As representative and decision-making legislative bodies, local academic senates must make their discussions and decisions accessible to all of their colleges’ faculty, full-time and part-time, as well as to the broader community. This statement is true whether the local academic senate is truly representative, in which faculty members are elected or selected as representatives by departments or divisions, or a senate-of-the-whole, in which all faculty members are encouraged to engage in senate discussions and decisions.
This need for and expectation of transparency, inclusion, and access to discussions and decisions of academic senates as representative and public bodies is at the core of public meeting legislation like the Bagley Keene Act, which governs state-level board and commissions in California, and the Ralph M. Brown Act, which governs local-level legislative boards and commissions like academic senates. Section 54950 of California Government Code includes language that reinforces the need for transparency: “It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.” However, as noted in the 2003 pamphlet The Brown Act: Open Meetings for Local Legislative Bodies, published by the attorney general of California, “Although the principle of open meetings initially seems simple, application of the law to real life situations can prove to be quite complex.” (Office of the Attorney General, 2003).
Local academic senate and curriculum committee leaders as well as faculty leaders of subcommittees of these legislative bodies may be aware of the provisions for open meetings established by the Ralph M. Brown Act, particularly those provisions that help ensure transparency of discussion. Faculty leaders are also often aware of the difficulties in complying with certain provisions of the Brown Act during the COVID-19 pandemic and as education returns physically, in varying degrees, to campuses. Modifications to the Brown Act made during the pandemic by Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-29-20 in March 2020 , Executive Order N-35-20 in March 2020 , and AB 361 (Rivas, 2021)  allowed for teleconferencing without compliance with some of the long-standing requirements for teleconferencing “when a declared state of emergency is in effect, or in other situations related to public health” (AB 2449, 2022). Some of these modifications, particularly those resulting from AB 361, are in effect through January 1, 2024. AB 2449 (Blanca Rubio, 2022)  was signed into law by Governor Newsom on September 13, 2022 and extends the period in which certain provisions of the Brown Act relating to teleconferencing are modified under specific conditions through January 1, 2026. In recognition of the role of technology in increasing public access to meetings of state and local boards and agencies, including college academic senates, arguments in support of the measure in the Assembly Floor Analysis note, “[AB 2449] modernizes existing law to ensure greater public participation in meetings of the legislative bodies of local agencies who choose to utilize teleconferencing” (Concurrence, 2022). Local academic senate, curriculum committee, and affected subcommittee leaders must become familiar with the provisions of AB 2449 and determine if current practices related to teleconferencing and remote participation by members are still allowable.
AB 2449 allows for teleconferencing without noticing each teleconference location and making each location publicly accessible. This allowance is good news for members of bodies who may need to participate remotely from some other site, including their homes. However, to have this flexibility, specific conditions must be met:
- At least a quorum must be physically present at a single site, which must be open to the public and within the group’s jurisdiction.
- Members may participate remotely only after notifying the legislative body of the need to participate remotely for just cause, as defined within the bill and not allowable for more than two meetings a year, or may request to participate remotely due to emergency circumstances, which must be included for action on the agenda or, if requested after the agenda is posted, acted upon at the start of the meeting as appropriate to existing Brown Act provisions for taking action on items not appearing in the agenda.
- A member may not participate remotely for more than three consecutive months or 20% of regular meetings of a legislative body within a calendar year or more than two meetings if the body meets fewer than ten times per calendar year.
While some aspects of AB 2449 may seem confusing and restrictive as it relates to remote attendance and participation of members using teleconferencing, some of the new provisions are centered on ensuring the public has an opportunity to attend and participate, at least as allowed through real time public comment, in the discussions and deliberations. Academic senate leaders can consider ways to work within the updated Brown Act to bring more voices via public attendance and comment, to be inclusive of a greater number and diversity of faculty voices, and, through increased access for public members, to potentially nurture future senate leaders.
While the Brown Act and its newest modifications resulting from AB 2449 put in place the legal requirements for the work of academic senates to be transparent and inclusive, being attentive to transparency and inclusion is also a key aspect of implementing a framework of inclusion, diversity, equity, anti-racism, and accessibility while conducting the work of an academic senate.
Aligned with the expectation that academic senates be transparent and inclusive, in June 2021, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) adopted a new Policy on Social Justice. This policy states in part, “The Commission recognizes the moral necessity of promoting equity and diversity through its policies and practices, and creating a climate of inclusion and anti-racism among its membership” (ACCJC, 2021). Throughout the ACCJC social justice policy, one can find references to the importance of “promoting inclusionary practices.” The ACCJC Policy on Social Justice acknowledges “historical and systemic institutional racist structures and policies that exist in society, stemming from prejudice, discrimination, and implicit biases, which have benefited white people and disadvantaged people of color.” In many cases, these structures have been barriers to participation in academic senate convenings and representation on academic senates by people of color; academic senate, curriculum committee, and other subcommittee leaders should examine current structures, engage with underrepresented faculty, and be intentional in inclusive approaches, including leveraging the technology and teleconferencing allowances of AB 2449.
Legislation such as AB 2449, although limited in its time frame given it is to sunset on January 1, 2026, provides an opportunity for local senate leaders to encourage attendance and participation, even when remote, at academic senate, curriculum, and other sub-committee meetings. Arguments can be made to support any future legislative changes that will allow more access to local academic senate meetings via teleconferencing methods. This access is especially important for those who cannot physically be in the meetings or for those colleges that have affiliated centers that are a significant distance from the main campus. Having more flexibility around public meeting policy can assist colleges in increasing the levels of inclusion, diversity, equity, antiracism, and access in spaces where increased participation can lead to more rich and varied conversations around local policymaking and the establishment of processes and procedures.
AB 2449, Blanca Rubio, California Assembly. (2022). (Enacted) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB2449.
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. (2021, June). Policy on Cocial Justice. https://accjc.org/wp-content/uploads/Policy-on-Social-Justice.pdf.
Concurrence in Senate Amendments AB 2449 (Blanca Rubio.) (2022, August 8). Assembly Floor Analysis. https://alcl.assembly.ca.gov/sites/alcl.assembly.ca.gov/files/AB%202449%20%28B.%20Rubio%29.pdf
Office of the Attorney General. (2003). The Brown Act: Open Meetings for Local Legislative Bodies. https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/media/the-brown-act.pdf.
 The text of Executive Order N-29-20 is available at https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.17.20-N-29-20-EO.pdf.
 The text of Executive Order N-35-20 is available at https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.21.20-EO-N-35-20.pdf.
 The text of AB 361 is available at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB361
 The text of AB 2339 is available at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB2449