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Chaparral 2016-2017: 25.2 Speaking of the Senate

Speaking of The Senate (November 2016)


Speaking of the Senate:

Plenaries and Resolutions:  How the Statewide Senate Takes Action

by Andrew Young

Academic Senate President

Hopefully you already know that the Academic Senate is the body that represents the faculty on issues of policy related to “Academic and Professional Matters,” specifically those encompassed by the “10 + 1.”  (For more information on this, see the Speaking of the Senate article, ‘When Is “10 + 1” Not Eleven?’ from the October 2014 Chaparral at

There are two distinct, but closely related, parts to the Academic Senate in the California Community Colleges:  each college’s local Academic Senate and the statewide Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC).

Our local Academic Senate acts primarily through Motions, which are debated at Senate meetings and can be amended as much as the Senators please (effectuated through Motions to Amend) before a final vote takes place.  Such Motions can be voted on at any of the meetings we have (we have two each month during the Fall and Spring semesters), so Motions which are tabled or postponed often only have to wait two weeks before they can be brought up again.  Motions passed are often moved up the chain of Governance committees, usually to Academic Affairs and then the College Executive committee (and sometimes to the Board of Trustees).  If they receive the necessary approvals by these committees, the Motions become college policy.

The ASCCC operates a bit differently, primarily because they only meet to vote twice a year at three-day events known as Plenaries.  The Fall Plenary took place in early November in Costa Mesa.  The next Spring Plenary is scheduled for April 2017 in San Mateo on the San Francisco Peninsula.  The Fall Plenary is always located in Southern California, and the Spring Plenary is always in Northern California, though the specific locations may change from year to year.

The main way that the ASCCC acts is through Resolutions.  Resolutions are more formally structured than Motions, in that they contain “Whereas” statements which put forth the main arguments in support of the Resolution, and “Resolved” statements, which state the action requested to be done, or the formal position that the ASCCC is being asked to endorse.

Note:  Some local Academic Senates follow this same formal structure for their actions, instead of using the less formal Motion structure (which foregoes the whole “whereas” and “resolved” form), which makes a simple statement of the action or position being sought.  The choice between using the Resolution form or the Motion form is considered a local decision.

Resolutions can NOT be amended on the fly during debate.  They can only be amended by a Resolution to Amend, which has to be submitted in advance (at a Plenary, that is no later than 4pm on Friday if it is to be included in the voting which occurs on Saturday).  This very formal structure sometimes causes good ideas to be voted down simply because they were not worded in a manner that enough people agreed with (or understood).  For this reason, a Resolution that is voted down is not considered to be a position taken by the ASCCC against the failed Resolution.  Such a Resolution can be rewritten more clearly or convincingly and be brought back for consideration again at a future Plenary.  But since Plenaries only happen twice a year, that can be a significant setback, so people submitting Resolutions work hard to make sure that they are clear and the arguments in favor (the “Whereas” clauses) are as compelling as possible.  One additional factor that makes this challenging is that there is a strict limit to the number of “Whereas” and “Resolved” clauses that are allowed in a single Resolution (four each).

The first two days of each Plenary session (on Thursday and Friday) are structured much like any conference, with General Sessions and Breakout Sessions on various topics of current interest.  In addition, they also schedule sessions for Resolution and Amendment writing, right up to the deadline for submitting Amendments on Friday afternoon.

Voting on Resolutions and Amendments takes place in an all-day session on Saturday.  All of these rules, structures and restrictions may seem like a burden, but in fact they are critical to getting anything done in the limited amount of time we have during the Saturday voting sessions.  At the Fall Plenary, we voted on 34 proposed Resolutions and 25 Amendments thereto.  That amounts to 59 issues on which voting takes place.  To accomplish this, including the voting and all necessary debate, we have three hours Saturday morning and two and a half hours Saturday afternoon.  In addition, we have elections for ASCCC Foundation board members in the Fall, and ASCCC Officers and Executive Committee members in the Spring each year (which themselves can take up a chunk of the day).

If you would like to see the specific issues we voted on this Fall, the entire Resolutions packet is available on the ASCCC website at .  If you want to become a real Senate nerd, you might also consider reading the Resolutions Handbook, available at .

So what was actually accomplished at this Plenary?  I had intended to point you to the page of the ASCCC website where the final passed resolutions would be posted, but it is not available yet.  So here is a brief summary of some of the highlights.

Three Resolutions were passed relating to Curriculum: one emphasizing that there should be a single process for local curriculum approval, one asserting that there needs to be faculty involvement in the creation of Dual Enrollment Programs, and the third asking the ASCCC to investigate effective practices for Pathways Programs and to disseminate the results.

Another successful resolution asks the ASCCC to work with the Chancellor’s Office to allow approval of Associates Degrees for Transfer even if some of the courses involved have been properly submitted, but have had their C-ID approvals delayed more than 45 days.

There was a Resolution passed asking the ASCCC to explore establishing a more flexible Discipline for emerging Career and Technical Education fields.

There was a Resolution passed supporting the creation of a statewide integrated library system.

There were also a number of additional Resolutions related to Career and Technical Education fields which were added to the agenda basically at the last minute, and this meant that they did not get the opportunity for polishing that might have helped them.  Some passed, some failed, some were deemed moot because the ASCCC was already working on them.

This turned into an extended lesson in why the Senate works the way it does.  The Senate, both statewide and locally, is a deliberative body.  We like to do things thoughtfully and carefully.  This sometimes ends up looking like we are just intentionally slowing things down, but the general principle is that it better to do it right the first time than to have to go back and fix it later.

I hope this has given you a better understanding of how the Senate works both locally and statewide.

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