Freedom Of Speech Is Not Freedom From Disagreement

2016-06

Freedom Of Speech Is Not Freedom From Disagreement
by Morrie Barembaum, Santiago Canyon College

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There was a time in our culture when people espoused the belief that “I disagree with everything you say, but I will defend your right to say it.” I am not sure if that is taught anymore.

About five years ago, the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, gave a speech at the University of California, Irvine. I was in attendance and I observed students attempting to shout him down.

More recently, the president of California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) tried to disinvite a conservative pundit, Benjamin Shapiro, from giving a talk on diversity. While the CSULA president relented and allowed Mr. Shapiro to speak, students resorted to violence in an effort to block other students and community members from attending. A student was quoted as saying that while she believed in the First Amendment, she did not want Mr. Shapiro to speak because he is a racist.

However, is that how the First Amendment works? Everyone is allowed to speak their mind so long as you agree with their point of view? Of course not. For freedom of speech to mean something, everyone must be allowed to express themselves even if those ideas contradict your own.

We, as educators, must teach our students to respect people whose opinions differ from our own. Not only because of the First Amendment but because that is a hallmark of an academic institution: to engage in civil discourse involving opposing viewpoints. If one truly wants to express one’s displeasure with the speaker, there are non-violent options available.

It’s time we got back to protecting this fundamental belief. If you don’t agree, that’s your right; but let the conversation go forward. At the end of the day, the better speech will prevail. What better lesson to teach our students and to model ourselves.

Morrie Barembaum is an instructor at Santiago Canyon College and a FACCC Governor-at-Large.

Contact Austin Webster at awebster@faccc.org to contribute a blog.

The Student Voice in Student Success

2016-05

The Student Voice in Student Success
by Ilse Maymes

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There are many issues facing community college students and I only have enough words to address a few. Every step that a community college student takes to achieve their educational goal is critical; any misstep or ill-advisement could end the journey.

At a start, we need well-trained financial officers and better staffed financial aid offices. Many community college students require financial assistance, making it critical for them to have access to someone who can help them through the process.

Assessment tests that do not correctly capture student abilities make things difficult, whether it places them too low and adds to their course load, or too high in classes they can’t pass.

Counselors also play a pivotal role in this journey and are critical to completion. It’s not only that counselors need the time to actually talk to students, but they need continued training to provide students with correct and current information on what classes they need to finish, graduate, or transfer on time.

The next point of contact is classroom faculty. There must be a fundamental understanding that for students, there are answers that only their professors can provide. It creates a high-level of frustration when students cannot reach their professor, which unfortunately happens all too often. The current insufficiency of full-time faculty, and the lack of part-time faculty availability to students, undermines the very concept of student success.

As a Latina student, the improving but still low level of faculty diversity is, at times, disheartening. While there are measures in place to quantify required levels of staff diversity, there is still a lack of clarity on how districts can meet these goals (especially when the available labor pool still significantly lags behind the targeted levels).

At the end of the day, we need to refocus our attention on students. We each come with our own stories and dreams for the future. Whether we land at a four-year school or get a job at the end of our community college experience is not the only measure of success. Our education helps build our families, turn jobs into careers, and helps us to become a successful part of our community. That’s why the support we need for student success, like financial aid, counselors, full-time faculty, part-time faculty office hours, and a diverse workforce, is so critical. Our success is your success. Let’s remember that as we move forward.
Ilse Maymes is a student trustee at the Ventura Community College District and president of the California Community Colleges Association of Student Trustees.

Contact Austin Webster at awebster@faccc.org to contribute a blog.

Genuine Faculty Input on Student Success

2016-04

Genuine Faculty Input on Student Success
Part Two of a Series
By Adam Wetsman, Rio Hondo College

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Everyone is interested in seeking ways to enhance student success. The challenge at many California Community Colleges is that faculty input is often secondary, superseded by districts’ concerns with legislative mandates in the arena of student services. This was certainly the case at Rio Hondo College where I work, when in 2013, faculty were not even invited to participate in discussions about success until after it was decided that the demands of the Student Success Initiative were best achieved by promoting an administrator. While the SSI generally addressed efficient student advancement, a large missing piece of the puzzle was successful classroom achievement.

Since student success is genuinely reached in classrooms, counseling offices, libraries, and elsewhere on campus, the Academic Senate leadership facilitated a day-long workshop to develop proposals to help students achieve their educational goals. The purpose was to provide suggestions to the administration that could be used to enhance student success beyond the counseling mandates of the SSI.

The Senate leadership was pleased to have a wide ranging attendance during the event that was held in January 2014, during our intersession when very few classes were conducted. There were three dozen attendees representing faculty from all divisions, including a good number of part-timers as well.

The workshop was divided into several sessions, each of which was started with information about a particular area of the college and followed by small group work to elicit suggestions for improving student success.

The first session provided background information on the SSI, described the changes to the funding mechanisms on student contact and preparation, and outlined goals for the workshop. This was followed by a great presentation by one of our counselors who explained what they face when seeing students. Although I had already been teaching for well over a decade, I found this information quite informative because I never knew how challenging it was for counselors to place students into the right classes.

There were several other productive sessions, where the emphasis was placed on faculty input. Engagement levels were so high that the facilitators had to eventually cut off the discussions so that participants could report out in a timely manner. A key focus was determining why students succeed and understanding where pitfalls occur, both in the classroom level and in the attainment of their overall educational goals. A related session narrowed in on helping students in the classroom. The final portion was devoted to sessions on multiple subjects like CTE, online learning, part-time faculty, and basic skills.

The six-hour session was one of the most rewarding of my academic career, largely influenced by faculty convening together to address a central topic to their profession, helping students succeed. What resulted was a score of suggestions, each intending to increase success in the classroom and beyond.

The next step would be reporting our suggestions to the entire campus community, something that will be addressed in the next entry…

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

Contact Communications Director Austin Webster to contribute a future blog.

Pardon the Silence

2016-02

Pardon the Silence
January 13, 2016
By Jonathan Lightman

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It’s good to see the response to the initial blog. In less than a week, we have already received interest from faculty members and other system stakeholders to contribute to this effort. I’m hoping over time that the robust discussion of FACCC’s blog posts will inspire greater advocacy and participation throughout our system.

In the meantime, there’s (sadly) little enthusiasm for the Governors’ proposed 2016-17 budget. Lest anyone from the Administration or Legislature be reading this, please do not confuse the limited applause with lack of appreciation. We are all deeply grateful for the continuing commitment to our community college system and look forward to working with policymakers throughout this budget cycle on ways to improve the proposal.

That being said, let’s take a look and what’s included and excluded in the proposal. Growth and COLA are both included—allowing our system to keep pace with ongoing costs—although neither at amount to celebrate (especially the 0.47% COLA, reflecting low inflation on a national level). The Workforce Task Force is funded at $200 million (perhaps the big winner in the budget proposal, although we still await the upcoming trailer bill to tell us what it all means) with another ongoing $48 million for SB 1070 Economic and Workforce Development projects.

Deferred maintenance and mandates are also big additions as one-time expenses. There are a few other proposals, including basic skills, innovation awards, zero-cost textbooks, and select categorical program COLAs.

What didn’t make it into the budget tells a larger story: full-time faculty, part-time faculty support, restoration of CalWORKs, additional base support to help with ongoing STRS and PERS increases, and additional student financial aid. Needless to say, these are not only important, but central to our ability to serve students. In case anyone was wondering, neither Student Success nor Equity was slated for increase.

We knew going into this budget discussion that our proposed augmentation would be less than 2015-16 (current year budget). That has everything to do with the complex Test 1, Test 2, Test 3 formulations of Proposition 98 (we went from Test 1 to Test 3) and the upcoming loss of Proposition 30 sales tax revenue. Nonetheless, even within this more limited framework, aside from those in CTE (who rightfully deserve predictable ongoing state funding—read, not grants) the enthusiasm is generated more from the excluded than the included items.

Our immediate task is reconciling our budget priorities with Governor Brown’s overall goals for community colleges. We know from prior experience how monumental a mistake it was for our system to advance a Student Success initiative that did not prioritize full-time faculty, part-time faculty support, counselors, and student services. We can’t repeat this type of mistake in our current effort to improve workforce education.

Let’s remember that not too long ago, we were looking to pare 500,000 students from our system and some of our institutions were actually contemplated for closure. At that time, we likened any increase in funding to a miracle from heaven (it’s important to keep that in perspective). Today’s discussions may be less earth shattering, but no less important.

Our challenge is to effectively tell our story (early and often) and not lose sight of our goals. We gain nothing from silence and even less from ingratitude. Let’s get to work.

 

Jonathan Lightman is Executive Director of FACCC.

 

Follow FACCC’s electronic, social, and print media for information on the budget and ways to get involved. Contact Communications Director Austin Webster to contribute a future blog.

Local Faculty Input on Student Success

2016-03

Local Faculty Input on Student Success
Part One of a Series
By Adam Wetsman, Rio Hondo College

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Everyone is interested in seeking ways to enhance student success at the California Community Colleges: Governor Brown, faculty, students, the Legislature, administrators, and others. A key question surrounding this topic is which groups are in the best position to make substantial recommendations. When the Student Success Task Force was empaneled a few years ago, there was concern that it was light on faculty representation, and the ensuing report seemed to reflect this. With significant emphasis on student services, the report was lacking in addressing how to enhance classroom success. The Student Success Initiative, SB 1456 [(Lowenthal) of 2012], followed suit by incentivizing colleges to increase student services, with virtually no emphasis on classroom teaching.

There is no question that students need to be prepared when starting at our colleges, with a basic educational goal in mind, knowledge of where their skills lie, and an idea of what courses should be taken. However, success must eventually go through our classrooms. If we are truly committed to increasing completion rates, faculty input is essential, especially as it relates to ensuring that those taking our courses have the best chance to pass.

The reduced emphasis on faculty input in discussions relating to student success has been carried forward to our local colleges. As Academic Senate President at Rio Hondo College, I learned during the summer of 2013 that the college had put together a task force to examine how to increase student success and implement the Initiative. Excited by the news, I contacted the administration to learn about the makeup of the committee and how faculty would be involved. The reply was disappointing. The task force was to be comprised solely of administrators, but I was assured that all groups would be able to participate in the future (something that never really materialized to any significant extent).

By the fall of 2013, this participation portion came to fruition, sort of. The task force had developed a comprehensive presentation describing the new funding mechanisms stemming from the Student Success Initiative. The college would receive money based upon a complex equation relating to student services (such as the percentage of students who had educational plans developed, had taken assessments, and so on). Constituency groups (such as the Academic Senate, the board of trustees, our overall planning group at the college, and others) were given the information during lengthy presentations. A modest amount of time was allocated for comments and questions.

Armed with the buzzwords, “Student Success,” few could suggest that this was not a worthy enterprise. Even greater legitimacy was afforded to the plan because of the money involved. Who could claim that the proposed steps were nothing but the utmost urgency when millions of dollars were at stake? Overall, however, the Academic Senate and other faculty groups were disappointed with the results. While the plan included an important step relating to student success, it did little to address the challenges faculty faced every day, desperately trying to help students pass our classes. More concerns followed as a central part of the success plan was announced: an administrative position in the student services area would be enhanced (i.e. there would be a pay increase for an administrator).

Believing that little faculty input about classroom success would be part of the discussion, the Academic Senate decided to develop its own plan for student success, one that would emphasize input from faculty. This will be described in the next installment….

 

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

 

Contact Communications Director Austin Webster to contribute a future blog.

 

Top 10 Questions for 2016

2016-01

Top 10 Questions for 2016
January 5, 2016
By Jonathan Lightman

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FACCC has welcomed the new year with an addition to its communications line-up. Joining its print, electronic, and social media, FACCC has launched a blog to offer additional perspectives on contemporary issues. Contact Communications Director Austin Webster if you would like to contribute to this effort.

The inaugural blog looks at the year ahead with 10 questions (in no particular order) we should ask in 2016.

1) Will the plug be pulled on the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)? The extreme lack of confidence in this body is now expressed up and down California, and in Washington, DC. Last month’s recommendation by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) to deny ACCJC any expansion of scope to accredit four-year programs while providing it only six more months to get its act together with federal law could portend a monumental change for this accreditor.

2) Will the Chancellor’s Office Workforce Task Force result in substantive, or merely cosmetic, changes for Career Technical Education in the California Community Colleges? Legislative, regulatory, and budgetary proposals will soon be forthcoming.

3) Will the Legislature finally allow for a substantive part-time faculty seniority/due process bill to advance to the Governor’s desk? Last year’s sidelining of AB 1010 (Medina) was one more slap in the face to this dedicated corps of faculty professionals.

4) Will the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision in Friedrichs vs CTA, the constitutional challenge to mandatory fair share union dues, wreak havoc on organized labor’s influence in California politics or will its effect be negligible? Labor and business leaders, along with Supreme Court watchers, are tracking this closely.

5) Will the 2016-17 Budget Act include additional money for full-time faculty hiring and/or restoration of categorical programs that were cut during the recession? While it’s too early to predict what will be included in the budget, the Legislative Analyst’s Office has already suggested that next year’s increase in community college funding will be substantially smaller than this year’s.

6) Will the November elections feature an epic initiative battle over Defined Benefit pensions? Recent polling suggests that the electorate might be less than originally thought to undermine the hard-earned retirement of community college faculty and other public employees.

7) Speaking of elections, will the Democrats return to a two-thirds legislative super-majority, and if so, will that make a difference? With fewer Republican victories over the past decade, the voters have shifted in a number of districts to supporting so-called “moderate” Democrats, those with a pro-business, and not necessarily a pro-labor, leaning. Although identified as Democrats, these “mods” do not necessarily follow traditional party leanings and might oppose tax reform or other grand policy items requiring a two-thirds vote.

8) Will the so-called “education reformers” intensify their attacks on the California Master Plan for Higher Education or will they find a new target this year? The whole concept of accessible, affordable, higher education available to all Californians through the California Community Colleges could disappear if the reformers have their way.

9) Will Congress and/or the Legislature address safety concerns at community colleges and other postsecondary institutions? While California state lawmakers are willing to engage on this topic, little is anticipated from our federal representatives who remain beholden to the gun lobby.

10) Finally, will the new Chancellor of the California Community Colleges respect and value diversity of opinion, particularly from faculty? Above all else, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors should consider this in its hiring decision.

Please share your predictions with me at jlightman@faccc.org It will be interesting to revisit these in a year, along with a new set of questions for 2017. Happy New Year!

Jonathan Lightman is the Executive Director of FACCC.