Just the Minimum Facts

Wheeler North, Chair, Standards and Practices Committee

In the aftermath of the 2010 Fall Plenary Session I was reviewing my thoughts about the Minimum Qualifications (MQ) and Equivalency Training breakout that was put on. Not only was it relatively well attended, but it was immediately clear that while there were a few present who were new to the MQ issues, most in attendance were back again for more.

Thus the PowerPoint, aimed at basic MQ training, became powerpointless. Attendees had questions, many of which were the perennials, often with a new spin, but with answers that remain the same. Thus I thought I’d share with you some of those answers.

The Primary Doctrine is – No person may teach a California community college course unless they meet the minimum qualifications or are deemed to possess qualifications that are at least equivalent to those minimums. Title 5 §§53400-53430.

To make this happen, two things need to occur. First, there needs to be a master list of disciplines which includes qualifications for each discipline. Second, each course must be assigned to one or more of these disciplines. Then every time someone is assigned to teach a course, the assigner can review whatever local documentation exists (often the course outline of record) to determine course discipline assignment and then check the disciplines list to find the minimum qualifications. (Note - Some districts maintain separate cross-walk discipline lists that both define local additional requirements and connect courses to disciplines) Education Code §87357.

The word minimum is used liberally here to impart the idea that faculty must meet at least these qualifications listed, but local districts can require higher qualifications if they choose. They can do this across the board, or on a case by case basis. For example many districts require additional capabilities to teach any course in the distance modality. Districts often handle this by making it a desired factor during the hiring process in the hopes that those so qualified will rise to the top. By doing this, they reduce risk of a legal challenge due to potentially unfair hiring practices.

These minimum requirements apply to all faculty and instructional administrators, part-time, full-time, career technical education, credit, noncredit, transfer, general education, counselors, librarians, etc. although the qualifications in each case are different.

There is NO such thing as an emergency or temporary hire that relieves a district of these obligations.

Districts cannot invent their own disciplines; only the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges can do this, working under the authority of the Board of Governors. As previously stated, districts may impose higher qualifications upon existing disciplines such as requiring a doctorate instead of a master’s degree, but they must work from the existing ‘master’ disciplines list. (Chancellor’s Office Legal Opinion 07-08, Minimum Qualifications for Faculty and Administrators in California Community Colleges)

Programs and departments are not disciplines. Departments are an organizational unit and can be whatever a district wants. Programs are collections of courses designed to meet specific educational goals and must be approved by both the local board and the Chancellor’s Office. Disciplines are specific subject areas where one or more degrees are likely to be offered.

Education Code mandates that districts must have processes for determining minimum qualifications and equivalencies and they must use them. So in cases of audits or complaint investigations, this is what the Chancellor’s Office will test for. Additionally, all of these locally developed processes must be negotiated between local academic senates and boards and must remain status quo until such time as a new agreement is reached. (Education Code §87359)

In the event of a change to minimum qualifications, districts may elect to retain faculty who would have been disqualified by the change. The Academic Senate has taken the position that districts should retain these faculty and this should be negotiated into contract language. (Title 5 §53403, Academic Senate Resolution 10.01 F09)

Equivalencies are granted by districts not colleges, and they exist for life.

Equivalencies are granted for the entire discipline. This means every course assigned to that discipline may be taught by anyone determined to meet the MQs for, or granted an equivalency to, that discipline. The only case this is not true is when there are additional requirements to offer the course such as distance education modality skills. (Chancellor’s Office Legal Opinion 03-28) When it comes to the actual hiring, additional regulations also apply such as the Equal Employment Opportunity regulations. And, once a person is hired, further regulations and contractual obligations will come into effect, particularly in the case of rehiring part-time faculty.

Education Code §87458 provides that qualified administrators must be given retreat rights to become first-year probationary faculty under specific conditions. Tenured faculty who move into administrative positions retain their tenure status for that district in the event they return to faculty status.

Teaching Credentials are a construct that came from pre-AB1725 days before we had the MQ process. Faculty were granted a teaching credential from the Chancellor’s Office, for life, based on the subject areas they had expertise in. These were often in a variety of subject areas. They have not been granted since 1990, but there are still colleagues out there who possess them, and they must be honored. (Education Code §87355)

However, when they retire, a common question that pops up is how does a district hire someone with this eclectic mix so they will fit right into the retiree’s prior load? The answer is that it is not likely to happen. And there may be courses they taught that originally fit their expertise area, but those courses now may need to be reassigned to a different discipline to better align with today’s standards.

In summary, hopefully this set of MQ crib notes will help local senates sort through the often difficult and confusing questions that come up again and again about minimum qualifications and equivalencies. If they don’t, do not hesitate to contact the Academic Senate office for additional guidance.

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.