The Call to Service
On July 15, Governor Davis issued the following statement: "I strongly support community service and believe that a service ethic should be taught and re-enforced as a lasting value in California . . . I want our students to understand, as generations before them did, the importance of contributing to their communities . . . ." He called on the three public systems of higher education to work toward the development of a community service requirement for undergraduate students. The Governor requested, through the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates, that a proposal be developed to implement a community service graduation requirement at all three segments of higher education in California.
At the Fall 1999 Plenary Session, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges responded to Governor Davis' call for service by passing a resolution which affirmed that the faculty is committed to the "cultivation of altruism in service to society in general" (community service) and "committed to support and extend sound programs and offerings that promote a service ethic among students" (service learning). The resolution affirmed that we favor "voluntary efforts rather than a systemwide community college graduation requirement for community service."
The Academic Senates of both UC and CSU came to similar conclusions. The Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates has since recommended that community service projects be a key funding area for the Intersegmental Joint Faculty Projects (IJFP), grants which encourage intersegmental faculty cooperation and coordination.
Within our system, there is much on which to build. Service learning programs and courses and volunteer centers are widespread in community colleges. Now we have an opportunity to extend these efforts and do some really exciting and important work.
The Executive Committee has been working towards implementation of our own resolution and has focused on three essential elements: 1) the development of service learning programs, in which elements of community service are incorporated into the curriculum, and for which students receive academic credit; 2) the development of campus community service volunteer centers, through which students perform volunteer service in the community, unrelated to course work and without academic credit; and 3) an emphasis on addressing real community needs, with the campus itself treated as a microcosm of the larger community.
In adapting the call to service to our community colleges, we need to speak to the unique and varied needs of our students. We believe that efforts toward service in our system should concentrate on providing real solutions to real needs-of our students and of the communities we serve. These needs are many, but we can focus on those that fall within the realm of the environment, public safety, human needs and education. Further, we can focus first on our own campus communities. After all, the California community colleges serve thousands of economically disadvantaged students who need help-and who need to learn to help themselves. These students often confront the same problems that exist in the larger community: hunger, inadequate transportation, inadequate health care, and insufficient child care. If we make our campuses a primary focus of service, we can help students make a difference in their own lives and in those of their fellow students.
A "campus first" approach to service will encourage students to analyze social issues, to discover that social problems can be resolved, and to enjoy the benefits of working in community with others. By starting with the needs they bring with them from their own communities, disadvantaged students in particular can learn to be proactive in removing barriers to their education. They can learn that their problems are not intractable, and that working in community can improve the community. To the extent efforts to address and resolve problems of our own students are successful, we predict students will experience higher retention rates, higher course completion rates, and higher success rates in all areas.but most importantly, we will take a giant step toward fulfilling the promise that we are the gateway to academic and economic success for all students.
The Academic Senate is currently working with the Chancellor's Office to develop these ideas into concrete proposals to implement service learning and community service efforts across the colleges. If you're interested in hearing more and helping to develop ideas and plans, attend the community service breakout at our upcoming 2000 Spring Plenary Session on Thursday, April 13, 2:00-3:30 p.m., San Francisco Airport Westin. (With thanks to Ed Connolly, Brad Duncan, and Executive Vice Chancellor Patrick Lenz for their work and support of the Academic Senate on these issues.)
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