A Look on the “Bright Side” of Flex Activities

Faculty Development Committee Chair
Faculty Development Committee Member
Faculty Development Committee Member

“Always look on the bright side of life” Monty Python-- The Life of Brian

It is not uncommon to hear the halls of colleges around the state reverberate with a collective moan when the details of professional development “opportunities” are sent out even though faculty play a major role on flex calendar committees. Colleges often include activities that stretch the very limits of legislators’ wildest Title 5 imaginings, such as a tour of the local Budweiser factory and “Badminton for Team Building.” Faculty woefully ask, “Why do we have to DO this every year?” In part as a response to questions like this one and as a result of our most recent plenary workshop, the Faculty Development Committee thought you’d like to know the history and scope of what Article 2 of Subchapter 8 of Chapter 6 in Division 6 of Title 5 calls “Flexible Calendar Operations.”

If your institution has decided to take advantage of the benefits listed in Article 2, know that there are some requirements. In order to comply with Title 5 §55724, your governing board has had to obtain advance approval from the Chancellor’s Office to do so and has provided a complete description of the calendar configuration and the number of days faculty will participate in “staff, student and instructional improvement activities.” (The reference to the 175-Day Rule from §58210 is thrown in here for good measure.)

Title 5 §55730 asserts that it is the “Ongoing Responsibilities of Districts” who conduct an approved flexible calendar to do several things including:

(a) conduct and annually update a survey of the most critical staff, student, and instructional improvement needs in the district; (b) develop and carry out a plan of activities to address the critical needs; (c) maintain records on the description, type and number of activities scheduled and the number of district employees and students participating in these activities; (d) evaluate annually the effectiveness of conducted activities and update the plan to reflect needed changes; (e) appoint and hold regular meetings of an advisory committee composed of faculty, students, administrators and other interested persons to make recommendations on staff, student, and instructional improvement activities; and (f) provide, upon request of the Chancellor, copies of documents and information specified in Subsections (a) through (d), inclusive.

There is quite a bit of leeway when it comes to the specifics of flexible calendar activities. Section 55724 specifically mentions,

Activities for college personnel may also include, but need not be limited to, the following: course instruction and evaluation; staff development, in-service training and instructional improvement; program and course curriculum or learning resource development and evaluation; student personnel services; learning resource services; related activities, such as student advising, guidance, orientation, matriculation services, and student, faculty, and staff diversity; departmental or division meetings, conferences and workshops, and institutional research; other duties as assigned by the district; and the necessary supporting activities for the above.

So now that you’ve got a good sense of the roots of our flexible calendars activities, and what the Board of Governors through the consultation process envisioned we would do during this time, you’ll be glad to know that in theory they didn’t leave us holding the bag when it comes to financing all of this. Article 5: Community College Faculty and Staff Development Fund (§§87150 – 87154) demonstrates the intent to provide funding for faculty and staff development. As a matter of fact, it states that funds appropriated by the Legislature would be at one-half of one percent for the fiscal year revenues (as defined by §84700) for the 1987-88 fiscal year and in subsequent fiscal years no district would receive an allocation greater than 2% of its fiscal year revenues. However, while the state did provide funding for a period of time, unfortunately it is not providing appropriately for faculty and staff development today. And for the colleges that locally decide to set aside funds for professional development, we all know these are the funds that typically get cut first as has been the case for many colleges across the state. Finding ways to support faculty and to supplement these cuts with innovative activities and resources has become a primary focus for the Academic Senate Faculty Development Committee in addition to getting funding back for our local committees.

“I’m not dead yet!”- Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The Faculty Development Committee repeated this mantra again and again at the 2009 Fall Plenary Session in Ontario to let folks know that although it had not been heard from in a while, it was NOT dead yet.

At its first breakout session in several years, the participants began to address some of the most pressing issues facing faculty across California. During the session, several pieces of feedback were gathered from those in attendance: 1) Positive Aspects of Faculty Development on their respective campuses; 2) Negative Aspects of Faulty Development on their respective campuses; and 3) What the participants wanted from the Faculty Development Committee.

Positive aspects included:

  • Collaborating with classified and administrators to work across constituencies
  • Several new models for professional development on campuses
  • Faculty driven
  • Focus on select topics: student learning outcomes, basic skills, accreditation
  • Provide trainings in web pages, technology
  • Strong conference review and individual flex proposals

Negative aspects included:

  • Not enough feedback from faculty about what subjects are wanted for future staff development activities
  • Budget issues and travel restrictions, suspension of sabbaticals
  • Not much institutional support
  • Faculty participation low

It was clear from the discussion that as long as faculty development was collaborative and faculty-driven, it led to a more positive experience. However, when faculty were removed (or removed themselves) from the process, faculty development felt like it was being done to them rather than by and for them. The negative aspects were exacerbated by the budget situation, but the budget did not seem to be the cause of all the negative aspects.

Considering the feedback and current budget crisis, how can the Senate’s Faculty Development Committee provide support to the faculty and to the local senates themselves? We received many suggestions, and after the Fall Plenary Session, the Committee prioritized a few of them.

  • Reconnect with 4C/SD and the Faculty Association for California Community Colleges (FACCC) Professional Development Committee.
  • Report out best practices from community colleges across the state—specific detailed papers explaining what campuses have done successfully and show how they got it done.
  • Compile creative faculty development activity ideas that colleges could implement with little money and share these ideas on the Academic Senate website homepage and in the Rostrum.
  • Publicize contact point, perhaps on the Senate’s website homepage.
  • Have a yearly meeting of professional development coordinators.

Thanks to all of the participants of the breakout at the Fall Session. You certainly helped shape the direction we will take as a Committee. The plenary body voted for a faculty development resolution, 12.01 F09 Faculty Development Funding, which will also guide our work as the year progresses.

In the meantime, “We are not dead yet!” See you in San Francisco.

Note: Title 5 references can be accessed at http://law.justia.com/california/codes/edc.html.