And the Red Rocket's Glare
One sunday morning, in San Diego under a cool morning marine layer, over 300 students gathered to make history. The debates had been going on for over a year, and really for longer than that, without going too deeply into the history of our statewide student representation for California Community Colleges. Twenty-five odd souls had worked feverishly over the past year developing several structural models of which Model E had been selected by the existing ten regions as the one most likely to meet their needs. This odel is a mix of the old CalSACC (California Student Association of Community Colleges) model and our ASCCC model that hopes to ensure all colleges can bring their student voices to the elected and appointed leaders of our colleges and our system.
The problem at hand though was this group of students were just that, a group. although they were highly intelligent, intensely engaged, and extremely passionate, they none-the-less were just a group of students with an idea.
For that idea to become a living thing, recognized by law and regulation as the sole voice for 2.5 million students the one missing element needed to change this boiling mob of youthful energy into that voice was a constitution.
In a brief window of time, sometime slightly after ten on this fine morning 70 of the potential 109 member delegates took their ballots and voted. they marked those ballots, inserted them into the double blind envelopes commonly used in anonymous voting processes, and then they licked and sealed their respective fates. It was over in a few short minutes.
The prime focus of much of their debates over the previous year and during the previous two days of deliberation was more about constitutional ideals. Although many were trying to be specific about their many concerns, all voicing an incredible plethora of potential fates, either dire or desperately dire, in truth most concerns were about the division of where a constitution should end and the by-laws should begin.
While there are as many opinions on this as there are humans I tend to prefer General Robert's take on the issue. He suggests that they should be the same unless there is good reason to separate them. If this is the case then the constitution should contain the basic minimum definitions about your body that you really don't want changed very easily. This should be the bare essentials which define what your body is, what your body does, who your body is composed of and their primary privileges, and what it takes to perfect, amend, or improve your constitution.
As such, constitutions are often vague and fairly brief and are usually considered to be very flawed, in and of themselves. Take the one that defines the United States of America. Upon its original ratification it was quite short, could easily be read in a few minutes and it had a few minor flaws. One that seems to be fairly significant by today's standards is the fact that it essentially gave all the power of participation to the land owners. And if you weren't a land owner you were either property or an outlaw. Fortunately some very savvy and skilled political minds quickly crafted some amendments, the first ten of which gave rights to every member of the body. (Although we may still not be quite there yet, the intent was sound).
A problem these remarkable students faced was that voting it down would leave them with nothing. So in spite of the perceived "flaws" of this fledgling article, to vote "Yea" was to give it life, to vote "Nay" was to return it and themselves to the mediocrity of forlorn rabble rousing. Were they to say "no" today, with the high ideals of returning next season for another, possibly better, attempt they might place their incredible potential in deep jeopardy. As has often been said about California, funding is fickle. What worked today may or may not work tomorrow.
Yet, with the birth given by the ratification of a constitution, their potential could blossom and flourish regardless of the current flaws, much like the U.S. Constitution has been perfected into one of the most inspiring and powerful documents in humankind's brief history.
As a volunteer, whose sole purpose there was to politely hold a lovely hat six feet above the ground, I am one of the luckiest people in the world to have shared in this short leg of their journey. As a recent participant in our electoral process, replicated here, I was invited to join our Executive Director Julie Adams in providing guidance to the student tellers as they passed, collected and tallied all the ballots. And then, because the electronic voting was set to close at high noon we were sworn to secrecy. To a person I believe that we lucky few honored that window of silence.
But in honoring that window I had the pleasure of watching the body move, assemble, reassemble, coagulate in various shifting cliques and to finally come together in a long moment of celebration as they announced and introduced their new representatives for the upcoming year.
At last the stage was completely set. While the tension was rampant and the body was charged to the point of "bursting in air", they remained very polite and highly respectful of what they were experiencing. The Student Elections Committee Chair, Todd Bowen, Orange Coast College, poised himself at the microphone for a brief moment savoring the anticipation and high expectations.
As he read the results, "109 eligible, 70 voted, 0 disqualified, 49 Yeas needed to ratify with a two-thirds super-majority, 11 Nays, 59 Yeas", the body relaxed and exhaled for a brief moment in time. And then pandemonium broke out. but in that brief moment of relaxation an overwhelming sense of relief passed through the body. From the quiet ones all the way to the vociferous nay-sayers and the passionately concerned diplomats everyone was relieved. This new life had vested itself through the long birth canal of parliamentary process. While their work was just beginning, collectively they had become a living entity, whose soul was far greater than the sum of its parts.
The giddiness was rampant, many had tears in their eyes, even the delegates who had clearly called for "Nay" were not about to arbitrate the power of the moment. In the subsequent session dedicated to hearing the body's concerns about the drafting of by-laws, many were so overwhelmed they found it hard to focus on moving forward. While they didn't have to fight a war against half of Europe while crafting this document, it was still an incredible thing to have experienced. Although I personally would have enjoyed some bombs bursting in air and a rocket's red glare, in truth it wouldn't have added much to the experience for most in attendance.
So what does their future hold? It's a hard thing to call. But what I can say is that local participation will be the thing that nurtures this neophyte into maturity. Without it, this thing may quickly grow cold and gray. Those of you who are in a position to promote and support every local, regional and statewide activity for these remarkable advocates please step up to the plate. The most obvious immediate need is to obtain system level funding. But chip in and help them out, any time and any way you can.
While the Academic Senate played a big part in this monument, many people, too numerous to name, were also heavily involved. but a few deserve special mention.
One, up high on that list, is Gary Holton, San Diego Mesa College, who acted as the ASCCC liaison and student advisor and who was instrumental in facilitating their deliberations.
A second is Maryanne Estes from the System Office, who was not only a guiding light but was the primary force behind the scenes, clearing the red tape and logistical issues so that the students were able to make their bit of history independent of the typical political forces surrounding such history-making.
A third, as usual, right there in the middle of the foray, pulling everything together, is our Executive Director Julie Adams, with her incredible staff doing their usual magic. Incredibly, they pulled off the Senate Plenary Session with 270 attendees on one weekend, and this session with over 300 the following weekend, while also orchestrating the IMPAC conference elsewhere in the state on the same weekend. king arthur, you've got nothing on this round table of knights.
Finally, the real heroes were this year's student delegates who scrapped and cajoled their way into history over the past year. While some will remain to carry on with the hard work, many are already set to pursue their future dreams, be it Berkeley, Stanford, or a robust and wild career of running the universe.
Thank you all for your intense dedication to those whom we most love to serve.
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.