Legislation and Curriculum: Maintaining the Faculty Voice
Often, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) is compelled to convey to the legislature a position of reluctant opposition to a senate or assembly bill that, if passed, would require or define curricular programs or standards for the California community colleges without including a requirement for appropriate consultation with the ASCCC. In cases when a California senator or assembly member authors a bill requiring specific courses, categories of courses, or programs, the ASCCC has generally not opposed the proposed legislation out of disapproval of the content or in disagreement with the intent to introduce timely and relevant subjects to California community college students; rather, the opposition has been inspired by a need to ensure that faculty, especially the relevant discipline faculty, maintain responsibility for curriculum and program development.
Legislation has at times moved the community college system forward when it needed a push. For example, AB1725 (Vasconcellos, 1988), the Community College Reform Act, decoupled the California Community Colleges system from the K-12 system and paved the way for Title 5 regulations regarding collegial consultation on academic and professional matters. However, the ASCCC has sometimes had positions to oppose specific legislation in regard to curriculum not due to objections to curriculum being proposed but rather to bypassing the role of academic senates, curriculum committees, and discipline faculty in curricular design. When a legislator proposes a bill on curriculum, the ASCCC reaches out to the bill’s author to assist the author in modifying the bill to recognize the role of faculty in curriculum. For example, the ASCCC had a position of “oppose unless amended” followed by a position of “reluctant opposition”  to SB462  (Stern, 2019). Finally, after weeks of consultation, the ASCCC removed its opposition due to the following modification: “SB462 would require the Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges, working in collaboration with the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, to establish a model curriculum for a forestland restoration workforce program with specific curricular requirements that could be offered at campuses of the California Community Colleges.”  The process leading to the modification of SB462 is a great example of the relationship the ASCCC has developed with the legislature.
The ASCCC’s unwavering stance on faculty primacy in curriculum is not dogmatic but instead practical. After all, the faculty of the California community colleges, especially those who serve on curriculum committees and who have been closely involved with the development of their own local and transfer programs, best understand not only the unique needs of the system’s learners but also the impacts of new courses, requirements, and programs on existing programs, general education patterns, and transfer. Additionally, different local needs and geographically distinct labor market information remain real considerations that preclude the effective inclusion of new career technical education programs in legislation. Indeed, California Education Code §70902 (b)(7) requires that local boards ensure “the right of academic senates to assume primary responsibility for making recommendations in the areas of curriculum and academic standards,” and California Code of Regulations Title 5 §§53202 and 53200 list curriculum and program development as aspects of the academic and professional matters on which local governing board must consult collegially with their academic senates.
While someone not deeply immersed in the curriculum work of the California Community Colleges system may seek to make positive curricular changes intended to benefit students, such actions often have unintended consequences. Additionally, when curricular requirements are codified into Education Code, colleges have much more difficulty being responsive to the quickly changing and diverse educational needs of their students and communities. What might seem timely and crucial now may become duplicative, restrictive, or outdated in the future. In stark contrast, the existing, faculty-driven curricular development process in the California Community Colleges is nimble and sensitive to local needs.
Faculty of the California community colleges are content experts in their disciplines. For many community college faculty, this expertise extends beyond discipline and into curriculum processes. No one at a community college is likely to be better poised to assess the potential impact of changes to curricular requirements than the faculty curriculum chair or the faculty articulation officer. Faculty leaders are called on not only to present content to students in a meaningful way in order to facilitate teaching and learning that will foster the students’ success and advocacy but also to continually develop, review, and refine curriculum.
Legislating curriculum for higher education sets a dangerous precedent where lawmakers representing the interests and positions of their political parties may feel empowered to direct college and university curriculum. The political leanings of California have changed considerably over the state’s history and will continue to fluctuate. Although a specific piece of proposed legislation often may indeed be consistent with ASCCC positions, the possibility remains that future legislation could run counter to ASCCC positions, and thus the principle of protecting the faculty voice in curriculum development is critical in all cases. Faculty must proactively make adjustments and updates to both Title 5 Regulations and curriculum to protect their purview and ensure that the system maintains the flexibility and academic freedom necessary in a fast-evolving world.
1. The two letters can be found at https://asccc.org/sites/default/files/Stern%20Oppose%20Letter%2031May201... and https://asccc.org/sites/default/files/Stern%20Oppose%20Letter%2031May201...
2 SB 462 (Stern, 2019) Community Colleges: Urban and Rural Forest and Woodlands Restoration and Fire Resiliency Workforce Program: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=20...
3 The final letter regarding this bill may be found at https://asccc.org/sites/default/files/Removal%20of%20Opposition%20-%20SB...
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