Process Matters

The NCCFT’s July 2017 blog post, “Thinking Strategically About Governance: What Might We Learn from “SUNY Voices”” reflected on an article published by the AAUP’s journal Academe SUNY Voices: A Successful Joint Effort to Institutionalize Faculty Governance. ” This article highlights shared governance’s centrality to maintaining an academic institution’s integrity

NCC has been in the process of examining its own governance structure and making recommendations for strengthening and preserving shared governance. As an examination of the SUNY state-operated institutions (liberal arts colleges, specialized and technical colleges, health science centers, research universities, and land-grant colleges) and particularly the 30 community colleges demonstrate, there can be no “one size fits all” when it comes to effective shared governance structures and processes. In fact, each community college is recognized by law and by SUNY as highly individualized

What the AAUP article highlights is that a failure to institutionalize or memorialize shared governance leads to a constant struggle by faculty to preserve its voice in academic policies and practices, something provided for under NYS Education laws and regulations governing community colleges. Fortunately, our shared governance system is contractually established in NCCFT-NCC CBA Article 20. It is important to note that many colleges and universities do not have such a contractual provision. The article reminds us at NCC the importance of preserving our CBA Article 20 and safeguarding the Academic Senate’s established processes.

The intent and result of Article 20 was to create a governance structure operating within the guidelines laid out by Article 20, but in accordance with its own approved bylaws provided nothing in the Academic Senate’s bylaws contravenes the CBA. Likewise, the CBA does not give the NCCFT or the administration jurisdiction over the day-to-day operation of the Senate or its bylaws. Indeed, this has been the long voiced position of the NCCFT and respected by the college administration until Dr. Fanelli retired.

Adhering to the provisions of Article 20 and the Academic Senate bylaws have guaranteed both a secure, rational and consistent forum for the orderly academic operation of the college and the cooperation of each NCC constituent group: full-time faculty, the Administration and students. This has been the accepted pattern and practice for the Academic Senate’s operation for over forty years. Any attempt by the BoT or the NCCFT to arrogate to themselves the power to amend the Academic Senate’s bylaws would be both extra-legal and a violation of CBA, Article 20.

As we continue to consider modifications to the Academic Senate bylaws, it is important to understand that a shared governance structure, which works well for one institution, may not work for another. SUNY is a large system with 64 distinct institutions. As we contemplate modifications to the Academic Senate bylaws, we need to keep in mind the critical legal, funding and organizational distinctions between the SUNY state operated campuses and SUNY community colleges:

  • All 34 SUNY state-operated campuses are under a single Board of Trustees appointed by the governor regardless of geographic location. On the other hand, each of the 30 community colleges has its own Board of Trustees; 5 members appointed by the local county sponsor and 4 by the governor. Education Law, Article126 6306 This leaves room for regional differences and less uniformity between NYS community colleges. For example rural Schuyler County’s entire population is less than NCC’s student population.
  • SUNY state-operated institutions have faculty representation on their Board– the SUNY BoT. This major difference between the state-operated institutions and the community colleges affords faculty at the state operated institutions direct access to the “power structure” and the opportunity to provide input into decision-making before the Board implements policy.
  • Funding for SUNY 4-years comes directly from the state and tuition while community colleges funding comes from a combination of the State, County (the local sponsor) and tuition. State FTE reimbursement amounts are the same for all community colleges regardless of that college’s location. So a low cost- of- living county in upstate is reimbursed the same as a high cost –of- living downstate community college, like NCC. Furthermore, unlike the SUNY state-operated institutions community colleges are at the mercy of the political whims of their local sponsor. Suffolk County, for example, has periodically raised its contributions to Suffolk Community College while Nassau County has steadfastly refused to raise its contribution to NCC for nearly a decade.
  • The majority of community colleges’ Board of Trustees members are essentially political appointees often with locally specific political agendas and ambitions. Middle States noted that at NCC: “The Board of Trustees must prevent political intrusion into the business of the college”. This acknowledged “political intrusion” contributed to NCC failing Standard 6, Integrity. If we are honest with ourselves we must acknowledge political hires and political intrusion is still present at NCC often draining NCC of needed resources and genuine expertise.
  • SUNY state-operated institutions and SUNY community colleges are under a separate set of NYS Education laws and regulations. See: Education Law, Article 126 and Community College Regulations, Part 600

No one has said that the Academic Senate’s procedures can neither be modified nor streamlined; however the established process for these modifications must be observed. Governance institutions exist to ensure the integrity of the college, for the same reason we respect and uphold the Federal government’s division of powers between three distinct branches of government. While laws may change over time, the processes by which those laws are created remain constant, so as to provide oversight, accountability and to prevent abuse, while remaining true to the over all mission of the nation–or in our case–the college. There is much to consider with regard to NCC’s future, but violating the process by which our governance system was created and thereby effecting its destruction, as we know it, is not one of them.

In light of this, we renew the request for the NCCFT to clarify the subject of their current “arbitration” with the administration and reassure the faculty that it respects the parameters of its authority under Article 20, and its fiduciary duty to defend and protect all provisions in our CBA.

 

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