Dec. 2015 Advocate: All-faculty meeting lays out a vision for Cañada

Senate-AFT all-faculty meeting lays out a vision for Cañada

By Elizabeth Terzakis and Lezlee Ware, AFT 1493 Cañada Chapter Co-Chairs

On Thursday, October 22, Cañada College’s Academic Senate and AFT chapter chairs organized an all-faculty meeting to discuss the direction of our college, what qualities we would like to see in our next college president, and our concerns about the current administration, particularly in the wake of the sudden departure of our president, Larry Buckley, on indefinite sick leave. The idea behind the meeting was that if faculty came together to articulate a clear and public vision, it would be easier to hold accountable both faculty representatives and administrators in the various screening committees currently in formation and to be formed in the future. Thirty-two Cañada faculty attended the meeting, representing all divisions and many departments, with a good mix of full-timers and adjuncts present. This article represents the views expressed in that meeting and not solely or even primarily the views of its authors. That said, one of the most striking things about the meeting was the positivity and unity of purpose it conveyed.

Our vision
The faculty present agreed that we want Cañada to be a full-service, all-departments-running college and not one that privileges any one division over all others. It was recognized that the overwhelming majority of our students want to transfer and that transfer institutions are looking for students with a fully fledged liberal arts education. This is what we want to provide. Along similar lines, faculty believe that our institution should serve our whole community—life-long learners as well as recent high school graduates.

Those assembled discussed our feeling that, to make our work as effective as possible, staff—both office staff and buildings and grounds—faculty, and administrators must participate together and in a collegial way in a real and respected system of shared governance, in which decisions are made collectively so that the expertise and opinions of all parties can be taken into account.

Finally, we feel that it is imperative that all the College’s employees share a solid and long-term commitment to Cañada and are not merely using our beautiful campus, our committed staff, our courageous and hardworking students, and our generous and supportive community to test out preconceived agendas, pad their resumes, and step on to a more lucrative and ostensibly more prestigious position.

What we want in a president
In line with this vision, the gathered faculty agreed that we are looking for a president who has had demonstrated success in a community with similar demographics to ours. We want someone who is capable of having a connection with and understanding of our surrounding community—someone with the will and communication skills to actually go into Redwood City, East Palo Alto, and the other communities we serve, interact respectfully with the people there, promote the campus in a genuine way, and not leave development to the Marketing department.

Marketing in the community should appeal to a wide range of ages and backgrounds and be directed to strengthening all our programs, not just a favored few. In order for this to be possible, our next president should have an intimate knowledge of our courses and programs, particularly niche programs, so as to be able to represent them accurately and effectively. We want a president who will accept invitations into our classrooms, witness and understand what we do, and oversee scheduling that does not lead to constant course cancellations and the killing of our departments, as well as someone who follows Board policies when it comes to deciding which classes to cancel.

We also want our president to have a managerial style that is the opposite of top-down, one that encompasses open communication and a sincere belief in participatory governance, consulting with faculty and staff and engaging them in important decisions (rather than informing them of decisions after they’ve been made). Toward this end, we want a president who is willing and able to organize periodic, meaningful all-campus meetings at which he or she does not simply talk at staff and faculty but rather listens and acts upon what is said—someone who does not use power to create distance.

We want a president who can respect what those of us who have been on campus for most of our adult working lives have created, one who connects with what’s on the ground, rather than coming in with an agenda and changing the campus to align with it. It is also important to many of us that we work with someone who is not “moving through” but is passionate about Cañada for the long term.

We feel that our next president should be very ethical and transparent, should put students and student equity first, should value the faculty contract, and should respect the faculty evaluation process and make personnel decisions based on evaluations.

Finally, we want a president who can critically analyze information and problem solve; can articulate a vision with us and actually accomplish it (rather than being unclear regarding direction or having great ideas but not executing them); and who shares our vision of a comprehensive, full-service community college.

Concerns Regarding Current Administration
Many of the elements of our vision and our requirements for a future president arose from a discussion of our dissatisfaction with the atmosphere currently existing on campus. STEM faculty were affronted to learn that our current president and VPI had referred to Cañada as a “STEM college.” The gathered faculty also agreed that our president’s top-down style and “faculty-are-the-problem” attitude has been adopted by many—although certainly not all—members of the administration. We would like to see this situation change. We feel that a renewed commitment to real shared governance would help shift the conversation and allow us to approach problems on campus in a way that makes us feel we are all in this together.

There was general agreement that the situation in which we find ourselves could have been avoided if there were in place a more open evaluation process for the College president and the administration in general.  Regular, thorough 360-degree feedback might encourage more transparency and help administrators stay longer in their positions. Ideally, this improved evaluation process would be in place before the search for a new College president begins. It was suggested that if such a process cannot be worked out with the District, faculty should create an administrative evaluation and do evaluations informally.  Results could then be compiled and reported at the meetings of various participatory governance bodies on campus such that they are recorded in the meeting minutes.

Faculty’s Thoughts on Presidential Hiring Process
Some voiced a concern that the current structure of three Vice Presidents running the College will not be able to provide stability or a decisive voice. This was one reason all agreed that the search for a new president should begin as soon as possible. The process should include site visits to candidates’ home institutions and communities to provide opportunities to talk to faculty, staff, students, and other community members. The hiring committee should check references before conducting first-round interviews to thoroughly assess candidates’ past performances before granting an interview slot.

Faculty also wondered how Chancellor Galatolo intends to make the Cañada president’s position a job that someone would want to keep for a long time and how we can assess this sort of commitment during the hiring process. It was noted that our longest standing and most effective past president took on the job post-retirement, meaning that he was not looking to build a career on the back of our college. We wondered whether and how to incorporate this sort of consideration into our search and noted that some common criteria for presidential hiring (e.g., five years upwardly increasing administrative responsibility in education, experience teaching community college) may eliminate good candidates.

It was suggested that an interview question about the faculty contract be included to assess if candidates have familiarized themselves with it and that candidates provide samples of their written reports to allow us to evaluate whether they are able to effectively address issues. We also agreed that it would be worthwhile to assess each candidate’s definition of “collegiality” and how it impacts their understanding of shared governance, respect for faculty/staff, ethics, and leadership style.

A straw poll was taken on when the presidential search process should begin. A proposal to start the presidential search process right away was met with a unanimous “YES” from all faculty members present.

Finally, a representative of the Counseling department stated that they want to move forward with the hiring process for a new Vice President of Student Services and not wait to hire a new President first. All agreed that the hiring process for the new VPSS should begin as soon as possible and be as transparent as possible.

October 29th meeting with Chancellor Galatolo
A week later, Chancellor Ron Galatolo came to Cañada to address staff and faculty concerns around this issue as well as many others. At that meeting, it was agreed that the VPSS search would go forward, and first steps were taken to re-form a screening committee. It was also agreed that the presidential search should begin Spring 2016 and that an interim president be appointed in January.

Our hope is that the Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor, and all involved administrators will continue to work collaboratively with staff and faculty to make sure that the committees that are put together for the VPSS and the presidential searches will represent the stated interests of the majority of Cañada’s employees. Similar to the all-faculty meeting on the 22nd, the meeting with the Chancellor was characterized by a great deal of solidarity of purpose and interest on the part of both faculty and staff. To solidify this unity, the authors of this article are working with staff representatives to plan an all-staff and faculty meeting as soon as possible.

It was also in the course of this meeting that many faculty and staff members learned that our VPI, Gregory Anderson, was a finalist for the president’s position at another institution. If anything, this news cemented our desire to work with people who view our college as a career destination rather than a stepping stone.