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Chaparral 2015-2016: 24.2 Speaking of the Senate

Speaking of The Senate (November 2015)


Speaking of the Senate:
Communication in Governance, or Mind Your Minutes

by Andrew Young

Academic Senate President


"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw

As I have written before, Glendale College has an extensive system of shared governance.  There are more than thirty official Governance committees, all of which are described in the Blue List, and that doesn’t count about 40 or so other committees which are part of our shared governance system, but which are not official Governance committees. 

Note:  The difference between official Governance committees and other committees is that official Governance committees are established by, and operated under, rules contained in the Governance document AR 2511.  Other committees are established through other processes and they may operate under different rules (such as Senate committees, which are created by the Senate and operate under Senate-defined rules).

The members of these committees often spend a lot of time understanding the issues that our college faces.  They meet and talk, read papers and reports, do outside research, and write documents, all in the name of reaching an optimal outcome.  This is important work, and we appreciate their efforts.

As part of their process, each committee creates minutes of their meetings, which ultimately are posted to the college’s website.  Before that happens, though, the minutes are generally reviewed by one of the college’s standing committees, and then the Campus Executive committee.  The Governance office creates a governance report each month which summarizes all of the actions taken in each of the committees, and these reports are also posted to the college website.  These resources provide valuable information about what decisions were made, and the process that was followed in making those decisions.

The hope is that people who are interested in what is going on will read these minutes and governance reports, but the reality seems to be that very few people actually read these documents.

The Senate has begun creating and circulating a Senate Update report/flyer, which is an effort to provide a more accessible avenue to help keep people informed about what the Senate has been doing, what the Senate’s areas of responsibility are, as well as useful information about what the main Senate committees do.

All of this is designed to help keep everyone informed about what is going on in our Governance system, yet there are still significant gaps in our communications process.  First, committee minutes tend to be terse and often not very descriptive of what actually happened.  This is to be expected since, under Robert’s Rules of Order, the basis for how our committees operate, minutes generally only report the actions taken, not the discussion that occurred. 

Some committees take more verbose minutes, which they are allowed to do, but this is more the exception than the rule.  It is difficult enough to get someone to volunteer for the job of taking the minutes when they are only required to reflect the final actions taken.  If we were to try to make every committee keep detailed minutes, we would probably have to pay people to take the minutes.

Further, the minutes often only report a brief motion that was voted on.  If the committee acted to approve a document or report, a Board Policy or Administrative Regulation, the full document on which they voted is not included with the minutes.  To get the complete document can be difficult, because the documents are not posted to the college website in a publicly-accessible manner until they have been approved by Campus Exec, or in some cases the Board of Trustees.  Some actions, such as creation of new courses, degrees or certificates, even require approval by the state Chancellor’s office before they becomes official.  Only after state approval has been granted can we offer these programs to our students.  This process can take months.

In an effort to keep information flowing about important issues that are being discussed and actions that are being taken in Governance committees, the Senate and the Guild ask their representatives on the various committees to submit brief committee reports about important issues that come up in the meetings.  There are Committee Report Forms available on the Senate and Guild webpages for this purpose.  So far, the number of reports we have been receiving has been small, but the content of those we have received has been valuable.  Both the Senate and the Guild strongly encourage all of their committee representatives to utilize this method for communicating back to the group(s) that appointed you.

For our governance system to work well, we all need to help keep the information flowing.  That could just mean talking to each other about what is going on in the committees on which you serve.  There is a saying about the Internet that “Information wants to be free.”  This doesn’t just mean it doesn’t cost anything.  It also means that it doesn’t like to be boxed up.  It likes to be spread around.  Anything we can do to help our governance information be free in this sense, that it is shared, not restricted, will help both our governance system, and our college, work more smoothly.



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