This Month from Cliff
A Community Government for a Community College
The above title is the same title of an article I wrote in 1973 when I served as Dean of Institutional and Student Services at Houston Community College (HCC) in Houston, Texas. HCC was an experiment in community colleges. It started with no facilities of its own, and its academic programs were taught in the evening at public high schools across the city. The only day programs were occupational programs and a large Licensed Practical Nursing Program taught in facilities owned by the Houston Independent School District. Our administrative offices were on the second floor of the Teachers Credit Union. The President of HCC assigned me, as one of the three college deans, the task of bringing together students, faculty and administrators to develop a system for input by these groups into “institutional decision-making.”
And so, I reached out to the division chairs and counselors who identified 32 students, ranging from an 18-year-old recent high school graduate to a 51-year-old mother of seven who, along with 20 apprehensive faculty and staff, met at a campsite outside the city for a weekend retreat. It quickly became apparent that these students, faculty and staff from extremely diverse backgrounds could come together for meaningful and productive discussion. Because of the unique nature of HCC, the group soon realized that they wanted a structure in which each student could represent himself/herself. The group also felt they did not want student government to become “a luxury of only those students who had the time to be involved.”
In establishing the basic structure, the group borrowed from Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, establishing a “problem-centered adhocracy” in which students, faculty and staff join together for the following:
• To promote the college
• To promote co-curricular activities and organizations
• To solve general and specific problems
In the fall of 1973, President Cliff L. Wood, then Dean of Institutional and Student Services at Houston Community College, led a retreat of students, faculty and staff to develop a community government for a community college.
So the issue of shared governance has been with community colleges since the movement began. Fast forward to Spring 2013 at Rockland Community College, where discussion centers on whether there is a system in place for all members of the community to have meaningful input in institutional decision-making even though there are already traditional structures in place (a Faculty Senate, a Student Government Association, and four collective bargaining units). This issue was also raised by the Middle States Association in its monitoring report for RCC. To address that concern, I appointed a college-wide Task Force on Shared Governance. I charged the group to examine the issue of shared governance at RCC and to develop processes and structures to strengthen shared governance at the College.
The Task Force met throughout the semester and developed a working definition of “shared governance.” The group concluded that shared governance in higher education refers to having structures and processes in place that enable faculty, staff, students, administration and the governing board to participate in planning, policy development and decision-making. The Task Force determined that shared governance is collaborative and requires the mutual respect of everyone involved in the process. The committee then provided a very powerful statement:
Trust is a key part of school governance. Constituents must trust that the administration and governing boards will make decisions that are in the best interest of the college. The administrators and governing board must trust that the respective constituents have contributions to make when these decisions are being made.
The Task Force made the following recommendations, which will be discussed at the College-wide Forum on March 26, 2014, 3 pm in the Ellipse.
1. Keep constituencies informed about recent developments, current situations, and emerging events.
• Create a “College Council” to act in an advisory capacity to the President of the College. It will consist of the Faculty Senate President, the RCCFT President, the President of the RCCAFA, the President of the RCCFA, the President of the SGS, and a designated CSEA Shop Steward and will meet with the President of the College at least twice per semester.
• Share rationales when recommendations from governance bodies or relevant constituent groups are not accepted by the Administration as long as confidentiality is not an issue.
• Provide an explanation to the chair of a search committee in the event that none of the search committee’s recommended candidates is hired.
2. Increase direct participation of constituents in the shared governance process.
• Reaffirm the College Forum as established in June 1995 to provide an opportunity for open dialogue and reports on significant developments amongst all constituencies.
• Clarify the expectation that department heads will arrange for minimal coverage during College Forum meetings so that most of their staff will be able to attend.
• Schedule more informal discussions with administrators such as Town Hall meetings and CETL conversations.
3. Strengthen interconnections among the components of the governance structure and members of the College community.
• Distribute electronically the proposed agenda of the Board of Trustees, Faculty Senate, and the SGA to the College community prior to each scheduled meeting.
• Resume distribution of the Board of Trustees’ packet (confidential content redacted) in advance of monthly meetings to the President of the Faculty Senate, President of the RCCFT, and President of the RCCFA. Add the President of the RCCAFA and a designated CSEA Shop Steward to the distribution list.
• Update and publish the College’s organizational charts.
• Encourage Vice Presidents to participate in at least one division meeting per semester.
I am committed to moving forward to implement these recommendations after they are discussed by the college community. I share the following conclusion of the Task Force:
Shared governance requires collaboration, mutual respect, and trust. It is a delicate balance between inclusionary participation and administrative accountability. Open and constructive communication is essential.
The Shared Governance Task Force
Nilda Aragones, Professor Counselor
Peter Arvanites, Co-Chair, Professor Mathematics
Dennis Callinan, Director, Business Services
Thomas Della Torre, AVP, Academic Affairs & Community Partnerships
Tanya Drake, Professor, Nursing
Peggy Hartog, Adjunct Faculty, English
Michael Leidner, Co-Chair, Student
Janine Peredes, Staff, Financial Aid
Giovanni Scaringi, Secretary
Edrick Sulistio, Student
Kathy Tompkins, Staff, Payroll
Kim Weston, Professor, Library