60 Percent? 80 Percent?Your Academic Senate and Healthy Dissent

Representative at Large

It has been my honor to serve on the 2005-2006 Executive Committee for the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. We have dealt with many thorny issues, but none more difficult than the question of whether to support raising the adjunct teaching limit from 60 to 80 percent of a full-time teaching load. The true strength and health of the Academic Senate was demonstrated in the deliberations-both in the Executive Committee and at Session-regarding this issue.

For many of us, the issue seemed to arrive somewhat out of the blue. Shortly before Fall Session, we were informed that Senator Denise Ducheny had agreed to carry a bill raising the adjunct limit from 60 to 80 percent. At the Fall 2005 Plenary Session, several resolutions were introduced, but the decision of the body was that the issue should be referred to the Executive Committee for study and a recommendation. Socrates once suggested that, "the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."

The Executive Committee honored the wisdom of the body in recognizing that this was an issue about which we knew very little. Fortunately, ignorance is a disease with a simple cure. President Ian Walton charged a sub-group of the Executive Committee with researching the issue and bringing to the larger group a better understanding of the issue and some possible positions the Executive Committee might take.

In the beginning, the members of the subcommittee were mixed in their responses to the proposal. Twice, the subcommittee invited both full- and part-time faculty who supported the proposal to speak before the full Executive Committee.

As they researched and discussed, the members of the subcommittee became convinced that a change to 80% would not be in the interests of our students or of the profession.

They created a series of resolutions expressing the reasons why the Academic Senate should oppose the proposed change.

When these resolutions and their rationales were presented to the full Executive Committee, it became clear that no matter how you sliced it, this was not going to be a unanimous vote. A clear majority of the executive committee believed that the senate should oppose changing the limit to 80 percent. As a member of the dissenting minority, I saw the strength of the executive committee in what followed.

The Executive Committee could have taken a simple voice vote and all of the resolutions would have been approved. Instead, we engaged in that most tedious and often overlooked aspect of democracy. We talked about it. It was taken as a given that thoughtful people of good will can sometimes disagree. Those of us who disagreed with the majority weren't just listened to, we were heard. Our objections were received as efforts to improve the recommendations that the Executive Committee would pass on to the full senate.

And improved, they were. The subcommittee met in the wee hours and redrafted their resolutions, clarifying points, strengthening arguments and ensuring that the senate's abiding respect for our adjunct colleagues was reflected in the tone of each "whereas" and every "be it therefore resolved." The next morning, the improved resolutions were discussed and finally approved by a majority of the Executive Committee.

That could have been the end of the issue. In the past, the practice of the Executive Committee has typically been that once the Executive Committee has taken a position, it is the responsibility of all Executive Committee members to either support the position at the Plenary Session or remain silent about their disagreement. No one in this Executive Committee even suggested that those of us in the minority would be asked to remain silent.

And when Session did roll around I, of course, did not remain silent even though I was running for re-election to the Executive Committee. Even though I knew that the majority of the Senate would support the positions brought forward by the Executive Committee.

Despite these things, I was confident that the members of the Academic Senate would welcome thoughtful arguments, even if they might disagree with the conclusions.

Now, I lost my campaign for re-election. still, my faith in the Academic Senate is not shaken. I know I did not lose as a consequence of my dissent. I lost because of the strengths of my colleagues on the ballot and because of my own weaknesses.

The 60 to 80 percent controversy will fade. Regardless, for me, the thoughtful manner in which the Academic Senate addressed the controversy will always stand as a shining example of the health and strength of the organization it has been my honor to serve.