a case for how administrative evaluation is a positive process for both faculty and administrators; further, as few students engage in the active evaluation of administrators with whom they have contact, a mechanism must be considered to include their participation as afforded them by regulation.
Once again, the time to broach the topic of evaluation of administrators is when satisfaction with administrators is generally good. You should also be aware that you may need to start with lower administrative positions and work your way up to evaluations of vice presidents, presidents, and chancellors. Demonstrate a model for constructive evaluation of an administrator that builds upon sound principles and humane treatment-as we would like to receive in our evaluations-offering positive feedback as well as constructive criticism. Positive comments can reflect well on the evaluatee with his/her immediate supervisor or your local board.
As you work out an evaluation process, here are components that you should keep in mind.
1. What are the existing policies regarding administrator evaluations? Is the administrator part of a bargaining unit who has established such an evaluation process?
2. Who participates in the evaluation? While groups other than faculty should often participate (and students have rights under Title 5 to do so), decisions about which faculty also need to be made. Is this evaluation appropriate for all faculty? Members of the local senate? Faculty in particular disciplines or divisions?
3. What form does the evaluation take? Evaluation can be very formal or informal. Since the goal is improvement rather than punishment, informality is possible. Evaluation can be written or oral. Specific questions may be asked of all evaluators or less structured conversations can take place in small groups. Many variations here are possible.
4. Who administers the evaluation? This is a pragmatic as well as a perceptual issue. A neutral group should administer the evaluation to avoid any perception of bias, influence, or coercion. The group should also have the time and resources to conduct and compile responses.
5. How is faculty input used? This point should be made clear from the start. Faculty need to know how their responses will be used because this can affect their responses. Such clarity also sends a message that responses are valued, which can improve the response rate.
6. How is the overall evaluation used? Since other groups will be involved as well, everyone wants to know how the overall evaluation will be used. This is an opportunity to stress once again that the evaluation is constructive and not punitive.
7. How often does evaluation occur? A clear timeline for regular evaluation serves both evaluating groups and the evaluatee. It provides time for evaluatees to address concerns from the last evaluation, and it provides a regular mechanism for faculty and others to provide input into an administrator's performance.
In both of these situations that may well shape the futures of individual administrators-their retreat rights and their evaluations-the focus is on creating policies that form a proactive, professional approach to administrators in our midst and reducing the potential for conflict with faculty further down the line. If the climate is positive at your college, this is an ideal time to review these administrative issues for possible action by your local senate.
1 For additional information, you may wish to review two earlier papers:
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