Practical Leadership: Connecting Local Senates with Plenaries and Institutes

ASCCC Executive Committee, North Representative
San Diego Continuing Education

It can be daunting for academic senate presidents to explain to faculty colleagues at their local college what it’s like to attend a plenary or institute of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC). Plenaries and institutes provide a tremendous amount of information, and the issues and debates can be extremely challenging to convey to non-attendees. And yet, the very purpose of plenary sessions and institutes is to provide important and timely information to local senates so that they can make better decisions on behalf of students and fellow faculty members. Instead, local senators often simply throw up their hands trying to understand the flood of acronyms (e.g., C-ID, ACCJC, CIO, CEO, EWD) and the arcane references to trickle-down and serpentine votes. The knowledge gap between local senators and their leadership grows instead of shrinks.

Is there a way to bridge the gap? Using a few simple tools, this article’s second author has developed a practical and inexpensive way to “bring” senate and faculty colleagues along to ASCCC events virtually. All that is required is an email account and an Internet-enabled laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The basic idea is to provide short reports to local faculty about the various plenary or institute events as they occur. Instead of a long, exhaustive report by the president at the college’s next senate meeting, your college faculty receives information as the various event happenings unfold.

It’s very similar to the way that some travelers blog about their experiences while abroad.

Before You Leave

Send a short email to colleagues about where you are going, what kind of event it will be, and why you will be attending:

Dear Faculty,

I will be participating in the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges 2013 Fall Plenary in Irvine, CA this week from Thursday, Nov. 7th through Saturday, Nov. 9th.  As President of our Academic Senate, I am a Voting Delegate and will also be involved in the Parliamentary process for Resolution voting on a State level during the Third General Session on Saturday. 

The announcement email doesn’t need to be, and really shouldn’t be, long; it simply serves as an invitation for colleagues to join you— virtually—in the event’s activities. 

Many faculty members are unfamiliar with the practices and conventions of the statewide Academic Senate. For this reason, new attendees to ASCCC plenary sessions and institutes are encouraged to participate in an orientation breakout session so that they can get the most from the experience. For non-attending faculty at your college, this resource is not available; however, you can fulfill a similar orientation function by providing short explanations to help the reader understand the significance of event activities. Use the opening email to provide important background and context, for example:

What is a Plenary Session?

The Academic Senate holds two plenary sessions each year. These plenary sessions are held alternately in the North and South, on Thursday-Saturday in fall and spring. The general and breakout sessions permit local senates—their officers (one of which usually serves as the senate's official delegate), curriculum chairs, and other interested faculty—to be apprised about hot topics, to receive new training to bolster the effectiveness of their senate, to select representatives and officers for the Academic Senate Executive Committee, and to determine Senate positions and provide the Executive Committee its direction through the resolution and voting processes.

Next, offer a preview of what your virtual attendees can expect at the event. There is a wealth of information on the ASCCC web site about its upcoming event that you could link to, but we recommend that you go one step further and include short, relevant excerpts from the web site so that your colleagues don’t have to search for the information. The follow excerpt from the ASCCC plenary program was simply copied and pasted into the initial email to faculty colleagues:

Overview of 2013 Fall Plenary

With increased funds to add sections and support students before they enroll in classes, our colleges are gearing up to engineer the greatest level of student success yet.  Last year we recognized an evolutionary transition where only the strong survived; however, today we are experiencing an intentional transformation where we can chose the direction and the means to achieve it.  This year, the Fall 2013 Plenary will showcase the latest regarding proposed performance metrics for the colleges, the newly proposed accreditation standards, and much more that faculty leaders need to know and understand.  Breakout sessions on curriculum, minimum qualifications and governance will be offered for new and returning senate officers with our usual attention to hot topics and empowering faculty success.  Join us as we celebrate what we do well, examine where we need to improve, and intentionally transform our institutions.

Next, we encourage you to make the event relevant to your colleagues with specific examples. There are hot button issues at every college, and you know your senators and faculty best. Try to identify session breakouts that connect with your colleagues’ interests and concerns and highlight them in the initial email. If your college will soon write its accreditation self-evaluation, you could note the topics planned for the accreditation breakout sessions. Noncredit programs and recent legislation regarding noncredit are particularly important topics at the second author’s college and were highlighted this way:

Breakout Session Non-Credit Example

I will be participating in several breakout sessions including representing our programs at - "Basic Skills - The Vanishing Act" - a session focused on initiative options being presented by the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) and through AB 86. A critical dialog that will deal specifically with where basic skills education should occur [college credit, college noncredit, or high school adult education] from an academic perspective and how to create a roadmap for student success will be our focus.

Lastly, in the opening email, provide targeted links about the upcoming event so that faculty can learn more about topics they may be interested in. Let them know that you will be reporting about the event to them in person, welcome questions, and invite their future participation in senate leadership and travel to plenary and institute sessions:

See the Program and all the topics for the Breakout Sessions at

For more information on the ASCCC 2013 Fall Plenary, please go to

This opportunity is available to all faculty interested in Academic Senate matters on local, regional and state levels.  I will be presenting information from the Fall Plenary at this month’s Academic Senate meeting on November 19, 3:30-5:00pm, Room 186, ECC.

Wish me luck. Please talk to me if you are interested in serving on the Academic Senate Executive Committee or attending the 2014 Spring Plenary. We do have travel funds for this Academic Senate event and others (listed at and all faculty have equal opportunity to apply for these funds.

While You Are There

Plan to send at least one update email to faculty colleagues while you are present at the event. Again, it doesn’t have to be a complete report; instead the goal here is to provide a sense of immediacy and connection so that colleagues can get a glimpse of what you are experiencing.

Make the writing of an update easy by creating a draft email or word processing document before the conference activities begin. Start by identifying the breakout sessions that you plan to attend and copying-and-pasting those breakout titles and descriptions from the ASCCC website into your draft document. Then, as you attend and participate in the day’s sessions, jot down a few bulleted notes for each breakout.

Here is an example of a mid-event email message. It starts with an overview of what has happened so far and encourages faculty to skim the document for breakout topics that interest them. The notes after each breakout session provide an opportunity to make connections with specific issues on your campus and to begin formulating an action agenda based upon what was learned during the event. In an effort to save space, only one breakout session is reported in this excerpt:

Dear Faculty,

Here are notes from a few of the breakout sessions I have attended so far at the 2013 Academic Senate Fall Plenary.  Take a look at the titles that interest you and after reading the description, review my notes for future discussions at our meetings.  Although the days are long at Plenary, the larger perspective information provided is very valuable for us at Continuing Education.  I look forward to sharing more at our Academic Senate meeting this month. 


Saturday will be a long day of Delegate Voting on submitted Resolutions.  Click here to see Resolutions including the 18 new Resolutions added here at Plenary.


The slide presentations for each of these sessions are posted at  Please refer to these for more information and links to resources from these and many more breakout sessions.

BREAKOUT: Basic Skills - The Vanishing Act

Did you know the Legislative Analyst’s Office wants to eliminate credit basic skills and move these courses to noncredit? Did you know AB 86 requires college districts to work with feeder high schools to address adult education needs in our state? These policy initiatives provide an opportunity for adult education, noncredit, and credit basic skills faculty to come together and entertain a critical dialog about the pros and cons of each option. The focus of this breakout is to entertain a conversation about where basic skills education should occur from an academic perspective. By creating seamless pathways that connect our three systems, we can create a roadmap for student success!


  • ASCCC Non-Credit Task Force - Timothy Pawlak accepted invitation for appointed membership representing San Diego Continuing Education.
  • Resolution - Equitable Funding for Non Credit up to Credit level minus student fee. BOG but have not been done yet.
  • See AB 86 language to review the "6" areas of instruction, leaving out the 4 from the LAO report, therefore implying they are not being considered. {See: Purpose }
  • Non Credit FAQ - see online resources
  • Non Credit at a glance - Chancellor's Office
  • WEA Grant for non-credit funding for non-credit - Does CE participate?
  • We must continue to work with credit to make the necessary changes to make non-credit equitable to credit
  • An audio recording is available. Please request at the CE Academic Senate meeting this month

Soon After the Event

Try to send a final wrap up email about the event. It could include information about additional breakout sessions that you attended after the update email was sent. For plenary sessions, it might also include information about candidate elections and the resolution voting that occur on the last day of session.  If at all possible, send a final wrap up as soon after the event as possible. You will be letting colleagues know that the event is over, and the information that you gathered will still be fresh in your mind.

A Team Approach

If your college sends a group of people to plenary, the impact of this approach can be amplified. Consider divvying up the breakout sessions to members of your team. Each person’s notes can then be integrated into mid-event and final report emails, providing an even more comprehensive experience to share with faculty colleagues who were unable to attend in person.

Will Colleagues Read the Event Emails?

As with all things senate, some will and some won’t, but the point in providing this virtual tag-along is about increasing opportunities for local senates and faculty to connect with important state issues. Those of us who have attended a plenary session or institute in person know how powerful and transformative they can be for attendees; the approach described in this article allows colleagues to get a sense of the experience virtually and may lead to more interest in statewide issues and events as a consequence. If you take notes at these events anyway, converting them into a series of timely, informative emails requires just a little additional effort on your part but can pay big dividends for you and your local senate colleagues in terms of understanding statewide issues.