Dated: May 21, 2012. We have a new Chancellor now! We also have a new District Participatory Governance Manual, which you can find linked to the District’s Homepage (www.vcccd.edu)
While we are a small college, we still have the same big issues as any college. The first time I attended a school board meeting, I was in high school. The issue was: should girls be allowed to wear pants to school? It was a long battle, but in the end, I believe there were decisions from the courts: no one could make a girl wear a dress. Our board voted that, while we could wear pants, they could not have a fly front. Go figure (they changed that the next year).
As a cub reporter for the Ventura County Star Free Press (and the Santa Paula Chronicle), I had the school beat. I attended similar board meetings at Ventura College (it wasn’t a multi-college district back then). The issue was young women and their dress, but also young men and their dress. It worked much the same way as in the Santa Paula school district.
What strikes me now is that the Superintendent/Chairman of the Board (they were Chairmen back then, no Chairpersons), really allowed comments from the floor, if he found it was warranted. There was no digital countdown clock telling members of the public when they had to stop talking. It was rather lively. As the evening wore on, the vociferous and/or energetic people got to say more. That’s not always fair, but that’s how it was.
At university, I continued my career as a journalist (while majoring in anthropology) and became a news reporter for the campus radio station. My beat was the Academic Senate. So, I have quite a bit of experience in looking at Academic Senates, at one point attended San José State’s Academic Senate for comparison and of course, have been attending VCCCD Academic Senates since around 1989, when I was first hired full-time.
If you had told me, three years ago, I’d have anything to do with sitting on an Academic Senate governing body, I’d have been incredulous. It’s just such a lot of work, and there are so many meetings. Today, I heard the term MW (it’s like an AW except it’s for Meetings instead of Attention). I am not an MW (see urban dictionary if you are over 18 and want to know how modern people use the lingo – you can find AW there and make the translation), but I’ve come to see the value of a collective of people working things out. Politics are involved. People actually bring their own strategies, interests and agendas into meetings, not just their viewpoints and opinions. Big Surprise! (Need a funny motivational poster here).
I’m hoping this blog will provide a way for sharing documents (there’s a lot of homework for these meetings) and I intend to indicate just about how much time I spend reading the documents, forwarding them to relevant parties and asking (sometimes begging) for input. California is an amazing state, a true Republic, and its laws call for faculty to have input into educational matters, especially at the college and university levels. It takes patience, reading, notetaking – and research. It also helps to have a quick mind for detail like Jenny’s and to be slow to take offense, like Robert. (That’s not an exhaustive list of their great qualities, btw).
With the magic of technology, we can transmit, read and comment upon thousands of words of bureaucratic language and legalese, all at the core of contemporary academe. Most faculty rely on their elected representatives to read all that stuff for them – and I promise, I’m reading it (and taking notes, and listening to what others say about it). This week, we are being introduced to a new Governance Manual, created at our District, which is supposed to outline the state-mandated procedures by which we govern ourselves. It’s called a Participatory Governance Manual and it outlines which committees have, by law, decision-making power, and which are advisory.
That’s a very, very important distinction. Advice is good, but decision making is very powerful. In anthropology, we’d say that advice falls on the less stringent end of the power continuum (along with speech, gossip, glances, etc). Decision making that is under the law leads to sanctions and consequences for those who break the rules.
The job of the Academic Senate is to attend to the second area (the law). It is a lasting way of making people do things (and any anthropologist will tell you, that often starts in casual conversation or gossip). When it becomes rule, law, contract (all areas that can shade into each other), it has longterm impact.
Participatory governance is alive and well at Oxnard College, even though we are small in number. We saw this in our collective approach to accreditation. Students don’t much see what goes on behind the scenes (that’s one reason I’m blogging: students need to see more of what the “adult world” really consists).
Anyway, the President sent every email user on campus a copy of the new Board Governing Document on Friday, April 27. I know for a fact that almost no one has read it (it’s like 40 pages long). I read it, but it was a bit opaque, even to me, even after about 4-5 hours of working on it. I therefore asked for help (from several people, Robert and Jenny were the ones who donated the time, but Peter and Riley also chipped in; I reread). I have a few pages of notes. Let me mention that I’m not getting paid for this (yet). I don’t take office until June 15th, but when there’s transition, there’s no keeping time of one’s hours. The document has its problems. It’s actually pretty good. It fails, in some ways, to make clear which groups are decision-making and which are advisory, but it can evolve into the document we need. The document tries to make it clear that faculty have a say in what gets taught, and all the other issues involved in what California calls the 10+1 (this you can google if you’re really interested…and not actually asleep by this point).
For me, it’s been interesting to think about what’s “advice” and what’s “decision.” If they can take away your job, or your paycheck or make you have to appear in a classroom at a particular time or teach a particular thing and tell you what that thing is, that you’ll be teaching – that’s not advice, that’s decision (and believe me, faculty are heard on these issues, sometimes having to fight hard to be heard).
Advice is just that. Faculty have primacy, in California, in making certain kinds of decisions and in consulting with decision making. Sometimes the administrators can really only advise us, they can’t just make their own decisions. In a well publicized move, the Chancellor of CSUN did the right thing just today, I believe, by coming out in favor of academic freedom in a very controversial area, and bless him for it. I don’t know whether he’s permitting the Controversial Professor to keep his work up on the University website (I think so), but I’m proud that a fellow academic took the Academic point of view: all voices heard within the Academy.
But, I’m keeping my blog on a private space, just in case. You just never know. Also, WordPress RULES when it comes to widgets and ease of use, as I intend to visit some other colleges and universities in the days and weeks before I take office, and to continue my research on one of the most successful educational systems in the world (alas, it’s not in the U.S., and my place of employment recently banned giving support to any out-of-48 state research; so it’s self-funded). But it is still important to know what works (and sometimes, the United States of America needs inspiration and advice from others).
I have enough pages from VCCCD to read, though, to keep me busy for the next few months, with or without meetings. Minutes, agenda, process analysis, it’s all work. It’s certainly not fun. And it’s certainly going to take more than 100 hours during the summer – but hey, we old people, we got time on our hands.
And, just as an aside: while there are places where the Chancellor’s Governing Document that need work, the overall intent of it is to make clear how our colleges work. In California, Faculty have primacy in consultation about the list called 10 + 1. In the near future, I’ll be blogging about 10 +1 and some my thoughts, and some of the controversies involved in applying the law. I’ve been hanging out on forums, like the State Chancellor’s forums, and also, reading minutes at other community colleges, where available (it’s second nature to me to use the internet for field experiences), and it’s a good thing I find this stuff interesting, because I’m happiest when I love my job (and I love teaching; I won’t be in a real classroom for awhile…)
(All misuses of what some would say is “proper English” can refer themselves to the official study of…slang…) Comment anyway – especially on spelling.