We Must Be as ONE

May
2006
Greg Gilbert,

Americans have forgotten what it takes to remain free. Instead, every ideology, every group is determined to use government to advance its agenda. As the government's power grows, the people are eclipsed. -Paul Craig Roberts

To my thinking, we americans have often taken our liberties for granted, even to the point of lethargy, until we awaken to find that they are under attack. Then, once roused, the old revolutionary zeal, reinvigorated and suddenly alert, launches us upon our midnight rides to sound the alarm.

Today, evidence of our collective awakening has begun to emerge in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet wherein faculty, administrators, trustees, and national organizations of educators are proclaiming that the free exchange of ideas and academic freedom will not be trampled by disproportionate political and corporate self-interest.

Over the past several months, the Academic Senate, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the National Education Association (NEA), the press, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and individual colleges and faculty leaders have raised their own alarms. One such alarm came from the Academic Senate in the form of an adopted resolution (13.01 S06) condemning federally mandated testing. This resolution was the result of a february 2006 meeting of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education in San Diego. At this meeting, Chair Charles Miller, a Texas business executive, suggested that an institution's eligibility for federal funding and student aid could become conditioned on compliance with a requirement for standardized testing.

Insofar as accreditation issues are concerned, other voices are also being raised. In a recent article in The Berkeley Daily Planet, J. Douglas Allen-Taylor reported that a "statewide education revolt is growing against the agency that accredits California community colleges in part because of recent actions the agency has taken against the Peralta and the Compton Community College Districts" and added that the ACCJC is "operating like a star chamber" with a "process that is out of control." In a separate article the Daily Planet reported that the "Peralta Community College District board of trustees has joined the list of educational organizations calling for a change in the accreditation process for California community colleges."

Those who share my conviction that the ACCJC has moved into an unnecessarily authoritarian and noncollegial posture may be somewhat encouraged by the articles in the Daily Planet. At the same time one cannot help but feel dismay that collegial peer review and accountability should have been so mishandled in california, particularly given ACCJC leader Barbara Beno's assertion that regional accreditation is all that stands between us and a federal takeover of accreditation (Community College League of California publication, The News, Spring 2006). Hence, while California's community colleges continue to favor regional accreditation, CFT and the academic senate have by recent resolutions spoken up and called for their respective organizations to "investigate possible alternatives for evaluating and accrediting the state's community colleges" (2.03 S06). Clearly, CFT and the Academic Senate, among others, have rejected any notion that we need to accept ACCJC bullying as an alternative to federal bullying and are willing to fight for a peer review process where accountability and collegiality are not mutually exclusive.

While we are on the topic of the league's interview, it is worth noting Beno's claim that the 2002 standards were created through broad consultation with the field. Just for the record, the suggestions and concerns expressed by the Senate (on behalf of the adopted resolutions of its 58,000 members) were summarily dismissed by the ACCJC. In addition, Beno claims that the generally negative perception of the Commission in California today is not actually based on its holding colleges accountable, but, rather, she insists that it is due to bad press over the suspension of compton's accreditation. According to Beno, the ACCJC has devoted fifteen years to working with Compton. If that is actually so, why then did the ACCJC grant Compton five years of accreditation in 1999?

Also, when questioned about the number of colleges placed on warning since she became president, Beno was not prepared to be accountable. The interviewer, however, did know the answer and said, "Since the 2002 standards were implemented, 34 colleges have undergone comprehensive reviews. Three were reaffirmed, 25 required progress reports, and six received sanctions and required progress reports."

Of course, the irony is that we can never really know if the new standards help or hinder education, as there is no evidence in support of the new standards and their "culture of evidence" actually helping anyone.

What we can know is that outcomes were provided and outcomes were collected. As to the future of accreditation, do we have any choice but to stand by our principles, our system of governance, and our defense of academic freedom? Anything less is a slippery slope toward a postsecondary version of No Child Left Behind.

In a related story, the judicial system spoke up and a large, useless test sunk into the tar pit of history with the demise of the infamous California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). Simply stated, the CAHSEE, and other large tests of its ilk, provides nothing of value to students. Yes, students could take it and take it and retake it, beginning in tenth grade, but to what end? students procrastinated until their senior year, and then passed or didn't. The collection of CAHSEE evidence provides nothing to improve the lives of students or their classroom experience. Like NCLB, it was just another example of what happens when people who know too little about education are given authority over it, which brings us to Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling's suggestion that educators need to be stripped of power and employed on the cheap.

On May 2, Reg Weaver, the President of the NEA, raised the alarm by responding to a paper released by the Secretary of Education. The paper, "Frequently Asked Questions About College Costs," proclaims that faculty are responsible for an increase in educational expenditures and advocates "a proprietary business model with part-time labor replacing professional educators." Weaver, on behalf of the NEA's 2.8 million members, wrote of the importance of faculty having primary responsibility for curriculum, and reminded spelling that faculty work is a full-time profession (emphasis added), that tenure, academic due process, and faculty self-governance are essential elements in the protection and promotion of quality education. Weaver emphasized the importance of research and currency and their relationship to student success and called for "a broader and more informed discussion of the role of higher education in our society."

During the past several months, we have also seen the AAUP and citizen groups stand tall in opposition to David Horowitz and his so called "Student Bill of Rights." the AAUP discusses the importance of academic freedom in its publication Academe and displays on its website the "1940 statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure." According to Free Exchange on Campus, a coalition of students, faculty, and civil liberty groups, horowitz's latest book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, "contains numerous errors, misrepresentations, and distortions." They go on to say that the book "condemns professors for actions that are entirely within their rights and entirely appropriate in an atmosphere that promotes the free exchange of ideas." They tell us that Horowitz's research is "sloppy in the extreme" and "manipulated to fit his arguments." According to their report, his conclusions are based on two faulty premises: "that America's colleges and universities are failing to ensure students' academic freedom, and that students lack the critical-thinking skills they need to engage with controversial ideas and decide what they believe for themselves." Indeed, if there is evidence that disputes our failing to ensure students' academic freedom, it may be readily found in our vociferous refutation of Horowitz's thinly veiled campaign to stifle intellectual discourse in our colleges and universities. Surely, we must be heartened by the NEA, the AAUP, the Academic Senate, and the raised voices of various citizen groups.

While we value the efforts of representative organizations, we must also remember to honor the efforts of our local senate leaders. While it is one thing to lift up one's voice within a chorus, it is quite another to speak out as a lone faculty leader at the local level. In recent months it has been my honor to speak with various local college leaders, faculty from a number of colleges, who because they have dared to speak truth to power have had their reputations smeared, their intentions attacked, and their efforts misrepresented and distorted. yet they persevere. Though their health and personal lives suffer, they persevere.

While it is inappropriate to mention them or their colleges by name, I can say that our profession is rich with those who defend academic freedom and the faculty's primacy in academic and professional matters.

From my perspective as an Academic Senate officer, I see the contributions that these individuals make every day and I am humbled to know people such as these. Without their principled and courageous stands at the local level, the Academic Senate would be unable to continue its work of upholding the cause of academic freedom for all to see.

Beyond the contributions of faculty, there is the sustaining strength of system unity. In my work with the System Advisory Committee on Curriculum (SACC) and other system-wide and intersegmental committees, I have learned that academic freedom and the defense of AB1725 are ideals embraced by our System Office, the CIOs and CEOs. Repeatedly, I have witnessed examples where administrators and system leaders have stood resolutely in defense of the faculty's primacy on areas related to instruction and curriculum. One noteworthy example involves the ongoing discussion of the Academic Senate's resolution to increase graduation standards in math and english. While each representative constituency has stated its own set of concerns and questions, to its credit, our system has worked cooperatively to seek mutually satisfactory conclusions. I am proud of our Chancellor for recognizing and supporting the faculty's primacy, and I salute those CIOs, CSSOs, CEOs and trustees who have recognized the need for our system to both raise standards and maintain access. This is an example of how principles and pragmatism can work in unison.

As the clich goes, "We are all in this together," and there has never been a more important time for our system to close ranks. Today, our greatest challenges require that we not expend our energies on internal turf struggles but, rather, that we prepare to work in unison to preserve the academic freedom that we hold so dear.

Together, we must strive for balance within our system, a balance that is analogous to that which is so vital within the branches of our national government

Indeed, each one of us has an obligation to speak out and add to our collective pool of courage, if we are to retain our ability to prepare students for participation in a democratic society.

By continuing to raise the alarm and by striving to strengthen the unity of our system, we are doing patriots' work. Through our efforts, California may yet hold back the dark night of federal accreditation, standardization, and corporate greed and be as a beacon to others.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.