MOU and the Marginalization of Faculty


"Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." - Vince Lombardi

Have you noticed expanding roles for consultants at your college, growing ranks of administrators, the adoption of questionable memoranda of understanding and a board so fixated on a business model that you feel as though your college has been overwhelmed by foreign occupiers? If so, there is one overriding maxim:

Local senates must maintain a strong and persistent academic and professional presence.

We academicians have a traditional responsibility to safeguard the integrity of our courses and programs, and nothing less should be expected of us, particularly by capable administrators, competent boards of trustees, and the students we serve on a daily basis. Indeed, we lose our effectiveness when we passively permit those who are not classroom and subject area professionals to subsume our duties and responsibilities. Not only do such actions weaken our local effectiveness, they undermine our profession as a whole. Thus, the corollary to the above maxim is that we must work for open and productive communications at our colleges. Moreover, AB 1725 and its implementing regulations clearly institutionalize the faculty's role in many management and governance matters. For purposes of this article, then, let us consider the appropriate roles of local senates in relationship to Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) and the hiring of consultants.

In brief, an MOU is an agreement between various parties that may involve policies, finances or procedures.

MOUs may affect a myriad of areas related to instruction, including but not limited to intersegmental agreements, transfer degree processes, articulation, achievement of specific performance data, achievement of specific degrees or certificates, mandated academic policies, support services for students' basic skills, workforce development, counseling and advising, distance education, tuition costs, facilities use, and the hiring of consultants.

Where such agreements concern academic and professional matters, it is imperative that local senates and administrators work cooperatively. For example, a college may sign an MOU with another system to provide lowerdivision coursework and facilitate transfer for upper-division students. Because such an MOU will affect advising, basic skills coordination, student services, and curriculum, among other things, a strong faculty presence is required in the agreement's formation and implementation. MOUs of this nature may make perfect sense, but it is clear that collegial consultation maximizes the institution's ability to act in a unified and well coordinated manner. another example may be an MOU signed with a fledging technology company to equip a lab at a greatly reduced cost with unproven technology. When local senates are involved, the final product is more likely to mesh with instructional needs, resources and services-as well as allow for contingency plans should problems arise with the new technology. In some instances, colleges have established MOUs that allow for various modes of distance education, satellite television and cable programming, viewable at home or at specific sites. As with previous examples, participatory governance maximizes the opportunity for such decisions to be made with an eye toward student retention, advising, technical support, exam proctoring, and intervention strategies.

At the institutional level, MOUs may involve the hiring of consultants. In some instances, consultants can be of great assistance, particularly in areas necessitating a particular level of expertise or an investment of time that would otherwise interfere with the ongoing business of the college. Consultants may be hired to evaluate the potential environmental impact of build outs, the advisability of promoting a bond, or even the recruitment of chancellors and presidents. Even so, local senates should remain alert for agreements that intrude into areas of academic and professional interest. Examples may include the hiring of consultants to oversee program reviews or the formulation of local master-plans, both of which bear more than a casual relationship to instruction.

Let us consider the consultant who is hired to oversee program review. For the sake of this example, suppose that the administration is rightfully concerned about the latest messages from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) concerning the importance of program review and, as a result, has placed upon the board agenda a proposal to hire a consultant to coordinate the process. A vigilant local senate president has discovered the item and makes inquiries. The administration suggests that department chairs and administrators have all the work they can handle and that the need for a consultant is genuine. How should the senate president respond?

Whether or not the administrative request for a consultant is justifiable remains, for the moment, a secondary issue. First, the senate president should remind administration that the senate must be consulted on such issues (Incidentally, "consulted" is not a synonym for "informed"). Title 5 regulation identifies areas requiring collegial consultation that include item nine, "Processes for program review," and item seven, "Faculty roles and involvement in accreditation processes." If a request for a consultant is placed before the board without the consent of the senate, given sufficient time, the senate president should place the issue on the next senate agenda for discussion, along with the issue of how the item was inappropriately placed on the board agenda.

To remain silent is to offer consent by omission, not only for the hiring of a consultant but in support of unilateral decision making on the part of the administration.

If there is not sufficient time to discuss the issue with the senate, then the local senate president should present a statement to the board requesting that the matter be held over to allow for consideration at the senate and consultation with the administration. Title 5 53203 (c) states, "While consulting collegially, the academic senate shall retain the right to meet with or appear before the governing board with respect to its views and recommendations. In addition, after consultation with the administration, the academic senate may present its recommendations to the governing board." Title 5 53203 (d) goes on to say: "the governing board shall adopt procedures for responding to recommendations of the academic senate." therefore, after everything, if the board rejects the recommendation of the senate, Title 5 Regulation requires that the board explain its decision to not accept the senate's recommendation. Naturally, regardless of the decision reached by the board, the senate should always require that its request be included in board minutes, along with the board's response. Public records of such exchanges, collected over time, may yield important insights, perhaps during accreditation visits. What matters is that there are regulations and laws which support a faculty presence in college governance, and local senates should remain proactive in academic and professional affairs.

In recent years California's community colleges have entered into a large number of MOUs and hired an unprecedented number of administrators, many from out of state, and consultants, the result being a tale of competing ideologies, one academic, the other business.

The academic model privileges faculty expertise in academic and professional matters and is essentially democratic, dialogic, and consensus oriented. The business model favors hierarchical structures and an economic bottom line. Taken together, we often see two cultures at cross purposes while seemingly in pursuit of a common mission. Because college politics can be a hornet's nest, it is easy for competing ideologies to become embroiled in struggles that have more to do with power quotients than service to students. Fortunately, there are examples where major businesses operate successfully within a collaborative paradigm, without the sacrifice of their bottom line. In academe our bottom line is student access to comprehensive and rigorous education, along with the necessary support services-in a word: quality. As for economics, faculty are fully cognizant that institutional quality cannot endure without vigilant fiscal oversight. If we are to create appropriate MOUs and employ consultants responsibly, indeed if we are to bring all of our academic and professional insights to the table, we must remain a persistent presence in our effort to engage the "occupying force" in meaningful and mutually respectful consideration of what can be accomplished together.

[For additional Senate recommendations on effective use of consultants, see November 2005's Rostrum article "Consultants and the 10+1" by Mark Lieu.]