The Forgotten Ones: Whom Do We Represent?

Jane Patton, Occupational Education Committee Chair

At the recent Spring 2005 Plenary Session, the Occupational Education Committee sponsored a breakout titled "The Forgotten Ones: Whom Do You Represent?" The premise for discussion was that often on our campuses, certain programs and services can be left out of campus discussions, because they are unique in their needs, because they are smaller programs or because the representatives at the table are not informed about the variety of program and faculty characteristics across campus.

While a December 2004 Rostrum article addressed occupational programs specifically (programs that are often forgotten) and suggested that faculty leaders need to broaden their knowledge of occupational programs, this article points to the wider range of programs and services that can be ignored or forgotten when college decisions are made.

The discussion at session was organized around five questions. Those questions are listed below with some of the responses generated by the panel and audience. They are offered here informally, as a summary of the conversation we had. Perhaps their discussion will serve as starting point for local discussions you might want to have.

The first question we asked was: Why are we having this conversation? What are the issues? Responses included these points: Senates and shared governance groups have to represent all programs; that is hard. We are physically separated on campus, leading to real or imagined barriers and distance between people and programs. Some of us feel like or are treated as "step-children." We feel we have to defend our programs and ourselves. If our program is labeled as "non WSCH-generating", a negative stigma is attached. Campus meetings are scheduled at times we have work duties (counseling, clinical duty, labs), so we cannot attend them. We're left out. There is a lack of collaboration across programs. Noncredit is not understood; it's a mystery to many people.

The second question we asked was: What do all programs and areas of the college have in common? The audience and panel had the following responses. Students! We all care about student success and retention. We are all at the same institution. We all serve our local community's needs and demands. We each have requirements for accountability and funding. Faculty across disciplines may have similar concerns about trustees or administrators. All faculty have guaranteed powers and authority (via their senates). We have personal lives too!

The third question was: What things are unique to certain programs (e.g. occupational programs, counseling, libraries, noncredit)? The responses included the following. Some work schedules and workloads are different from those of classroom faculty-such as those of Counselors, Librarians, and Coordinators. Faculty in different positions can have different relationships with certain administrators; this can cause friction with other faculty. Some faculty deal with staff issues (as supervisors, doing scheduling, etc). There may be unique funding needs. Accreditation processes and standards may vary. Some programs maintain community relationships and involvement in their programs (e.g. advisory committees). Students in different programs need different kinds of support services and retention strategies. Primary missions of certain programs differ. Student's expectations and goals differ (e.g. fail program=no career). Special programs include internships, Puente, etc. Our counselors are faculty-unlike elsewhere. Some programs have access issues.

The fourth question put to the group was this: What are some strategies senates and senate presidents can use to a) educate themselves, 2) educate the senates, 3) ensure governance committees take broad perspectives and not limited views? These suggestions were made: Remember that you are powerful! Work with administrators. Don't attack colleagues. Think "we" not "they." Ensure faculty from various programs attend and participate fully. Help them become leaders (e.g. by attending Vocational Leadership Institutes). Look at your governance policies; revise where needed (if not all groups are represented). Be accessible. One senate president's example: he went around his campus to meet each faculty member personally. List the various causes or issues on your campus. Be aware of them. Have a climate of unity. Defend all programs. Do your homework. Research. Prepare. Make a special effort to inform people who did not attend a meeting. Take advantage of networks, listservs and other ways to contact people. Have counselors serve as a liaison to each program or department. Librarians can work with individual departments. Educate the Board and administration about your unique programs (e.g., "A Day in the Life of our Department"). Celebrate people and the good work they do. Get more people to attend governance meetings - not only those on the committee. Informal processes are also important. Be inclusive. Build good relationships between union and academic senate.

The final question put to the group was: What are some terms or labels we use that might inadvertently push people's buttons? Because our language shapes perceptions, what alternate expressions could we use? The first concern was about minimum qualifications. On the Minimum Qualifications list, the terms "master's" vs. "non master's" creates a category that is a "non." An alternative might be a heading that says "degree or education requirement" and the categories can be "master's" or "baccalaureate." The participants then said that there are various terms we use that can needlessly contribute to negative impressions about programs or groups. They listed some of those expressions and suggested alternative language. Instead of saying "They" we can say "We" because after all, we are all in the same boat. Rather than say "Non teaching" we could say "faculty" because we all are faculty. The term "Non academic" can be insulting. Perhaps this term should be avoided. If someone is comparing, say, occupational programs to transfer programs, those terms are preferable. When one says "Non WSCH-generating," it suggests that services provided by faculty are not all equally valued. And it was suggested that ultimately, all faculty help keep students in their classes, no matter what their role may be. Another expression that people found irritating was "non-transfer faculty." It is the course that is transferable, not the faculty member!

In general, the suggestion was to use more specific language when discussing our programs and faculty and to be sensitive to the possible effect that labels can have on our relationships on campus.

This conversation reminds us of several rather obvious principles: When we know people personally, we are more apt to include and defend them. The language we use to define one another contributes to the quality of our relationships. If we all keep talking and learning from one another, we will probably all benefit. As Woodrow Wilson once said, "I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow."

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.