It’s Not FSAs

Standards and Practices Committee Chair

The number one unasked question I answer as the Chair of the Senate’s Standards and Practices Committee is “are you sure you mean FSA and not Minimum Qualifications?” Of course, answering an unasked question with another question is a faculty kind of thing to do, so I don’t feel too abashed for repeating that interruption at the start of many MQ discussions.

Since both FSAs (Faculty Service Areas) and MQ (Minimum Qualification) processes similarly define disciplines in which faculty might teach, they are often confused, but it is important to note that they address distinctly different issues and thus may have different processes. It is also important to note that FSAs and MQs are required by two entirely different mandates and both are often handled somewhat uniquely within each district.

In a nutshell, an FSA is a negotiated arrangement between districts and unions that pre-establishes primarily seniority rights for faculty via contractual agreements and possibly board policies. On the other hand, through Education Code and Title 5 regulations, minimum qualifications are brief but rigorous criteria established by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges for each of many specific disciplines. Each discipline criteria acts as a common denominator or connector between faculty and the courses that are approved for them to teach.

In practice, an FSA contractually establishes potential subject areas where a faculty member might be qualified to teach. As quoted from a typical contract, “A faculty service area (FSA) is a discipline area in which faculty have seniority rights in the event of a reduction in force.” But the establishment of an FSA, possibly by an FSA committee, may happen with less scrutiny in part because we hope they will never be exercised. It is also problematic because if our processes for ensuring minimum qualifications were replicated for every FSA granted, we would be overwhelmed. Many faculty have two or more FSAs, so the additional work to scrutinize these at the rigor we use for minimum qualifications could be significant. However some contracts/FSA processes may go to that length, thereby ensuring that an FSA granted means the faculty meets the minimum qualifications for that discipline.

So, in my district, my FSA in electronics means that in the event of downsizing or reorganizing I may have some preferential rights to continued employment. This is based upon meeting some conditions, one of which would be to meet the minimum qualifications for the discipline of electronics, as determined by that local MQ process at the time of downsizing. Coupled to this process, local contracts may have additional rights-granting elements such as retraining or separation/rehire guaranties, or it may be specified that teaching recency shall not affect the original FSA.

Minimum qualifications implementation is a state-driven process established in Education Code and Title 5 regulations, and maintained by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. In short, we maintain a list of agreed upon disciplines, grouped in several categories, each with a listing of qualification criteria that are required to teach any course assigned to that discipline. The second part of this process is that every course that earns state apportionment must be assigned to one of these disciplines.

Inherent to using this list of “common denominator” disciplines, districts should be able to demonstrate that in each case of a faculty member being assigned to teach a course, there exists a means by which faculty qualifications and course discipline assignments can be verified by the deans or chairs doing the hiring/assigning. Usually this is a no-brainer because of obvious course and discipline titles. But there are often local exceptions of course naming or abbreviations that have no obvious counterpart on the disciplines list. So if that new dean doesn’t magically know the “human factors” course has been assigned to “aviation” and “psychology,” he or she might wrongly assign it to be taught by faculty meeting qualifications for “administration of justice.”

Suffice to say the above descriptions are very brief, and do nothing to illustrate the variety of nuances and exceptions that exist in both FSA and MQ requirements. It is also very important to understand that local requirements and practices prevail in this area probably more so than in any other area of the CCC fiefdom. For multi-college districts, these distinctions can be very convoluted. The legal requirement is that every course be taught by qualified faculty; how we get there is completely up to us. Regulations require that faculty have primary roles in determining this occurs, but a breakdown in compliance bears serious consequences for all district constituents. Thus each district, acting as a community, must carve its own road to a compliant process in a very permissive and complex environment.

In closing I would offer that if you haven’t recently reviewed your processes for ensuring faculty meet minimum qualifications, it’s never a bad time to give them a once over. Most often the questions we get asked are what happens when there is a disagreement, either between constituents or between process and oversight. Usually the problem is that “what happens” hasn’t been answered in formal written process. So it is important to be clear about things like just what does a signature mean, or who/what is the final decider when parts don’t agree. Usually the last thing we want to do is force our local Board of Trustees into making those decisions for us.