The California Community College System has been the target of more legislation in the past two years than at any other time in recent memory. The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges works diligently to represent the voice of faculty in Sacramento when legislative actions involving education are proposed. However, local colleges and districts must keep themselves informed and engaged regarding legislative activities and initiatives, not only because the ASCCC takes its direction on these issues from the faculty statewide but also because local academic senates often have their own role to play in voicing their support for or opposition to specific legislation.
The rules which local academic senates must follow are different from those that apply to the ASCCC. As a non-profit organization, the ASCCC and its advocacy activities fall under the California Tax Code. Local academic senates, on the other hand, are governed by California Education Code, specifically §7050-7068. These sections of the Education Code provide specific guidelines regarding the advocacy efforts in which local academic senates can and cannot engage.
Education Code §7054 (a) states that “No school district or community college district funds, services, supplies, or equipment shall be used for the purpose of urging the support or defeat of any ballot measure or candidate, including, but not limited to, any candidate for election to the governing board of the district.” In short, academic senates cannot use any district resources to support or oppose any candidate or ballot measure. This restriction applies not only to district funds but also to materials, email, and even employee time when the employee is scheduled to work. Any discussion of ballot measures or elections among senators therefore should not take place on campus or during academic senate meetings.
However, Education Code §7054 (b) adds that “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of any of the public resources described in subdivision (a) to provide information to the public about the possible effects of any bond issue or other ballot measure if both of the following conditions are met: (1) The informational activities are otherwise authorized by the Constitution or laws of this state. (2) The information provided constitutes a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts to aid the electorate in reaching an informed judgment regarding the bond issue or ballot measure.” Local academic senates may therefore publish information to educate the public regarding the impact of a given ballot measure as long as they do not advocate either for or against the measure.
Regarding legislation, academic senates have somewhat more freedom to express positions. As with ballot measures and elections, academic senates cannot expend district resources to support or oppose legislation, but they can discuss legislation during meetings and may take and publish positions either for or against specific bills. Academic senates can also meet with legislators to express their views regarding pieces of legislation.
Because they can discuss and attempt to influence legislation, local senates should strive to keep themselves informed about legislative activities. Some local senates have created a legislative liaison position through which a specific individual is responsible for tracking legislation and reporting to the senate. Such a position can be a great benefit to a senate in terms of helping to provide current information and enabling the senate to form positions upon which it may wish to act.
Several resources exist through which local academic senates can remain informed, whether by a legislative liaison, the senate president, or other senate members. The website for Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC) offers an excellent legislation tracker. Interested faculty can go to www.faccc.org and click on the “track current legislation” link in the advocacy section of the page. This link offers summaries and status reports of bills related to education as well as PDF copies of the texts of the bills themselves. As a bonus, the FACCC legislative tracker filters out bills not related to education, so interested faculty do not have to sort through dozens of bills in which they may not have interest.
Another useful resource is the Chancellor’s Office Advocates Listserv. To receive these updates, interested parties can send an e-mail from the address to be subscribed to listserv [at] listserv.cccnext.net and put “subscribe advocates” in the body of a blank, nonhtml e-mail with no subject or signatures. This service provides timely announcements from the Chancellor’s Office legislative staff regarding the status of bills and other matters.
The Community College League of California (CCLC) also publishes a great deal of useful information regarding legislation under the “government relations” tab of its website (www.ccleague.org). This site includes analysis of bills, legislative updates, and even an advocacy handbook.
Finally, the ASCCC is in the process of developing a legislative section on its own main web page. This site will not be a duplicate of the resources provided by FACCC and CCLC but will instead be dedicated to publicizing the Academic Senate’s legislative positions and activities, such as copies of letters written by the ASCCC president to legislators regarding their bills. Watch for more information on this new resource in the near future.
All of these resources can help local senates to stay informed regarding legislative activities and developments and thus will enable them to engage in appropriate advocacy activities on a local level. Whether such activities involve visiting local legislators, writing letters, or simply engaging in discussion during meetings, local academic senates can play a significant role in voicing faculty positions regarding the many bills that can impact the community college system.