Confrontation and the Common Good

May
2007
Ian Walton, President

At Spring Session we examined the delicate balance between cooperating with colleagues who hold a different opinion of issues, versus confronting them. You heard the suggestion that automatic, public confrontation, while perhaps immediately satisfying, is not always an effective long-term strategy. And you've seen the results of recent attempts by the Academic Senate to better cooperate with groups such as statewide administrative organizations, the System Office and the Board of Governors. The most spectacular example has been the interconnected conversation that began with graduation competencies and has led to the Basic Skills Initiative and the emerging exploration of assessment practices.

However, recent events have focused attention on an aspect that was not perhaps apparent at Session. While the decision to confront or cooperate depends on specific personalities and specific issues, you will sometimes reach a different conclusion at the local level from that reached statewide.

Sometimes local interests are in conflict with the "greater good."

Discussion of the Diablo Valley College lawsuit on division chairs has recently appeared on the informal CCCSenates Google Group along with questions about the role of the Academic Senate. I want to share some of the long history and decision making process from the point of view of the ASCCC.

On the surface it seemed like a fairly simple issue. Contra Costa district administration proposed the replacement of a faculty division chair structure at their three colleges by an administrative dean structure. Faculty at Contra Costa College and Los Medanos College appeared relatively accepting of this concept, but faculty at Diablo Valley College were strongly opposed.

ASCCC does not have an official position about which structure is "best." The Spring 2004 position paper Roles and Responsibilities of Faculty Academic Chairs: An Academic Senate Perspective strongly encourages meaningful college-wide conversations to resolve that very question. With different leadership personalities, that might have been a possibility for Diablo Valley but, in fact, that didn't happen and both sides turned to the court system. As we often remark in governance training, this is a sure sign that participatory governance is already seriously broken.

In December 2001 Diablo Valley faculty attended an ASCCC Executive Committee meeting in Oakland to explain their situation and to ask for support. While obviously supportive of fellow faculty, Executive Committee was immediately concerned about the possible wider impact on other colleges should DVC faculty lose their lawsuit. In Executive Committee's opinion, the possible downside consequences of a loss, for all colleges in the system, were more serious than the possible upside consequences of a win, for DVC. Six years later, this is, in part, what has resulted.

At the time in 2001, Executive Committee determined that ASCCC would not participate in the DVC lawsuit. They did this for two reasons: a judgment about the likelihood of negative statewide consequences and a specific concern that part of the DVC faculty case was weak because language in the collective bargaining contract had already conceded that faculty were doing administrative duties.

The court originally ruled in favor of several of the items in the DVC academic senate brief-most notably that the local academic senate did indeed have legal standing in the case. But they ruled against the DVC faculty desire to reinstate the original faculty division chair structure and to mandate collegial consultation. Much of the remaining discussion centered around whether "collegial consultation" on the issue was required and whether it had taken place. This refers to the meaning and intent of the language in Title 5, section 53200 that says "district and college governance structures, as related to faculty roles." In December 2005, ASCCC filed an Amicus Brief at the appeal level because a greater systemwide threat had suddenly appeared. Contra Costa District was claiming for the first time in their appeal that the entire Title 5 Regulations on participatory governance for the community college system should be declared invalid.

In 2007, the Appeal Court in a "published" decision declined to address the Contra Costa newly raised issue concerning the validity of statewide governance regulations but continued to say that collegial consultation was not required in the specific reorganization that took place at DVC.

The DVC faculty senate recently requested that ASCCC join their appeal to the California Supreme Court on the grounds that the "published" response will negatively affect other academic senates.

In consultation with our attorney we determined to maintain our original position and not join the new appeal.

The Appeal Court's decision could, in fact, help all local senates because it focuses attention on traditional faculty roles. It strengthens the case that if those roles are indeed affected by a reorganization, then collegial consultation must take place. But it also strengthens the opposing case that if traditional faculty roles are not affected, then collegial consultation does not need to take place. Unfortunately for the DVC faculty, the court determined that in their specific example, traditional faculty roles were not significantly changed. ASCCC has consistently refrained from joining that part of the dispute and determined to intervene only where we believe clear statewide principles are at stake.

Only time will tell how this issue plays out. Personally, I continue to believe that the inability to effectively discuss this issue in 2001 was a missed opportunity and that new leadership should seize the chance to discuss it now. Of course, some districts may claim that the Appeal Court ruling gives districts carte blanche to unilaterally abolish faculty department and division chairs. But neither our legal counsel nor statewide administrative leaders, that I have unofficially consulted, interpret it that way. DVC faculty will continue to fight for what they believe to be best for their institution-as they should. ASCCC will continue to protect what it sees as statewide faculty interests-as we should.

I have great confidence that your newly elected ASCCC leadership team will successfully navigate these tricky waters on your behalf-under the able command of Mark Wade Lieu. I have enjoyed playing my part for the past two years and look forward to continued informal associations with the many of you who have become friends. Thank you for a wonderful collaborative leadership experience.

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.