The Devil's in the Pragmatism


Many people have asked about the academic senate position on the upcoming community college ballot Initiative-or "community college governance, funding stabilization, and student fee Reduction act"-to use its official title. the short answer is that the senate does not yet have an official position, other than the resolution from the fall 2005 Plenary session (6.04), instructing us to share and educate.

The longer answer is a delightful exercise in the application of principle and pragmatism that so captured our imaginations at that same session.

Last week I was in a hotel ballroom in sacramento listening to political consultants Ray mcnally and Richie Ross give the "apple pie and motherhood" version of the initiative:

  • It will allow everybody to go to college;
  • It will reduce student fees;
  • It won't raise taxes; and
  • It won't hurt k-12.

Now who could possibly be against that? and as the consultants remarked, just say that and no more and it'll pass. When asked if they thought the governor would support the initiative the consultants said two interesting things:

  • After the fate of the propositions on the last ballot, no politician will want to be seen opposing education;
  • Tell the governor's staff that the initiative merely institutionalizes the wonderful things he's done for community colleges in the last year (thank you very much.).

Now, descending from the thirty thousand foot level-or the rarified atmosphere of sacramento-it becomes less obvious. At the very least there are interesting questions about how different parts of the initiative interact with existing academic senate positions. Up to this point the academic senate has maintained a position similar to the system office-considerable and ongoing interest, but not as an official sponsor of the initiative. Many thanks to our faculty colleagues for keeping us well supplied with information (faccc, cft and the la college guild are primary sponsors along with cclc). One particular feature of a ballot initiative is both a strength and a failing. The specific language is the subject of intense negotiation-even political horsetrading-amongst the primary sponsors. The language can change up until the very moment that it is officially filed with the state. And once the language is finalized, you have to vote the whole package up or down. So although many of the concepts, as originally presented in a series of meetings around the state in 2004, seemed naturals for academic senate support, this is truly a case of "the devil's in the details." the initiative tackles several different areas. You can find the final, detailed language online at the attorney general's office website at:

Let's take a look at some of the proposals in light of academic senate positions.

Department of Finance Provision - Definitely Support

This one's a no-brainer. The initiative proposes to strike the existing language in education code 70901.5 (a) (6) that allows the department of finance to interfere with the setting of statewide educational policy-such as blocking the creation of an Information competency requirement for graduation-just because it might cost money. We have existing academic senate resolutions 5.01 f01 and 6.01 f02 supporting this position.

System Office Provisions - Probably Support

The initiative proposes several changes to article vII and article IX of the california constitution to enhance the status of the board of governors and the system office, and to permit them to function more like csu or uc. Specifically, the chancellor and up to twelve system office executive officers would be exempt from civil service, thus allowing appointments and compensation to be made by the board of governors. This probably cures many long-standing academic senate concerns about the inefficiencies imposed by the existing state agency structure (see related resolutions regarding the california Performance Review, such as 6.05 and 6.06 f04).

Board of Governors Membership - Possibly Support

The initiative proposes several changes to the membership of the board of governors:

  • Increase the number of local trustees from two to three;
  • Increase the number of employees from one to two and require that one represent the ceos;
  • change the second student position from non-voting to voting;
  • Increase the number of faculty from two to three and permit non-tenured or retired faculty.

While it would be nice to have an additional faculty member on the board, the other tradeoffs may not be worth it. There is no existing academic senate position on this issue.

Proposition 98 - It's a gamble!

over the years, we've had considerable debate about whether we would fare better in the state's annual funding sweepstakes by remaining inside the protection of Proposition 98 or moving outside. Inside, we compete with k-12 and have been largely unsuccessful in receiving our "fair share of the split." outside, we would compete directly with csu and uc for higher education's share of the state general fund. The academic senate does not have a position on this.

The initiative proposes changes to article XvI of the california constitution that would separate Proposition 98 into two separate pots of money that will grow independently, based on respective growth figures for k-12 and community colleges. In the near term, our system enrollment is projected to grow faster than k-12. The governor's proposed budget for 2006-07 actually treats us better than the initiative guarantee. But how often does that happen? It's a gamble.

Student Fees - Principles or Pragmatism?

The issue of student fees is the most interesting ethical debate for the Academic Senate.

The senate has a clear, long-standing position from many resolutions and the fall 2004 position paper, What's Wrong with Student Fees?, renewing the Commitment to No-Fee, Open-Access Community Colleges in California. We advocate that mandatory enrollment fees should be rolled back to zero.

The initiative proposes changes to education code 76301 to roll back fees to $20/unit, and then put a future growth mechanism in place that requires action by the legislature to raise fees and includes an annual cap based on per capita personal income.

So there's the dilemma. Is the initiative proposal opposed to the Senate's "roll back to zero" position or is it a good first step towards it? It's certainly vastly superior to most of the other proposals out there in the big, bad world.

The community college student fee Working group (see november 2005 Rostrum) seems to want a mechanism that automatically raises fees with no legislative thought or action required. When asked to comment on the missing 200,000 students identified by the system's fee Impact study, a legislative analyst office spokesperson responded that there's no correct number of students. There was no admission that losing 200,000 is clearly the wrong number of students. And, as we've mentioned before, the campaign for college opportunity is proposing that students and their families should pay 25% of the cost of their education.

You decide

so with these thoughts, it's up to you to decide whether or not to support the initiative. You may have been asked to help with immediate fund raising to gather signatures to place the initiative on the november 2006 ballot. The academic senate would not presume to tell you how to spend your local senate funds, let alone your personal funds. You could decide to give support right now, or you could wait for the campaign phase. The initiative contains many proposals that would clearly benefit our system and our students. Between now and april you'll have an opportunity to craft resolutions and vote on whether the academic senate should take a statewide position prior to the november election.