The Statewide Academic Senate and Local Academic Senates


One of the stylistic conventions of Academic Senate writing is to use a capital "s" when referring to the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges and a lower case "s" when referring to the local academic senates at colleges and districts. Orthography aside, while there are clear corollaries between the roles and responsibilities of the Academic Senate and local academic senates, it may be less clear what the relationship is between the Academic Senate and an academic senate.

Education Code and related regulatory language in Title 5 empower academic senates with specific authority in the areas of academic and professional matters and in their direct relationship with a local board of trustees. (Should you need to, you can refresh your memory about this authority by referring to the Academic Senate handbook Empowering Local Senates: Roles and Responsibilities of and Strategies for an Effective Senate, available at In addition to the power accorded local academic senates, the statewide Academic Senate is designated as the official representative of faculty on a statewide level, asserting authority in the same academic and professional matters and interacting with the Board of Governors in a fashion similar to that which occurs locally between senate and board.

The relationship between the Academic Senate and local academic senates is laid out in the bylaws of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges and in Title 5 53206(a).

These make it clear that the Academic Senate was established by a ratification process of local academic senates so that community college faculty would have a formal and effective process for participating in the formation of state policies. All faculty teaching in the California community colleges are members of the Academic Senate; however, elected from the ranks of faculty are those who serve on an Executive Committee, including myself as your president. The members of the Executive Committee take primary responsibility for carrying out the wishes of the faculty as expressed through the adoption of resolutions at our fall and spring plenary sessions. This is done through Senate committees, through representation on Chancellor's Office advisory groups, through representative participation in other groups and committees, through conferences and institutes, through college visits and communications, and through publications and other writings. In short, the resolutions adopted by faculty at a plenary session direct the work of the Academic Senate. The Executive Committee decides how best to fulfill the intent of the adopted resolutions.

To illustrate this process, I turn to a longstanding issue which continues to be of central interest on the state level-the 50% Law. The 50% Law stipulates that more than 50% of the current expense of education be used to pay the salaries of classroom instructors. The majority of the work of counseling and library science faculty is not counted in this 50+%, and for many years, there has been great concern that this situation disincentivizes colleges from hiring counselors and librarians. In 2001, the faculty at an Academic Senate plenary session passed Resolution S01 8.04, which calls for a change to the 50% law such that counselors and librarians are included in the calculation coupled with an appropriate increase in the percentage requirement once they college and was brought to one of our pre-session Area Meetings. The Area adopted the resolution and sent it forward for adoption by the whole plenary body. Stemming from this resolution, the Academic Senate has engaged in dialogs with our union colleagues, engaged in discussions with the organizations that represent college presidents, administrators, and trustees, presented forums for discussion of the issue at plenary sessions and institutes, written articles about what a reasonable percentage might be, and argued firmly against any proposal that would incorporate counselors and librarians into the 50% calculation without an adequate increase to the percentage.

While the work of the Academic Senate on a statewide level clearly has an impact on what happens with local senates, these statewide discussions and presentations generally take place at a remove from the day-to-day trials and tribulations of local senates. However, coupled with its work on a statewide level, the Academic Senate is fully aware of the need to provide direct support to local senates where they are. This support occurs in many different ways. Of most use to local senates are the resources that the Academic Senate provides. These take the form of formally adopted papers that provide guidance in dealing with local governance issues, such as establishing equivalencies to minimum qualifications, in arguing for sabbaticals, or in helping students deal with the rising costs of textbooks. Shorter and timelier articles appear in the Senate's quarterly magazine The Rostrum, and need-to-know information comes out nearly every month in the President's Update.

The Academic Senate provides professional development for local senates through its plenary sessions and institutes, offering breakouts and general sessions on effective leadership and governance.

The Faculty Leadership Institute each June is the primary event for new local academic senate leadership, providing information and a chance to network with other senate leaders.

When local senate leaders have questions, they can also turn to the Academic Senate for answers. As your president, I welcome your emails (send them to mwlieu [at] And when an email or a phone call is not enough, the Academic Senate comes to you. Members of the Executive Committee and the Relations with Local Senates Committee visit many local senates every year. Sometimes, this is simply to sit in on a senate meeting; at other times, you have specific issues that you want us to address. We also offer customized leadership and governance workshops that can refresh and reinvigorate the work of your local senates.

Working with the Community College League of California, the Academic Senate also offers technical assistance workshops to faculty, staff, students, administrators, and trustees.

This assistance ranges from information sessions to issue resolution.

One thing to clarify is that the Academic Senate is not an enforcement agency. Its authority and power comes from direction from local senates, and nowhere in its scope of authority does it have the power to force compliance in terms of collegiality and participatory governance. Such enforcement is carried out by our accrediting commission through the accreditation process and by our System Office through minimum conditions compliance review.

In summary, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges and its Executive Committee act on the will of the over 110 local academic senates as expressed through adopted resolutions. The Academic Senate represents local senates in discussion and policy development on a statewide level, using the positions adopted in resolution as the basis for action and advocacy. And of equal importance, the Academic Senate is a resource for local senates so that they can function as effectively as possible to carry out the governance responsibilities set out in statute and regulation.