An Open Forum for Faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College
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Who's Minding the Store?
AFA's Response to the Schedule Cuts
by Sean Martin, AFA President and Regular Faculty Member in the Philosophy Department
So, what can faculty expect the fall 2016 schedule of classes to look like, and what is AFA doing about all these projected schedule cuts?
President Chong, in his email message to the College community on March 1, noted that a number of factors are adversely impacting our budget. Among these conditions is the fact that “SRJC has experienced a decline in enrollment during the last 3-4 years.” There is little doubt that the State’s inadequate funding for community colleges, along with broader economic and social forces, plays a role in both our budget and our ability to meet our enrollment goals. Conditions beyond the control of the District create the necessity to locally assess our options and determine the most sensible path to a sustainable future. Most prominent among the short-term steps President Chong has recommended to moderate District expenses is to “Reduce course offerings by 8-10%.” To their credit, President Chong and Mary Kay Rudolph, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, assert that any such cuts should be made in a “thoughtful, prudent and least impactful” manner. Whether the proposed cuts meet these standards is a matter of considerable dispute.
Well before this communication and since, we’ve been hearing from a number of you: Department Chairs who want to know how they are supposed to make fair and responsible recommendations for the schedule; adjunct faculty who are concerned about their load being cut or their jobs being eliminated; contract faculty who are concerned about preserving their programs; and faculty and staff concerned about how these cuts will impact students and our community. AFA agrees that all of these are legitimate concerns.
First of all, I would like to express my deepest sympathy for all of our faculty colleagues who are being asked to bear the burden of such deep cuts. Second, I want you to know that the leadership of AFA is very focused on the issues being raised. Finally, my intent here is to begin a critical discussion among faculty regarding the strategies our District has adopted in addressing the fiscal challenges we face. Though I doubt that what I relate will provide sufficient comfort, especially for those in areas where the impact will be greatest, I hope this message can make some sense of the process and conditions underlying those issues.
The District is pursuing its goals with the fall schedule based on its particular view of the budget. AFA does not fully share this view for reasons we will provide in a forthcoming publication. Nor does AFA think schedule cuts are the most prudent means to address the long-term budgetary and enrollment interests of the District. Aside from the negative impact on our students that such reductions imply, we view schedule cuts as being essentially identical to layoffs. Once again, the District’s budget woes are being borne primarily on the backs of faculty. But more to the point, we don’t believe another round of deep cuts is likely to improve the long-term budgetary conditions of the District.
Following the very severe cuts in 2012-2013, we witnessed the difficulty of re-attracting those students who were turned away. Our experience, along with evidence from across the state, shows that enrollments are not like a faucet that can be turned on or off at will. Rather, when schedule cuts cause frustration and disappointment among students—and when these students communicate that frustration and disappointment to others—not only do we risk losing our present students, but potential students cease to consider an education at SRJC to be a reliable option. In short, AFA considers the cuts from 2012-2013 to be a significant contributor to decline in enrollment over the past three to four years. We are concerned that further reductions of the magnitude demanded by the District are more likely to exacerbate our budgetary difficulties than to help resolve them.
The bottom line is, however, that the Education Code gives the District unilateral authority on whether, and to what extent, cuts occur. As a recent communication to Department Chairs from Mary Kay Rudolph correctly notes, the “District has the right of assignment. Chairs recommend a schedule, but deans make the determination of what courses will be added or deleted from the schedule.” Faculty, through the Academic Senate and Department Chair Council, provide a consultative function in the process, but neither is able to demand any particular outcomes (at least insofar as such demands would entail any legal leverage). Schedule cuts are NOT a negotiated item. AFA has no direct mechanism by which to prevent them. So, the District’s scheduling decisions take priority in the legal, logical, and temporal sense (not to be confused with other notions of priority, e.g. prudential or moral). Thus, we at AFA urge our faculty colleagues in leadership positions to employ their consultative function as effectively as possible. Among other things, faculty should only recommend a schedule that they believe, in their professional judgment, is in the best interests of their programs and the students they serve.
AFA can and does argue for fewer schedule cuts, both on the basis of our role in advocating for faculty and our view of what is in the best long-term interests of the District and our community. Teaching is the fundamental purpose of our college. The title of this piece is somewhat misleading in that SRJC is NOT a business, our students are NOT customers, and our courses are NOT an inventory that may be reduced and expanded like so many widgets in order to serve a bottom line. We are endowed by our community with the trust and funds needed to educate our fellow residents. Cutting classes should be a tactic of last resort. Yet once again, the District has chosen to employ these cuts as a fiscal instrument without, we believe, a full account of the harms entailed therein. AFA has consistently communicated to the District that rebuilding our enrollment requires sustained commitment to offerings and more effective strategies for bringing students to the College. While we recognize that the District has made efforts to attract more students to SRJC, the flat enrollment numbers indicate that other strategies and a longer view are called for. Cutting classes has myriad complex, often unanticipated, effects on student behavior. Dramatically reducing the schedule undermines faculty morale and imposes significant stress on Chairs who are expected to deliver the grim news to their colleagues. Such cuts make it far more difficult to attract and retain quality faculty. In short, we expect these cuts will harm programs in ways we believe have not been fully considered in the District’s plans. Since the District ultimately has a legal right under the Education Code to determine the size and distribution of cuts, AFA’s view is that the District bears the full responsibility for the effects of any schedule reduction.
In times when the District exercises its legal authority over the schedule, it imposes on AFA the duty to serve faculty interests in the best manner available. This is the underlying purpose of Article 16. One of the most important functions of a union is to ensure that due process, as defined by law, the contract, and policy, is honored for all faculty. To this end, AFA has negotiated an admittedly imperfect tool to ensure that scheduling unfolds in a manner that is as fair, equitable, and free from arbitrary and capricious decisions as possible. This Article protects both faculty seeking hourly assignments (in ensuring the process of scheduling provides some stability and predictability based in principles relevant to expertise and linked to seniority) and Department Chairs (in providing clear guidelines that ensure assignments are offered according to contractual principles).
As a recent Chair, I am fully cognizant that the principles in Article 16 may have some unintended or otherwise unfortunate implications. Such is the case with any general policy, law, or contract. But AFA’s view is that the benefits of Article 16 far outweigh the deficits. Among the most important benefits of Article 16 are:
Ensuring predictability and stability in the scheduling process, thereby addressing the structural injustice created in the Education Code that incentivizes districts to treat Adjunct faculty as contingent, “at will,” employees;
Ensuring that faculty members’ established loads and seniority are preserved even during times when cuts occur;
Allowing both adjunct faculty and contract faculty with overloads to temporarily relinquish their hourly assignments to alleviate harm to their less-senior colleagues without thereby losing their assignment rights or reducing their established load.
I think it’s clear that, absent Article 16, matters would be far worse for faculty in the midst of schedule reductions. Thus, when departments respect the legal and contractual requirement of Article 16, they contribute to the fairest outcomes possible. AFA is cognizant of the complexity of this process for some departments, and so we encourage you to contact us with your questions.
President Chong stated in the concluding paragraph of his email message: “It is my commitment to work collaboratively with you to plan for our future: for our students, our college and our county. I am committed to maintaining SRJC’s legacy of excellence and am confident that we can come up with a strategy to get through our budget challenges, both short-term and long-term.” I consider my comments here to be within the spirit of this call. In times such as these, it is all the more important for faculty, ALL faculty, to unite in order to protect our common interests so that we may better serve our students. Please join me in working to produce solutions that serve both the short- and long-term health of our College. It is my privilege to serve the faculty of Santa Rosa Junior College, and we at AFA thank you for your support.