Long-Term Local Academic Senate Presidents: The Importance of a Light at the End of the Tunnel

Area C Representative, Educational Policies Committee Chair

The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) has for some time recommended that local academic senates establish succession plans for their leadership.[1] In fact, this subject was a major topic of the 2021 ASCCC Faculty Leadership Institute. The work of a local academic senate president can be challenging. As such, holding this position for long stretches of time can result in leadership fatigue, stress, reduced ability to lead, diminished patience, mental health concerns, a plateau or even decline of leadership effectiveness, and, finally, a lack of the fresh ideas, leadership style, and personality that come along with new leadership.

Local academic senate presidents are usually elected to lead their senates for a particular amount of time, typically defined in terms of a cycle or term. However, if an academic senate does not have term limits or a succession plan in place, and may also be suffering from low faculty leadership engagement levels and high levels of faculty leadership hesitancy, then several cycles can repeat with the same academic senate leader in place. At initial thought, the idea of the same faculty member serving as the local senate president for several cycles may seem to imply honor, trust, prestige, and other aspects of status that appear as symbols of leadership success. However, a local long-term senate president who has not been able to convince the next academic senate president to step up may view this extended term less positively, whether the current president feels successful or not. Failing to inspire faculty to take on the academic senate president role is a realization to some sitting presidents that they may not have been as successful in their role as previously thought. They are now simply looking to find the light at the end of the tunnel of their long-time service to their colleges as academic senate presidents. Their jobs thus become more difficult and frustrating, and seeking a replacement can be a stressful, hard fought, and lonely journey.

Nevertheless, one can find reason for hope. Something can be done. Local academic senates can carve out dedicated time for their senate executive committees, senate ad hoc committees, or even academic senate retreats to develop and then adopt a succession plan that works for their college. Different types of succession plan models can be borrowed or modeled from; doing so just takes some time and effort.

Faculty should not assume that because their local academic senate president has been in place for many years that the president is happy to continue. Having long-term senate presidents may not be a healthy way for academic senates to exist over long periods of time, or other faculty leaders should be able to realize and enjoy the honor of serving in such an important role. The light at the end of the tunnel of local academic senate leadership is indeed a highly-prized outcome for local senate presidents who have traveled the long, rough, and rugged road of long-time local academic senate presidential service.

[1] See, for example, “Let Bylaws Be Bylaws: A Cautionary Tale About Senate Succession” by John Freitas in the November 2013 issue of Senate Rostrum at https://www.asccc.org/content/let-bylaws-be-bylaws-cautionary-tale-about-senate-succession-0 and “Local Senate Succession Planning: Some Considerations” by Dolores Davison in the February 2018 issue of Senate Rostrum at https://www.asccc.org/content/local-senate-succession-planning-some-considerations.