Faculty Are Progressive! (Despite What You May Hear)


Sometimes it is just too easy to blame the faculty. We see it in the daily newspaper: what is wrong with the K-12 school system is the teachers, whether it is the fact that they cannot compensate for all that ails society by way of the children in their classes or whether it is their resistance to tying student progress to teacher performance evaluations. In postsecondary education, the faculty are also an easy target: some folks claim that colleges and universities are inflexible or stuck in the Middle Ages. It is too easy to forget the pioneering faculty members who embraced distance education and developed an exemplary pedagogy to serve a targeted population of college students. It is easy to forget the innovative faculty members we all know who readily adapt to shifting student needs. There are countless examples of faculty members making changes in curriculum, instruction and support services and some practices have become a model for others. At the state level, the faculty working through the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges have been leaders of innovation during recent years. Let’s look at a few examples, starting with the present.

Governor Schwarznegger signed SB 1440 on September 29, 2010, and two weeks later, on October 7, the Academic Senate used its existing infrastructure to convene intersegmental discipline faculty to draft Transfer Model Curriculum (TMC) in 11 of the transfer disciplines. The timeline imposed by Senator Padilla’s bill demanded a lightening-speed response time, and fortunately the C-ID structure (www.c-id.net) was poised and ready to provide the foundational processes to implement new associate degrees for transfer that would guarantee students priority admission in the CSU. Knowing that the ideal strategy would be to engage the discipline faculty in consensus-building about the best content for their degrees, California community college (CCC) faculty adroitly developed and are already implementing a statewide system that will not only work well for the colleges and universities but will also help students by providing them with a thorough lower division preparation as well as a flexibility to attend multiple CSU campuses. This SB 1440 response is not an example of faculty resistance and inflexibility.

The public and media focus today on “student success” (which faculty would say has always been our focus) highlights a flaw in the regulations affecting our colleges. There is abundant evidence that students are dropping out or failing classes and as a result not completing their academic goals; in many cases it is because they are unprepared for the demands of the courses. Faculty know that students are taking transfer courses without the necessary writing, reading, or computational skills. After years of having their hands tied with unwieldy prerequisite requirements that generally resulted in a lack of the appropriate use of prerequisites, faculty wrote a resolution calling for a change in Title 5 regulations to permit them to employ rigorous content review to establish prerequisites of composition, reading, or mathematics where needed. The recommended change is now under consideration by the Board of Governors. This is an example of faculty calling for a change in order to strengthen student success.

For a number of years there has been a desire to investigate the feasibility of streamlining the way assessment for placement is conducted in California’s community colleges. Presently, each college may select its own instruments from those approved by the Chancellor’s Office. There are some disadvantages to the present system: students may need to re-take assessments if they move to another college; most tests do not contain all the attributes desired by the discipline faculty and the costs of administering tests can be quite high. The CCC Assess Task Group which has been meeting for a year, is co-chaired by a faculty member and has convened faculty discipline groups to consider potential new or revised instruments that could assess students’ skills levels more precisely and could be purchased at a significantly lower cost. This work is still underway, but so far the results seem promising and could greatly improve assessment in our colleges. The participation of the Academic Senate is the outcome of a resolution to consider changes in the current assessment practices.

In 2005 the CSU halted the intersegmental course numbering system, Course Articulation Numbers (CAN). (Yes, people do say they “canned CAN”). The plan at CSU at the time was to assign new numbers to the courses identified in their LDTP (Lower Division Transfer Pattern) initiative. However, those numbers were insufficient to meet either the aims of the previous CAN system or the additional needs of an improved numbering system. In the absence of CAN, both the CSU and the CCCs were out of compliance with the mandate for “common course numbering” called for in legislation. Enter the Academic Senate with a plan for a new and improved system. With a small amount of seed money in the form of a grant from the Chancellor’s Office, the Academic Senate invited the CSU and UC faculty to design a better system: Course Identification Numbering System (C-ID). It must be noted that initially C-ID had to agree to avoid working with the courses in the LDTP initiative. It wasn’t until there was a general consensus in the last year that LDTP could not be realized as originally envisioned that C-ID became free to broaden its range of courses and include the common major preparation courses. Today, the C-ID structure (http://www.c-id.net) not only responds to the requirement for “common course numbering,” but it builds upon the successful faculty-to-faculty discipline dialog begun in the 1990s IMPAC initiative (Intersegmental Major Preparation Articulated Curriculum). (Note that IMPAC, CAN and LDTP are no longer extant). And with the recent passage of SB 1440, C-ID provides the infrastructure for the necessary intersegmental faculty consensus-building that will make the Transfer Model Curriculum (TMC) a success in SB 1440 implementation. C-ID has attributes that no previous system has had.

In 2005 the Academic Senate passed resolutions calling for a change in Title 5 to require all CCC graduates to complete the college-level English composition course (typically known as “Freshman English” or “English 1A”) and complete a mathematics course one level below transfer (intermediate algebra or equivalent). Because of concerns about the potential effects on students who would need additional assistance in meeting those levels, this recommendation led directly to the developing of the Basic Skills Initiative (BSI) which was conceived through the collaboration of the Academic Senate and college vice presidents of instruction and student services. Faculty across the state conducted analyses to identify areas for improvement and action plans to implement changes. The innovation that was the BSI led to immediate and ongoing improvement in the delivery of instruction and services in our colleges, and the long-term effects are still being realized (see http://bsi.cccco.edu/ListRecords.aspx). The materials developed under the BSI grant include the literature review of effective practices, the Basic Skills Handbook, and an Effective Practices database.

A spin off of the BSI was the recognition that our data collection about basic skills courses did not consistently identify the various levels of basic skills courses across the state. How could we demonstrate student progress through pre-collegiate courses if the coding system identifying the various levels in English and mathematics was inconsistent? When the faculty identified the discrepancy, it led to a faculty-driven “re-coding” effort: CB 21. Colleges and the state will be able to more accurately identify and analyze student success through basic skills courses. It is likely that most of the innovations through the BSI would not have occurred had the faculty not pushed the envelope by insisting that the English and mathematics degree requirements be changed. The ripple effect of BSI has lasting outcomes.

In 2005 Senator Jack Scott saw the successful passage of SB 70, which focused on improving the linkages and pathways between high school and California community colleges career-technical education (CTE) programs. In response to SB 70, the Academic Senate was awarded a multi-year grant to develop and implement the largest of the SB 70 initiatives: Statewide Career Pathways: School to College Articulation. The infrastructure for the articulation of CTE classes from high schools and Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCP) to the community colleges has made it possible for thousands of secondary students to get appropriate college credit for secondary coursework, and research from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University (CCRC) shows that when secondary students are also getting college credit, they see themselves as successful college students and their chances of going to and completing a college program increase.

In addition to fostering the development of articulation templates (114 at last count) in all of the industry sectors and over 1,425 articulation agreements, this initiative also created a handbook for school-to-college articulation, a CTE counseling resource kit, CTE lesson plans and the WhoDoUWant2B.com website.

The Academic Senate is not claiming it has acted alone in the innovations described here. The point is that these initiatives illustrate that faculty are progressive. So, the next time you hear that faculty are resistant to change, please dispel the myth. Mention the creative changes you have witnessed at your college and the far-ranging improvements developed at the state level.