Summer Blog Series: Visions of Throughput Part 2: Why Mass-Producing Equity Doesn’t Work

By Terry Mulcaire

In May 2018, the California legislature, under pressure from Governor Brown and Chancellor Oakley, rushed a performance-based funding scheme into law that dedicates a portion of CCC funding to rewarding or punishing community colleges for their success, or failure, respectively, in meeting throughput targets. As one defender of such funding schemes put it, “The theory of action behind performance funding is simple: financial incentives shape behaviors.” Here the incentivized behavior is the one Chandler describes: raising throughput rates while at the same time lowering cost per unit completion. But if one declines to assume that factories and colleges are interchangeable, one immediately worries that faculty and staff are being incentivized to inflate grades and corrode educational standards. As Nicholas Hillman argues in “Why Performance-Based College Funding Doesn’t Work,” other perverse and unintended incentives may follow.

The extrinsic incentives of performance-based funding, for example, may erode the intrinsic motivations of teachers and students both. It’s difficult to see how there would not be all sorts of bad ethical and educational consequences to shaping the behavior of students so that they approach their education as something best got over with as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Hillman points out that the ideological drive to remake public sector agencies along the lines of efficient, highly rationalized private sector industries is not a new one; neoliberalism is a recent iteration of older laissez-faire ideology. In fact, the effort is old enough to have been thoroughly studied and studies have established its basic conceptual problem. Hillman summarizes, “Using outcomes as a management tool is difficult because public services are delivered through complex organizations where tasks are not routine and are inherently difficult to define and measure” (emphasis in original). Hillman cites the example of installing windshields in cars as a case where extrinsic financial incentives are likely to work—to succeed in raising throughput rates—and notes that this is because the task is routine, uniform and predictable, and under the sole control of the installer. In contrast, extrinsic funding has failed to work, for example, in fire departments, for the simple reason that none of these conditions apply to fires.

Each fire is unique, and so is each college student.

It is perhaps a testimony to the normative status of neoliberal ideology that the authors of the Vision, the faculty members of CAP, and the members of the California state Legislature, have lost sight of this basic human truth. What may explain this myopia, and what distinguishes neoliberalism from earlier versions of laissez-faire ideology, is neoliberalism’s dazzling promise that all sorts of desirable political and public goods can follow on from maximizing return on investment. Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s former firm, advertises its “Double Impact Fund” not just as a way to achieve attractive returns on investment, but as an instrument of “meaningful, measurable social and environmental change.” Here Bain couples redress of climate change to return on investment, the same move that the authors of Redesigning America’s Community Colleges make in coupling redress of inequity to maximizing returns on taxpayer investment. And we find this same application of private sector means and values to the pursuit of public goods in CAP’s claim that the collective shared goal of community college faculty is to maximize throughput rates, and so achieve equity, by making the community college into what Jamie Merisotis, CEO of the Lumina Foundation, describes as a “more efficient engine for human capital development.”

Capital growth as a metaphor for human growth pervades the English and American literary traditions, as 40 years of steeping myself in those traditions has taught me well. In the age of neoliberalism, that complex metaphor has decayed into a simplistic and rigid ideological axiom. We are to believe that, “maximizing return on investment,” in an educational system whose core economic value is efficiency is the best means of achieving human educational growth. The authors and promoters of the Vision understand, presumably, that treating education literally as a capital investment means reconceptualizing the faculty as line workers in a factory, the measure of whose work is increased throughput; also presumably, they don’t necessarily want the faculty to take that lesson. We need to take the lesson.

I don’t claim to know whether the authors and promoters of the Vision themselves understand that their vision reconceptualizes students as industrial raw material to be processed as quickly and cheaply as possible into products for the job market. But this stingy and dehumanizing vision of education is not how California taxpayers understood the education of its majority white students in the heyday of the Master Plan. What was not too expensive for students then may be assumed to be too expensive for students now; on the basis of that assumption, political justice may now be offered up as a factory good produced with maximal efficiency, at minimal cost, and maximal return on investment—these are ways of saying that we continue to live under the dominion of neoliberal ideology.

The faculty need to call out that dominion and speak the plain truth. Justice does not and will not ever come in the form of a mass-produced factory product. Numerical equivalency in outcomes produced quickly and on the cheap is not the same thing as meaningful educational equity. The problem of equity is a hard political problem, not an easy engineering problem. The Chancellor may get his numerical equivalency in outcomes, but that will likely do as much to achieve genuine equity as Bain Capital’s flourishing “Double Impact Fund” will do to slow the steady cooking of global civilization. We need to do better. Cutting the ideological ties binding political equity to economic efficiency and opening a legitimate political debate over what real equity looks like, and how much it’s worth to us, would be a good start.

Summer Blog Series: Visions of Throughput, or, the Equity Factory

Part 1

Equity and Efficiency

By Terry Mulcaire

Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley’s “Vision for Success” for California Community Colleges represents the most dramatic reform to the CCC system since the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education. To the Master Plan’s emphasis on open access, the Vision adds an ambitious focus on two new goals: achieving equity in completion rates for students from historically underrepresented groups and increasing the efficiency of the CCC system’s production of completions—degrees, certificates, etransfers, and specific, high-demand job skills. This conceptual coupling of equity and efficiency is the Vision’s core premise. It frames inequity in terms of inefficiency and it offers efficiency as the means to achieve equity.

But the Vision never defends or even inquires into this premise. The authors simply assume that the economic means of efficiency will achieve the political end of equity, and everything in the Vision follows from this. And so this assumption deserves critical scrutiny. In making it, the authors of the Vision, without acknowledging it, draw on core tenets of neoliberal ideology: that the public sector should model itself on the private sector, and so that political and social goods are best pursued by applying the economic laws, so-called, of the competitive marketplace. If we want equity, we should seek to produce it as if it were a good being produced for the market: with maximal efficiency, and the highest possible return on investment.

Thus the Vision’s presentation of the original problems it seeks to reform links inequity to inefficiency. The authors cite relatively low completion rates “among African-American students (36 percent), American Indian/Alaskan students (38 percent), Hispanic students (41 percent), and Pacific Islander students (43 percent)” and contrast these to “stronger completion rates of Asian students (65 percent), Filipino students (57 percent) and White students (54 percent).” They go on to claim that these completion rate inequities also measure troubling “inefficiencies,” which “drive up costs for both the students and California taxpayers.” According to Thomas Bailey, Shanna Jaggers, and Davis Jenkins, authors of Redesigning America’s Community Colleges (2015), a highly influential pro-reform study cited by the Chancellor’s Office as a guidebook, such low completion rates show that community colleges have been “making poor use of taxpayer dollars”(6), and failing to “maximize returns on [taxpayer] investment” (198). Bailey, Jaggers, and Jenkins propose that efficiency represents the road to equity, and set forth a blueprint for achieving equitable rates of completion across the board using greater efficiencies in the production of completions, or a “lower…cost per completion” (178), not just for students from historically underrepresented groups, but for all community college students.

If we inquire into the Vision’s assumptions about equity and efficiency, and about the relationship between economic means and political ends, problems arise immediately. The conceptual coupling of equity and efficiency leads us to the odd conclusion that the political inequities borne by students from historically underrepresented groups can be measured by the relatively high cost per completion for students from those groups. And this leads to the even odder solution set forth by Jaggers et al, which is, in the name of equity, to cut the “cost per completion,” or to lower state spending per completion, for individual students from those groups, along with all other students.  Equity here does not mean that the state will now devote to the completions of African-American or Hispanic students the same or equal amount of resources that it has been devoting to the completions of White and Asian students; instead, it means that the new lower more “efficient” amount of resources that the Vision is offering to students from historically underrepresented groups will be equivalent to that of students from every other group, whose completions will similarly be produced at a lower average unit cost.

After 30 years of increasing income inequality nationally—a period in which neoliberal economic ideology has dominated debates over public budgets—the authors of the Vision simply assume that what was not too expensive for white majority students in the past is now too expensive for all students equally, and on the basis of that assumption they declare that cutting spending per outcome across the board represents the path to political equity. This conceptual binding of equity to efficiency preemptively closes down any space for political arguments that achieving equity might be worth spending more per student outcome, at least for students from these groups. In 1960, when the Master Plan offered enrollment in the Community Colleges to “any student capable of benefiting from instruction,” efficiency was not on the radar. The state’s political commitment to that goal was necessarily financially open-ended. The taxpayers wrote a blank check to back it up.

Thus the Vision implicitly rejects the Master Plan’s open-ended funding commitments as inefficient—implicitly, without ever openly defending the neoliberal assumptions that the value of public goods must be measured in quasi-industrial terms, by low cost per unit of production, and that the political interests of taxpayers are adequately described in terms of an investor’s jealous regard for return on his dollar—implicitly, without ever acknowledging that the Master Plan nowhere considers efficient completion to be a goal, or that taxpayers might view public higher education through a lens other than that of private capital investment—as taxpayers so clearly did in regard to white students in the 1960s and ensuing decades.

The Vision’s critique of the system under the Master Plan relies on a stealthy redefinition by which the public college becomes a factory, but run according to private sector values of efficiency and return on investment. Stated openly, it takes the form of a non sequitur: “In offering the public good of access to higher education,” so imply the authors, in effect, “the community college has failed to perform as an efficient factory in producing equitable completions.”

 Throughput

The Vision may be more accurately described as a project of industrial engineering, “redesigning” the school into a factory committed to efficient productivity, or “throughput.” In his Pulitzer-Prize winning 1977 study of the rise of the profession of industrial engineering, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, Alfred Chandler seized on the importance of the concept of throughput for late 19th-century factory managers. The term describes the rate at which materials move through the production system; the great goal of the factory manager in that era was to increase rates of throughput without increasing unit costs of production, resulting in a more efficient factory, a lower cost per unit of production, and a product whose market price was more competitive.

Remarkably, proponents of the Vision have explicitly and enthusiastically embraced the concept of throughput as a description of their goal. The most influential of these proponents are the faculty members of the California Acceleration Project (CAP) founded by Katie Hearn and Myra Snell in 2010, with the goals of raising completion rates and achieving equity for students who had placed into pre-transfer developmental classes in Math and English. CAP observed that in colleges with long, multi-semester developmental pathways leading to transfer-level courses, many students exited the pathway at the end of each term, producing a high attrition rate throughout the pathway. They also noted that most of the students lost to attrition were from historically underrepresented groups. Hearn and Snell, with support from the Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and other pro-reform non-profits, tried shortening, or “accelerating” pathways and found that doing so increased throughput rates. Anticipating the fundamental logic of the Chancellor’s Vision, they concluded that they had found the stone that would kill two birds at the same time: shortening pathways increased throughput rates, and increasing throughput rates, so they claimed, represented the achievement of equity.

In discovering and celebrating the transformational power of increasing throughput rates, CAP was rediscovering a foundational principle of industrial engineering.  Urging CC teachers to stop thinking of pedagogy in terms of the background, talents, and skills of individual teachers, and instead to think in terms of large institutional structures and systems, Hearn and Snell echo the famous dictum of Frederick Winslow Taylor, a founding father of the discipline of industrial engineering, who proclaimed in The Principles of Scientific Management (1911) that “In the past the man has been first; in the future, the system must be first.” And as Chandler points out, a key goal of reconceptualizing the factory floor as a single system overseen by managing engineers such as Taylor was to increase efficiency or to maximize throughput rates while lowering unit costs. The Twitter hashtag of some CAP proponents states it plainly and pithily: “#maximizethroughput.”

Recognizing the industrial character of CAP’s commitment to throughput brings into sharp relief the new inequities that system would entail. It repeats the larger non sequitur of the Vision: we are going to redress the educational inequities you have experienced by re-engineering the college into an efficiently productive factory for equivalent outcomes. The claim that a college can be treated as substantively identical to an efficient factory is only one in a long list of similarly problematic assertions.

“The educational experience in the CC system of students from historically underrepresented groups is inequitable” is assumed to be substantively identical to “Students from historically underrepresented groups have inefficiently low throughput rates.” On that basis, “We will achieve educational equity for those students” is assumed to be identical to “We will raise throughput rates for those students.”  More broadly, political and educational problems are assumed to be identical to engineering problems, and specifically, problems of inefficiency. Engineering solutions to problems of efficiency, therefore, represent the solution to those political and educational problems. Educational quality is therefore identical to the efficiency of an educational system in producing equal quantities of outputs. You’ll know that you’re teaching well when your throughput rates go up.

Check back next week for Part 2: Why mass-Producing Equity Doesn’t Work

Summer Blog Series: Introducing the Pedagogy of Social Justice

By Ryan Tripp

 This past spring, California community college faculty convened at Contra Costa College to discuss the “Pedagogy of Social Justice.” The conference featured workshops for advancing social justice in California community college instruction.  Diablo Valley College (DVC) professors of sociology and political science spearheaded one such workshop, urging faculty to consider “transformative possibilities” for themselves and their students. Sociologist Sanga Niyogi and political scientist Albert Ponce explained that “the goal of Social Justice pedagogy is to develop consciousness of injustices while empowering students with the tools to work towards justice.”

The conferences came on the heels of a concerted effort to integrate social justice into the educational aims of Contra Costa community colleges. For example, DVC approved a three-tier curriculum for a social justice program in conjunction with Rainbow Youth wherein community leaders attend as guest speakers and students report on observations of campus learning communities as well as perform fifteen to twenty hours of service for a community agency. During the 2019-20 academic year, DVC will also offer “Introduction to Social Justice,” engaging with a spectrum of “intersections” between gender and sexuality, racial injustice, art, music, history, and equity. For Janice Townsend, who helped craft the Los Medanos College social justice proposal, “Social Justice is about making the world a better place, it’s about empowerment, not just about the history of yourself. It connects you to others, affinity of the things we all differ, and share in common, as humans.”

These programs and majors often attempt to introduce social justice as a dialogical concept, connected to procedural justice and distributive justice. Sociologist Joe Feagin, whose publications appear in DVC courses, argues that the concept does not solely promote socio-cultural “diversity” against “social oppression.” In his estimation, “social justice entails a redistribution of resources from those who have unjustly gained them to those who justly deserve them.” Feagin endorses “liberal” representative democracy but avers that “those at the top create and maintain over time a socio-legal framework and political structure that strongly support their group interests. It seems clear that only a decisive redistribution of resources and decision-making power can ensure social justice.”

Many teachers and activists explore epistemologies of social justice. Feagin, for one, admits that the history of sociological ideas “has been dialectical, with supporters of the detached-science perspective often being central, yet regularly challenged by those advocating a sociology committed to both excellent sociological research and social justice.” Paul Kivel, a vociferous critic of what he controversially dubs “Christian hegemony,” initially began as a Jewish opponent of domestic violence and proponent of social justice. His early publications, still assigned in Contra Costa Community College District social justice courses, demanded that faculty and staff measure “the amount we can personally risk financially” against the potential benefits of a “commitment to social justice. These are strategic decisions that I don’t think one can make in isolation from the inside of the organization(s) we work for.” He maintained that “accountability” to social justice activism should become a “dialectical process because there are people of color, feminists, working-class activists who say conflicting things about what we should be doing and even about what the issues are.”

Race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality constitute the perennial categories that both confound and facilitate social justice pedagogy. Robin DiAngelo, in an essay assigned to DVC social justice students, examines “white” instruction of social justice. DiAngelo observes that “whites are more likely to be penalized (primarily by other whites) for bringing race up in a social justice context than for ignoring it.” This specter of ostracism and penalization often occupies a liminal space between justice and justification, frequently allowing “whites to devote much more psychological energy to other issues, and prevents us from developing the stamina to sustain attention on an issue as charged and uncomfortable as race.”

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a founder of the African-American Policy Forum and advocate for intersectionality, holds that “the embrace of identity politics…has been in tension with dominant conceptions of social justice. Race, gender, and other identity categories are most often treated in mainstream liberal discourse as vestiges of bias or domination… According to this understanding, our liberatory objective should be to empty such categories of any social significance.” On the contrary, she expounds on the notion that “social power in delineating difference need not be the power of domination; it can instead be the source of political empowerment and social reconstruction. The problem with identity politics is [that it] frequently conflates or ignores intra-group differences.”

As students, too, learn more about the history of social justice pedagogy and the dizzying array of approaches that accompany it, the classroom can become a crucial site for shared ideas and activism. Collaboration and critical discussion among faculty and staff, such as the aforementioned “Pedagogy of Social Justice” conference and upcoming “Social Justice and the Role of Community Colleges Conference” can also make significant headway in leveraging teaching strategies and student empowerment into community, cross-disciplinary, district, and state educational avenues for social justice.

Summer Blog Series: The Earth is Round

By Paul Baltimore

FACCC has produced an important report proving conclusively that the Earth is round.”

It continually blows my mind to discover what is apparently up for debate these days: the shape of the earth, climate change, voting rights, the persistence of institutionalized racism. What’s next: the idea that teachers matter when it comes to a student’s education? Advocating for California Community College (CCC) faculty at the Chancellor’s Office—before the Board of Governors, and most especially, in the halls of the Capitol—FACCC activists (FACCCtivists!) have been confronted over the last decade with a frankly bewildering question: “Can you show any data demonstrating your argument that faculty matter when it comes to student success?”

Educators must be forgiven for not realizing this argument required data. But educators are also educators. So, when students have a question about facts, it is up to them to supply not only the answer but the evidence to support it. And so, after two years of rigorous, exhaustive, and peer-reviewed research, FACCC’s Education Institute has the paper to support its argument: Why Faculty Matter: The Role of Faculty in the Success of Community College Students, a 53-page study with 18 pages of annotated endnotes, written by Greg Gilbert, an English professor who taught for 20 years in the CCC and five at a California State University, and is currently a Trustee at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree. He is what’s known in our profession as an “expert on education,” which means that what he produces is scrupulous, thoughtful, and most importantly, credible.

For every single person who claims to be concerned about student success, this document is required reading. It is based on the documented history of higher education (both in the California and national context), statistics on our current student population, analyses of trends in the CCC, and 25 years of accumulated data from experts who have been studying the challenges of higher education and offering thoughtful solutions. The FACCC study is focused squarely on “student success” and opens with a definition of that term which should be uncontroversial-given that it mirrors the stated mandate of the community college system: student success is “defined by persistence, course/program completion, transfer rates, the realization of goals, and professional advancement.” And it makes the equally uncontroversial statement that the system has been struggling to fulfill this mandate, resulting in an unacceptable drop in student success (as defined). Assuming that all advocates for higher education agree with this definition of success and the current problem, the report addresses the fundamental question: what are the most important factors in helping individual students achieve success?

You should read the whole report, but I’m going to give away its conclusion: the research shows that the single most important variable for achieving student success is “persistent active interaction between faculty and their students.” At every point in a student’s education, the more personal and interpersonal connections they have with faculty, the greater their chances are for reaching their educational and professional goals. And this is especially true in California today, with our increasingly “diverse, often underprepared, and economically challenged student population.” To meet the very real and very large challenges that these students face requires more “personal mentoring, counseling, and ongoing guidance in support of study and personal aspirations.” Furthermore, “such student/faculty interactions enrich educators’ understanding and appreciation of their students, and by extension, heighten faculty involvement within their institutions and profession, thus contributing to an inclusive and interactive college culture for everyone—students, faculty, and staff.”

Based on this very obvious fact (the Earth is round), the way forward is to support any policies and programs that substantively increase and enhance student success by providing the resources and opportunities necessary for robust student/faculty personal interaction. The question is:  how do we do that?

If student success is truly our objective then we have two major priorities. First, increase full-time tenured faculty positions. Students “benefit from a full-time faculty member’s primary focus and dedication to a single institution and the students it serves,” because tenured full-time faculty provide continuity in curriculum and program development, institutional commitment and memory, and most importantly, personal guidance to support “student endeavors, one student at a time and in small group settings.”

Second, increase support for part-time faculty. While increasing full-time faculty positions is the ultimate goal, the current system depends heavily on part-time faculty to teach and guide our students. Given this fact, resources and opportunities must be provided to increase personal interaction between students and part-time faculty, including more job security and pay parity, but also policies that “actively promote part-time faculty involvement in the life of their campuses that extends beyond the classroom and include everything from office hours to participation in extra-curricular activities.”

This is the way forward for all those concerned with student success. In everything from what we do in the classroom, to the way our colleges are funded and operated, to policy initiatives in state and national legislatures, we should be moving toward enhancing the real live personal connections between students and those who teach them. Of course, all of this costs money, and that is the number one debate point that opponents of this student/faculty-based agenda always put up first.

The issue of cost is a major hurdle, to be sure, but it is more often than not used as an obstacle to avoid moving in the right direction, and it is too short-sighted to address the major problems that our students are facing when it comes to achieving success. It is a way to kill a serious conversation about the long-term needs of our students, and even what is necessary to achieve the stated goals of the Chancellor’s Office for our students: basic skills preparation, career technical education, four-year degrees, and student success overall. As the FACCC report states, “if the California Community College system is to faithfully discharge its duties to California’s students, it must prioritize and provide sustainable funding to increase faculty/student contact for both full and part-time faculty.”

Yes, it will cost money. But we need to move in that direction and away from false promises of quick, cheap “fixes” to this existential problem. Whenever we advocate for our students we need to be guided by the facts of what it takes for them to achieve true, transformational, and lasting success. And what the facts show is that when it comes to student success, more than anything else, faculty matter. An agenda that supports faculty supports students, and as Greg Gilbert writes at the conclusion of this study: “Investing in teachers is an investment in student success, pure and simple.”

It is pure and simple. Maybe life would be easier and cheaper if the world was flat, I don’t know. But I do know that the world isn’t flat. So, let us repeat the conclusion of the FACCC report at every opportunity to all those in doubt. It’s a very simple mantra: “substantial student interaction with faculty is essential for student success.” In other words, the Earth is round.

If called upon next to prove that the sky is blue, we will compile the research and issue that report as well: because that is what we do. FACCC deals in facts. And if the Flat-Earthers produce a similarly rigorous and thorough counter-report, we will happily review their data.

Reflections and Transitions Part Two

Reflections and Transitions Part Two
by Jonathan Lightman

This is the column that took (nearly) 20 years to write.

Last January, I announced my retirement from FACCC, effective September 7. As much as I have truly loved the last two decades in this role—something I can’t emphasize enough—it’s time for me to step off the twin speeds of frantic and extreme. I’ve got no particular plans for my post-FACCC career other than a four month hiatus. Afterward, I’m open.

In the meantime, I’d like to express my deepest appreciation to all the FACCC leaders who placed their confidence in me, particularly the association presidents under whom I served, Evelyn “Sam” Weiss, Carolyn Russell, Rich Hansen, Dennis Smith, Bill Hewitt, John McDowell, Dean Murakami, Shaaron Vogel, and Adam Wetsman. Just as important were the tens of thousands of faculty and millions of students who entered our institutions each day hoping the political class would provide them with the support needed to engage in the manner of teaching and learning worthy of the nation’s largest system of higher education. Sadly, their lot was too often set aside in favor of the privileged class or the so-called reformers who claimed to know what was better for them.

While it’s hard to encapsulate so many experiences into a single piece, there are some that are particularly prominent. A number of them are organizational, others political, and a few personal. When I put the list together, I came up with 11 big ones (a veritable 10+1) with some runners up. Just as the brain randomizes memories, these are presented in no particular order.

Please enjoy this last lap around track.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Summer Scholars Transfer Institute Life-Changing Experience

2017-02

Summer Scholars Transfer Institute Life-Changing Experience

By: Casey Jones

When I first heard the words “Your dean has recommended you for a special program” I wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad news. Such was my plight as I sat in the office of the administrator overseeing the program at Rio Hondo College in Whittier this past spring as he pitched me on the virtues of teaching in the Summer Scholars Transfer Institute (SSTI).

SSTI is a long-established program held in partnership with Santa Ana College and UC Irvine. The program offers students the opportunity to complete a 16-week course in 10 days while living in the dorms. For students with jobs, young children, and family responsibilities this is a golden opportunity to have a true college experience while completing a transferable class in record time.

As an adjunct speech instructor, it sounded like the chance to squeeze in one more summer section, and with words like “transformative” and “game-changing” used to describe the program, what could go wrong? As it happened not a thing.

What an amazing experience!

SSTI did offer something transformative and not just for the students. I lived in the dorms (major flashback!), ate in the cafeteria, spent time in the study room, and was astounded by the progress students made in such a short amount of time. Students morphed into poised, well-prepared, college ready young adults right before my very eyes.

The time I spent at SSTI also gave me the chance to experience what happens to students and how they adapt the learning in context once they leave the classroom. It was one lightbulb moment after another spending time in the nightly study room, sometimes into the early morning hours, working with students on research and writing assignments. The bar in my classes is high, and yet there was room to keep pushing them to reach beyond their own expectations and my own.

On a more personal note, I am the quintessential freeway flyer, teaching at multiple colleges, and making the rounds. What a gift it was to have a cohesive colleague experience for those 10 days. The camaraderie at SSTI with fellow instructors, administrators, teaching assistants, and the amazing counselors, was a reminder that being involved in on-campus activities with other instructors isn’t just good marketing, it’s more fun!

I can’t encourage you enough to take advantage of teaching opportunities like SSTI. Was it intense? Oh, my yes! However, leaving my own life behind for those 10 days allowed me to focus on student outcomes in an entirely new, creative way. That experience has already positively affected my approach to the fall semester. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that teaching at SSTI was a transformative game-changer.

Casey Jones is an adjunct professor who teaches communications & languages at Rio Hondo College.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FACCC or other board members. The FACCC blog is open to FACCC members and invited guests who desire to spark discussion and dialogue on issues critical to community college faculty.

Still Not Making Progress on the 75% Goal for Full-time Faculty Instruction: A Proposal for Student and Faculty Success

2017-01

Still Not Making Progress on the 75% Goal for Full-time Faculty Instruction: A Proposal for Student and Faculty Success
By Debbie Klein and Mary Ellen Goodwin

 Download in PDF

Our system’s inequitable reliance upon part-time faculty is not a bug; it’s a defining feature of teaching in the California Community Colleges. Given this reality, we suggest lifting the 67% workload cap on part-time faculty as a viable means of improving working conditions and promoting student success.

We realize the long-standing practice of limiting the load taught by individual part-time faculty, currently set at 67% of a full-time load, is a sacred cow for many. But we hope you will read and respond to this blog post with an open mind! We’re interested in generating dialogue about how to move the needle on part-time faculty equity while also better serving students.

It’s universally recognized that we need more full-time faculty to serve our students. In 1988, the system’s vision that full-time faculty teach at least 75% credit classroom instruction was memorialized as a goal in the Education Code. However, over almost 30 years since, the funding required to make progress has been sporadic at best.

Over the past 10 years, the percentage of credit instruction by part-time faculty has increased rather than decreased, ranging from about 40% to 47% during this period and currently hovering around 44% (see graph). It is significant that over the same period, the head count of part-time to full-time faculty has averaged 70% to 30%.

In addition to the 30-year failure to reach the 75% full-time faculty goal, the system has also failed to make progress on part-time faculty workplace equity, an issue the Legislature embraced when it initiated, nearly 20 years ago, three community college budget line items funding office hours, health benefits, and compensation parity (equal pay for equal work). These funding sources have been subject to severe reductions whenever state revenues falter, and have been rarely restored when the overall revenue picture improved.

Why would a state so concerned about student success and so reliant on a part-time workforce be so reluctant to provide essential budgetary support for its faculty? It is surprising that system leaders have been willing partners in the state’s exploitation of part-time faculty and unwilling to do all they can to address student needs.

The literature concludes that faculty contact is the most significant factor in determining student success. Full-time faculty are under contract and compensated for maintaining such contact, but part-time faculty, who teach almost half of the courses are not required by state law to be compensated for student access outside the classroom. When part-time faculty do make themselves accessible, they rarely have office space in which to meet. In this era of student success, it should be shocking to see that many colleges have turned their backs on the state funding, however meager, for part-time faculty office hours.

Limited to 67% of a full-time load, frequently paid at a rate much less than the full-time equivalent, and with little or no support for health care, professional development activities, and personal leave allowances, many part-time faculty are forced into a frenetic work life of traveling from one college to another. This leaves only a minimal amount of time and energy for consultation with students, which is key to their success.

How can the system remain complacent under this current two-tier system in which the majority of faculty must function under such stressful conditions? In addition to the negative impact on the faculty, what is the consequence of this daily strain on service to students and the colleges? Are we comfortable with this situation?

Imagine lifting the 67% workload cap. Imagine how your department could improve. Some part-time faculty might teach a few extra courses, while others might keep their same load. In either case, part-time faculty would be more likely to focus their professional careers on a single college, and both the campus and its students would surely benefit. Part-time faculty would have more time to spend with students and participate in shared governance and department work.

Were part-time faculty able to teach a larger load at one college, these could all occur:

  • Increased student success due to more part-time faculty availability;
  • Decreased daily faculty travel (beneficial for the environment);
  • Physically and mentally healthier faculty;
  • More faculty participation in shared governance;
  • Greater faculty integration into the life of the college;
  • Part-time positions would become more appealing and would attract more talent;
  • Part-time positions and faculty would be more stable;
  • Being a part-time faculty member could become a more viable career choice;
  • Increased part-time faculty equity;
  • Part-time faculty would be professionally supported and could support themselves;
  • Fewer part-time faculty would have to share the same office space;
  • Scheduling fewer part-time faculty would save districts time and money;
  • Colleges would have less trouble finding part-time faculty to teach courses;

While we agree that it’s important to continue advocating for movement toward the 75% full-time instruction goal as well as pay parity for part-time faculty (equal pay for equal work), unfortunately, decades of the same advocacy strategy have not moved the needle. We suggest there’s a simple change that would make systemic progress to better serve our students and address the exploitation of part-time faculty. Lifting the 67% Workload Cap would be an achievable goal to add to our advocacy repertoire in our effort to craft a more equitable system for students and faculty alike.
Debbie Klein teaches anthropology at Gavilan College and currently serves on the FACCC Board. Mary Ellen Goodwin teaches ESL at De Anza College is currently FACCC’s Part-time Faculty Officer.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FACCC or other board members. The FACCC blog is open to FACCC members and invited guests who desire to spark discussion and dialogue on issues critical to community college faculty.

Decisions Are Made By Those Who Show Up

2016-09

Decisions Are Made By Those Who Show Up
By Austin Webster, Faculty Association of California Community Colleges

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“My vote doesn’t matter.”

This phrase is uttered over and over by thousands of people each election year. It is used to justify complacency, ignorance, and outright laziness. It’s a copout used when someone is pressed about being engaged, knowing the issues, and taking a stand.

It’s a lie. Your vote matters.

While it’s technically true that no major election in U.S. history has been won by a single vote, some have come close. In 2015, a Mississippi statehouse race ended in a tie and the winner was selected by drawing straws. During this year’s presidential primaries, Senator Bernie Sanders won a county in Massachusetts by a single vote—a symbolic victory that would help continue the Senator’s momentum through the primary cycle. While ultimately unsuccessful in securing the Democratic nomination for president, Sander’s candidacy pushed the Democratic Party to adopt its most progressive platform in history and brought Secretary Hillary Clinton to the left on a number of important policies.

In one of my favorite clips from The Newsroom, popular national news anchor Will McAvoy (portrayed by Jeff Daniels) pointedly asks: if liberals are so smart, why do they lose so frequently? The answer is simple. Turnout.

Sanders’ campaign was consistently heralded as “unprecedented” due to the high level of engagement and dedication of his supporters. They frequently showed up in the thousands for his rallies and speeches. His grassroots support broke the mold for small dollar donations and many political observers here in California expected a record primary turnout. That didn’t happen.

Of the 24,783,789 eligible voters in California, only 17,915,053 are registered, and of that number, only 8,548,301 participated. In other terms, 34.49% of California’s eligible voters (about 21.91% of California’s total population) made the decisions for everyone else.

I reference the impact of the Sanders campaign on the Democratic platform because it represents a solution to a growing problem in national politics. In 2010, people who felt their vote “didn’t matter” allowed the Tea Party to hijack the Republican Party. This subsequently led to the least productive Congress in history and a rightward gravitational pull for the Democratic Party. Why did Democrats move to the right? Because the left wasn’t turning out in high enough numbers to maintain the momentum created in 2008.

The center is where elections are won or lost, and that’s decided by turnout. If progressives want to continue the work that’s been done over the last eight years, they must vote. Likewise, if true conservatives want their party back, they have to get serious at the ballot box.

Decisions are made by those who show up.

Register to vote. Show up on November 8 and every election thereafter.

 

Austin Webster is FACCC’s Director of Communications. Contact Austin to submit a future blog post.

The DIY Solution to the Textbook Dilemma

2016-08

The DIY Solution to the Textbook Dilemma
By Ted Preston, Rio Hondo College

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Like many instructors, I have struggled to balance a variety of interests when it comes to choosing textbooks for my classes. Over the span of my career thus far, I’ve developed numerous complaints about the textbooks that were available for my use:

  • They’re too expensive. As a community college professor, I have to contend with many students facing financial challenges, and simply will not purchase a textbook if it costs $100-$200—a not unusual range, even for philosophy texts.
  • They’re too difficult. Many of my students require remediation in reading comprehension. The often lofty and jargon-laden prose of many textbooks might as well have been Latin for some. When the prose is that intimidating, many just give up.
  • They’re filled with material I don’t use. Standard philosophy anthologies contain a couple dozen chapters, of which I might use ten at most. The unused chapters represent a wasted expense.

Used books partially address the expense problem, but not other concerns. Even used copies of standard anthologies could run upwards of $100, not to mention the chaos of having multiple editions of the text in use in my class with different pagination and content.

I experimented with custom publishing from some of the major companies. While that addressed the “unused material” concern, it didn’t save enough money or ease the difficulty of the prose.

Several years ago, I hit upon a solution that seemed too good to be true: I would write my own textbooks. I partnered with Gnutext (www.gnutext.com) and began writing an Introduction to Philosophy textbook with the goal of producing a high quality, low cost, accessible text. Seven years later, I am working on the fifth edition of that Intro book, and have written multiple editions of texts for Introduction to Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Ancient Philosophy, and have recently published on Political Philosophy. The process has been enjoyable, wonderful, creative outlet, and I have managed to address each of my concerns:

  • The books are cheap. After the bookstore markup, new copies are roughly $25-$30; used or rental copies cost even less. As a result, nearly 100% of my students purchase the book and bring it with them to class. I am able to control costs by relying solely on public domain primary sources, and, frankly, not profiting much from the sales.
  • The books are accessible. I write with community college students in mind, actively seeking to convey understanding rather than confusion or intimidation.
  • The books are efficient. I write only content that I intend to use, and that I think other instructors would be likely to use.

While it might not be a practical option for every instructor to write his or her own text, options are available that can address our concerns and serve our students. Whether it be open source materials, custom publishing, or pursuing low-cost alternatives, we have choices, and our students depend on us to make good ones on their behalf.

Ted Preston is a professor of philosophy at Rio Hondo College.

Contact Communications Director Austin Webster to contribute to a future blog.

Faculty as Central to Student Success

2016-07

Faculty as Central to Student Success
Third in a Series
By Adam Wetsman, Rio Hondo College

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Everyone is interested in seeking ways to enhance student success and the faculty at Rio Hondo College participated in a day-long workshop to develop ideas relating to the issue. This was developed by our local Academic Senate after it learned that the administration was moving forward with plans for student success without significantly engaging faculty in discussions.

Unfortunately, the promise by the administration to include meaningful participation by faculty never materialized, and simply meant that the campus constituency groups were supposed to rubber stamp a proposal to upgrade an administrative position to meet the needs of the Student Success Initiative (SSI). Little additional input was sought; in fact, it was generally shunned.

Nonetheless, the Senate-led workshop produced a slew of suggestions to help students succeed, ones that will be described in later entries of this blog. As the Academic Senate president, the challenge was to get help with implementation, and the administration was the gateway for doing so. They were skeptical, however, of faculty input, perhaps believing it was a threat to the plan that had been developed, the one with an enhanced administration position as the centerpiece. Undaunted, I pushed forward to communicate our findings with as many governance groups as possible.

The first stop was at the Board of Trustees where, a month or so earlier, the administrator whose position was eventually upgraded, spent an hour describing the challenges of the SSI and how Rio Hondo College would respond. I had asked the administration if I could give a short presentation on the Senate-led workshop and was told that I could not since the agenda was full (which really was not). Undeterred, I expressed that I would do it during the comments section of the Board meeting where leaders of the constituency groups (Senate, Faculty Association, CSEA, etc.) could inform the Board on relevant events and activities of their respective organizations.

The Board president was prepared for me, however, and before I even started she admonished the trustees against asking questions or making comments since the item was not on the agenda. Nonetheless, the presentation went well with several trustees squirming in their seats, legally precluded from participating in the conversation even though they wanted to.

This was followed a week or so later at our Associated Students’ executive committee where I outlined the challenges facing students and the ways that faculty can provide assistance. Upon completion, there was a strange mood in the room. Evidently, many students interpreted the recommendations as suggesting that students themselves were responsible for low levels of success. This required me to do some repair, explaining it was our responsibility as professors, and Rio Hondo’s responsibility overall, to position each student for success. Once I emphasized that we need to do better for students to do better, their concerns abated.

Later, I presented to faculty at Flex Day, to the Academic Senate, and to our umbrella planning committee. Each was exceptionally well received with even more suggestions elicited on how we can best help our students. All of this achieved two important objectives. First, faculty and other members of the campus community gained an increased awareness of the roles that we play in student success. Second, our work demonstrated that faculty can indeed make significant contributions to help students achieve their educational goals.

The next two blogs will describe the recommendations from our Senate-led success workshop.

 

Adam Wetsman is an instructor at Rio Hondo College and a FACCC Regional Governor.

Contact Communications Director Austin Webster to contribute to a future blog.