Occupational Programs. Everybody's Business

Chair, Occupational Education Committee

If you ask any faculty member, "What is the mission of California Community Colleges?" you will hear: "We provide basic skills, transfer and vocational education." We are all clear that we serve multiple missions and that our students come to us with wide and varied needs and goals. But on a daily basis at our colleges we tend to focus (understandably) on our own students, our own programs and our own departments. We tend to be myopic-a tendency that gets stronger when times get tough and we feel compelled to fight for our own programs (and indirectly against others). Faculty leaders have a particular challenge. They typically are selected to represent their departments on committees, yet as professional educators, they simultaneously have the obligation to look at the big picture.

At times of constraint and stress, it is good to remind ourselves that we have multiple missions, that as professionals we have an obligation to be a champion for OUR collective students, and that fighting for all of the students means fighting for all our programs.

Take our occupational programs for example. In times of cutbacks, occupational programs often are the first to take a hit. Even in the best times, certain programs shrink and grow depending on the workforce demands. Some programs are more costly. Student demands can be cyclic, requiring colleges to be flexible. Yet when decisions are made to reduce or even eliminate programs, faculty leaders must think broadly. When we serve on the local academic senate, on the curriculum committee, on college and district-wide committees for budgets and planning, it is critical that we consider the entire offerings of the college and that we remember our task as professionals: to look out for the health and welfare of all programs-not only our own.

How can we all develop the big picture perspective? Here are some suggestions.

Before attending a committee, ask yourself: Whom do I represent? Do I have a duty to represent all the college's students? Who is looking out for all the students, if not me?

During a meeting, consider who else is in attendance. What is their level of knowledge about various programs and services? Where might they have gaps in knowledge that can cloud their opinions and decisions? Watch for biases-intentional or not.

As educators, we may find that our teaching skills are needed not only in the classroom but also on committees, where we can help to educate our colleagues and administrators not only about the value and needs of our own programs but also those of other programs. We can be alert to those "teachable moments." If you agree that we all have a duty to promote all our programs, here are some ways we might do that:

Ensure that senate, college and district policies are created by and include the views of faculty from a range of disciplines. An important example is your Program Development, Reduction and Discontinuance Policy; another crucial district-level policy is the Equivalency Policy used during hiring processes to determine if minimum qualifications of candidates are being met.

Ensure that policies are followed-especially in times of fiscal challenge and when new faculty and administrators come on board to make college-wide decisions.

Encourage all programs to send faculty representatives to college and district committees. When that is difficult in certain programs, there can be creative solutions such as: 1) relieving individuals from other obligations as a tradeoff; 2) supporting one department's workload (e.g,. part-time faculty evaluations) with faculty from related disciplines; and 3) rotating committee membership more frequently.

Encourage the development of relationships between faculty across disciplines. Once we know about and understand others' uniqueness, we can support them more easily. Knowledge is power.

Use inclusive language. Use "our students" to mean all the college's students-not just mine.

As a faculty member in Communication Studies, my discipline is traditionally considered a transfer program. However, I have been fortunate to teach at a college with a very large and successful array of occupational programs, and because we do not segregate our offices by department and because more of our students are occupational, I try to think of myself as both transfer and occupational. (In addition, I am hard-pressed to think of a career that does not require employees who can communicate!). However, like most of us, I have a tendency to see the world through the lens of transfer. I need to remind myself to think more broadly when I participate in local and statewide committees and to take every opportunity to learn from my colleagues about their challenges and needs.

Why should I care about your program? Why should you care about mine?

Because we are all here for "Our Students"-collectively. Our students need all of our services and programs, and it is the job of each of us to ensure those services and programs are healthy.