Times of crisis often bring out the best in people. The California Community Colleges system clearly demonstrated this fact with the responses from its colleges to the outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic; the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others; and the increasing uncertainty around the world in the current moment. No one can doubt that when the crises began to impact students, faculty, staff, and communities, the California community colleges rose to the occasion.
Unfortunately, crises can also result in situations in which some individuals or organizations attempt to take advantage of the uncertainty. Most seasoned faculty leaders have probably been through at least one “summer surprise” or something similar: a time when faculty are not expected to be on campus and other stakeholders use that time to make significant changes in reporting structures, administrative constructs, organizational configurations, and, in the worst cases, even scheduling or other programmatic concerns that can impact students and faculty. Many local academic senates have responded over the years by creating a summer cabinet or other sub-committee of their main bodies to ensure that someone is always available to collegially consult with administration, classified professionals, students, and the board.
Unfortunately, collegial consultation becomes more problematic when emergencies force immediate action under circumstances when the local academic senate is not meeting regularly. Chances are good that at some point or another, faculty leaders have been confronted with the need to do something—sign a form, appoint a faculty member, or fill some other pressing need—with the statement from administration that “this is an emergency.” Quite frankly, the situation probably was not truly as urgent as it was presented to be. It was probably the result of someone missing a deadline, forgetting a step in an established process, or hoping that a mistake would not be noticed. Those circumstances are not emergencies. An emergency is being told that the entire campus needs to shut down, effective immediately, and all classes must continue to be held in an online format. That situation, which played out across the state in March, was something that no one could have predicted and that, in fairness, all faculty, administrators, and colleges in general dealt with as well as they could.
Throughout the spring term of 2020 and into summer, colleges rallied to do everything possible to support students: distributing computers and hot spots, opening food banks, creating lab kits so that classes could continue and conclude, and many other actions. The Chancellor’s Office and the ASCCC worked with other system partners to ensure that students would have no issues with transferability of classes and that they could drop courses without repercussions. And faculty and local academic senates did amazing work: creating online learning environments in classes that had not previously been taught remotely, meeting to finish hiring processes and start tenure committees, and holding academic senate and curriculum meetings to ensure that the work of the college continued for the good of all stakeholders. But all of that work was done, at least initially, with the hope that this situation was not going to be permanent and that at some point in the near future faculty and students would all be back on campus and going about their regular lives.
Alas, that has not been the case. As colleges move into the next calendar year and recognize that this reality is likely to exist through the spring and possibly into the summer and beyond, faculty leaders should take note of what is working and what is not. Collegial consultation must be maintained and practiced at all campuses and districts, with the voice of the academic senate recognized as the representative of faculty in all academic and professional matters. Academic senates and curriculum committees need to continue the work of the college, of creating degrees and approving courses and programs and ensuring that the interests of students are being promoted in all actions within the college. Faculty leaders must continue to assert their voices about what is happening at their colleges and districts, even if it is online and through Zoom – and even though the meetings seem endless and longer than before.
Ultimately, faculty leaders must remain in constant contact with administrators and other stakeholders at their colleges. Colleges and districts must, based on their board policies, rely on the advice and judgement of the local academic senate on academic and professional matters, whether through primary reliance or collegial consultation. Even with the changes to Title 5 that grant the chancellor of the California Community Colleges system emergency authority to act, the chancellor must consult with the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges in all academic and professional matters. The same must hold true for local districts and their leaders. If it does not, the ASCCC is always an email away, at info [at] asccc.org, to help in any manner that we can.
The work that faculty around the state are doing has not gone unnoticed nor unappreciated.
All of us look forward to the time when we can celebrate all of the accomplishments of our colleges and leaders in person. Until that time, local senates and faculty in general must remain collegial but vigilant, not only continuing to participate fully in the important work of their colleges inside and outside the classroom but also ensuring that faculty participation is both included and respected in the interests of serving the diverse students and communities of the California Community Colleges system.