It's baaack...75:25 and the Governator Effect


Politics is an interesting endeavor-full of opportunities and traps. In his first year in office Governor Schwarzenegger achieved considerable success by breaking the mold of the traditional process and crafting flamboyant personal deals. but it all fell spectacularly apart when he encountered the immovable "special interests" of teachers, nurses and firefighters. When the public perception is that you've broken your word it becomes very difficult to broker any new deals. It remains to be seen whether this year's budget largesse and the attempt to suddenly honor the original deal on Proposition 98 funds will resonate with the voters in November. Is giving your personal word, reneging on it, and then "fessing-up" under threat of a lawsuit a successful political strategy?

A similar political dynamic may be appearing in a lower key, but still interesting, way with our own board of governors and the long-running 75:25 issue. At the May 1st board meeting, members took an action that was perceived, not just by statewide faculty representatives, but by several board members themselves as the very public breaking of a deal previously agreed by the Board itself. Admittedly, the individuals serving on the Board are different, but it's the perception of the official action that counts.

Breaking your own deal is very different from the more common occurrence where the Board takes an action that is contrary to the advice of Consultation or individual constituency groups.

There are several inter-related, difficult issues such as 75:25, 60% and 50% laws that might benefit from a combined "let's make a super-deal" approach. Does the may action mean that such an approach is now off the table completely because "you can't trust them to honor their own deal?" Or can we figure out a way to move forward together?

So what exactly happened? If you're an expert on 75:25 you can skip the grisly details in the next four paragraphs. As you probably know, the enforcement mechanism for 75:25 compliance is the annual faculty obligation number (fon) issued by the system office and available online at…. It has always been regarded as ineffective by the academic senate because, at best, it maintains the status quo by increasing the number of full-time faculty in direct proportion to the increase in student enrollment. It does nothing to increase the ratio and advance the system towards the long-standing goal of 75% as a minimum of credit instruction taught by full-time faculty. Every time an exemption is granted we move further away from the goal-as witnessed by the statewide average figures for the actual full-time, part-time ratio (Fall 1988: 63.1%, Fall 1998: 62.2%, Fall 2005: 61.4%.)

In Summer 2002 the System Office calculated and notified districts of the routine increase in full-time faculty that would be required by Fall 2003. This calculation is based on state funds already budgeted to the district in the 2002-03 year. Then the mid-year state budget cuts arrived. As a result of long, difficult conversations and negotiations at consultation council and at the board of governors meeting, the board crafted the following public deal at its November 2002 meeting:

1. Start with the original increase as calculated by the system office;

2. Automatically reduce that increase by 50% for all districts (a permanent waiver that has never been restored);

3. Allow districts to apply for a temporary deferral of the remaining 50% increase. This was originally to be restored after one year and was later extended to two years. Students, bargaining units and local academic senates had to support the request for this deferral.

So a district that received a deferral and two years later (Fall 2004) restored its full-time faculty number received no reduction in funds. districts that failed to restore their original faculty goal at the end of the two year period were identified for apportionment reduction. In addition, there was never an authorization to drop below the base number of faculty (the Fall 2002 obligation number prior to the originally calculated increase for Fall 2003.) So districts that dropped below this base were also identified for reduction in apportionment. Notice an important point that the senate has repeatedly made. this reduction in apportionment is not a fine, nor punitive in any sense. This is "categorical" funding.

If districts spend the offered funding on full-time faculty positions, they get to keep the money. If they do not spend it on full-time faculty, they must return it. What could be simpler or fairer?

Twelve districts were identified for apportionment reductions. Then an additional "deferral" came into play. Districts were offered the choice of taking the funding reduction immediately or of postponing until 2005-06. five districts paid up immediately and seven requested a deferral. So far everything is within the terms of the Board of Governors' November 2002 deal.

Now fast forward to the May 2006 Board of Governors meeting. Suddenly the seven districts who have not returned the funds that they already received but failed to spend on full-time faculty were granted a complete amnesty-a retroactive dispensation to break the law. Imagine how you feel if you're one of the vast majority of districts who struggled to do effective, responsible planning and comply with the law in 2003. Imagine if you're one of the districts who failed to comply but chose to take your funding reduction immediately. Imagine if you're one of the districts who failed to comply in a different year and isn't eligible for an amnesty (2005-06). Imagine the effect on future compliance with almost any regulation.

Of course, in a completely underfunded system you can always make the completely compelling case that your district desperately needs the funds, and that the money will clearly benefit students and programs. Administrators, and in some cases faculty, from the seven districts passionately made that argument before the board. We can all make exactly that case any time we see the potential for additional funds for our own local district. but every statewide faculty representative argued eloquently that a retroactive amnesty is appalling statewide public policy.

This conversation highlights some fundamental differences of opinion with some CEOs who consistently argue that the 75:25 goal was a vague ideal only to be contemplated in times of specific funding.

They cite the two years of program improvement funding provided after AB1725 as evidence for this. (Notice, paradoxically, that although we actually received dedicated funding we failed to sustain an increase in the ratio.) But more importantly, the historical record shows that increasing the percentage of full-time faculty was an established goal of both the legislature and the Board of Governors well prior to AB1725 and was independent of the dedicated funding concept.(Board of Governors, January 1978 and SB630, 1987)

"Unfunded mandate" has become a perverse rationale to do anything in our system. the original concept has been turned on its head and is now used to argue that we can't do anything unless we're provided dedicated funding for it-often by the same people who oppose categorical funding and advocate strongly for more local control. This very argument was recently heard in the early stages of opposition to the math/English graduation requirement recommendation. And it was used to oppose either a carrot or a stick approach to target for improvement those districts with abysmally low ratios in the forty or fifty percent range.

Comments from individual CEO testimony to the Board and various versions of a CEO statement on 75:25 distributed at the Board meeting, "Why Don't Districts Reach This Goal" have suggested that "statewide faculty leaders do not represent the views of local faculty", "are not aware of needs which local faculty consider more urgent", and "are able to advocate the merits of a single policy without regard to fiscal realities." As mentioned above, when you're locally offered additional money who could possibly argue against it? But in terms of statewide policy, the additional money should never have been offered. The Academic Senate's adopted position in support of 75:25 comes from a long series of resolutions, (S97, S99, S00, S03, F04), endorsed by voting delegates who represent every college and district local academic senate in our system.

There have also been suggestions that 75% may not be the correct number to reach. We agree-75% was originally intended as the minimal floor-not the exact target or the ultimate ceiling. Interestingly the csu system adopted a similar goal in Fall 2001. There have been requests for evidence that full-time faculty benefit students. This usually seems to be a desire for a simplistic, single outcomes measurement such as a direct correlation between percentage of full-time faculty and student GPA in a specific class.

In fact, the widely available research points to a much more complex set of benefits where students prosper in an environment that provides easy and consistent access to a wide variety of interactions with full-time faculty, both inside and outside the classroom.

So what is the deal that would allow us to move forward on 75:25? The faculty representatives on the prematurely abandoned system 75:25 task force consistently argued that there needed to be a balance of two fundamental ingredients in any solution. In return for additional flexibility for districts that were in verifiable fiscal distress, or just genuinely different, there had to be a mechanism that guaranteed forward progress to increase the statewide average. A promise to request additional funds for full-time faculty positions is not adequate.

And what's that got to do with 60% and 50%?

Proponents of raising the part-time faculty load limit from 60% to 80% argued that the issue was independent of the full-time part-time ratio because it is guaranteed by the FON regulations. Since May's board of governors' action demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the FON guarantee, it's perhaps well that the body so soundly defeated the proposal to raise the 60% limit. There may be some legitimate examples where increased staffing flexibility would be advantageous. But as I've recently taken to suggesting at every possible opportunity, the real solution is to improve the appalling working conditions of our part-time colleagues-pitiful salary, few benefits, no job security, no realistic academic freedom. If we could create part-time equity then we could make educational decisions, including staffing, based on sound educational reasons. At the moment, we make them because they're cheap. That's no way to run a system of higher education.

The 50% law also pops into many staffing conversations.

The Senate has long been on record in support of adding counselors and librarians to the ratio-but only if you adjust the ratio accordingly.

Some CEOs want to count all those extra people and leave the requirement at 50%. You've got to be kidding! ask any elected politician how much of the budget should be spent on the classroom in non-research institutions like ours and they'll tell you 60% or 70%-not 50%. The math/English conversation has also highlighted the notion that there are other instructional assistance positions that could benefit students but which at present count on the non-classroom side of the 50% calculation. In this case a possible out-of-the-box solution is to invert the concept and create a 10% administrative law, for example. But there would have to be genuine consensus on how to spend the remaining 90%. At present districts must collegially consult with the academic senate on the budget process-but as you are all well aware, that may give you zero influence on the contents of the actual budget in any specific year.

Do you sense the opportunity for a giant super-deal here?-the 75-60-50-25 deal-(p for short.) but to create such a deal you need willingness and trust. Did the may action on the 75:25 regulations just make that much harder to achieve? As we said at spring session, "are we there yet?"-not even close! so how do we move forward? Perhaps the July Board of governors' retreat will help. And then there's always the election.