Evolving a Plan of Action: Some Basics


A common complaint, frequently expressed by delegates to last year's Academic Senate Plenary meetings, had to do with the ongoing absence of adequate funding for California's community colleges from our Legislature. There were concerns about the tendency to support California's correctional institutions at a higher level than those committed to the education of our youth. Some other attendees were concerned about the relative difference between the per-student funding at our state universities as compared to that offered our community colleges, a comparison that did not especially favor community colleges. Still others were concerned about the perceived inequity in distribution of Proposition 98 funds. Usually these conversations would end with a note of resignation as in, "but what can we do?"

That was the initial source of inspiration for the Spring 2003 Resolution 1.04 "Evolving a Plan of Action." As the author of that resolution, my argument rests on the assumption that we are not especially satisfied by simply continuing to ask, "what can we do?" So I have joined the Academic Senate's Legislative and Governmental Relations Committee to undertake the task of developing such a plan.

To my mind, the basic elements of any effective plan designed to affect the outcome of political engagement would include simplicity, clarity, and wide spread acceptance of both our process and our objective. The Legislative and Governmental Relations Committee has begun to discuss a plan of action that would be guided by a few basic assumptions.

First, we must be clear about what we want and why we want it, and we will have to engage in a process that builds consensus among our constituency. The final product or objective must be fairly focused, uncomplicated by separate, or more specialized demands that could lead to the fragmentation of our efforts. It will be essential that the objective be clearly understood and supported by the community college faculty.

Second, any plan must include a method of engagement by which the faculty of California's community colleges are, and feel, a part of the process.

Next, we need to learn how to connect effectively with members of the legislature. There are 120 members of the State Legislature, and surely we can identify 120 faculty who have an existing and ongoing relationship with at least one of these legislators or members of their legislative staff and who would be willing to convey to them the State Academic Senate's message about critical issues. This point does not speak to the question about how that message is developed; only about how to transmit it once it has been formulated.

Any plan must be visible to our communities. It will also be critical to develop a deliberate campaign at every community college that highlights what we do well and how the community is, ultimately, the beneficiary of that effort. To this end, the State Academic Senate might consider the development of a template that could be helpful to local senates in making their case locally. They are, perhaps, only a few threads linking Republicans and Democrats, but one such thread is the need to be re-elected. There is also a shared view that our community colleges offer the most resource-efficient system of higher education in an era of scarcity, and that our programs are clearly linked to the future success of California's residents, particularly its youth.

If this is so, why are we funded at such low levels? At the risk of oversimplifying, I believe we have not had a clear and concerted process by which to convey our views. Instead, we have been seen as fragmented groups in search of narrow interests. The intent of this "Plan of Action" is to make it possible to develop the critical issues and speak with a single, effective voice to those who make the decisions that matter most to us.

We can make a positive difference in terms of how we are perceived in Sacramento. The Legislative and Governmental Relations Committee believes that there is a need for some haste as the better organized and better funded elements of our society are likely to understand this and take appropriate action. We will be thinking through the ideas presented above during the next few months. We would encourage you to join us in the discussion by sending your comments to the Chair of the Committee, Ken Snell at: flcsase [at] flc.losrios.edu.