By Justin Akers Chacón
At the 2018 Fall Plenary, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) passed a resolution of censure against California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley (7.03 F18). According to the resolution, over his first two years in office the Chancellor had undermined
the functioning of participatory governance at the state level due to the lack of inclusion in policy discussions concerning academic and professional matters, budget planning and development, legislative agendas, and other issues that significantly impact the entire California Community Colleges system.
The resolution, referred to as a “Bill of Particulars,” is a follow-up to an initial resolution passed at the 2017 Fall Plenary (17.07 F17). In that resolution, passed on the heels of a flurry of directives and initiatives from the chancellor’s office that bypassed existing channels of consultation and shared governance, the ASCCC instructed the executive leadership to document the violations of shared governance practices committed by the chancellor to date. The exhaustive list was presented at the Spring 2018 Area meetings, and included eight areas of decision-making that revealed the depth of the breakdown. According to the report, these areas are:
- Implementation of AB 705, as introduced, without discussion with State Academic Senate (AS).
- The Flex Learning Options for Workers (FLOW) Project and the Fully Online Community College (FOCC) model have been selected without AS input.
- No Consultation with the AS regarding Endorsement or Sponsorship of Legislation Beforehand.
- No AS input into issues regarding the New Funding Formula that is being proposed. The AS was not only excluded from officially participating in discussions but was not even allowed to sit in the room and hear what was being discussed.
- Discussions of Common Assessment occurred without AS consultation.
- Interference in Equivalency Process without consultation with the AS.
- The absence of a genuine collegial consultation occurring at the state level. (At the time of the Report, there had been only one meeting to conduct direct consultation.
- The State’s Chancellor’s Office has been dictating the Student Senate Meetings in what some consider a demeaning way.
By circumventing shared and participatory governance, Chancellor Eloy Oakley Ortiz has thrown into question whether the collegial consultation process, embedded in Assembly Bill 1725 (passed through the state legislature and signed into law in 1988) is actually in effect or being enforced. While abrogating the law, the chancellor has imposed significant structural changes that have been universally opposed by faculty leadership bodies.
Top-Down Restructuring of Community Colleges
In 2010, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and State Senator Democratic Carol Liu initiated a restructuring in the community college system. SB 1143 introduced a major statewide intervention into college administration, setting up a task force of “stakeholders” comprised of legislators, businesses organizations and interests, executive administrators, and some faculty.
A central objective of the taskforce was to make the colleges more productive without increased spending. The existing practice of open enrollment-based funding was deemed a failure, as it provided “no fiscal incentive for those colleges to help students complete their courses and earn degrees.”
Instead, colleges were to look to “alternative” funding models being used in other states. This obliquely pointed to the trend, starting in the US South, of states moving towards performance-based funding (PFB). PBF got a big boost in 2012, when then President Obama proposed a “sweeping college-ratings system, which sought to tie all federal financial aid to how colleges compare on affordability, student completion rates and the earnings of graduates.” Between 2013 and 2018, the number of states transitioning to PBF in higher education increased from 12 to 36. The taskforce promoted a PBF model in its final recommendation.
Furthermore, the law directed the task force to seek “alternative funding options for providing necessary services.” This encouraged the application of different models of privatization, from allowing business to utilize college resources in exchange for grants or other blandishments, to the growing outsourcing of planning, management, and human resource services to for-profit companies.
To facilitate a purported boost in productivity, the task force concluded that community colleges needed to standardize “outcomes assessment,” mirroring those changes already instituted in K-12. With financial support from and partnership with pro-free market interest groups, such as Lumina Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, outcomes-based assessment for funding purposes needed to be integrated into the public college system. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported:
Over the past several years, lawmakers in dozens of states have passed laws restricting remedial college courses and tying appropriations to graduation rates. The changes have been advanced by an unusual alliance of private foundations and state policy makers who are shaping higher-education strategies in profound ways.
As the task force report concluded, “In the absence of additional funding…the Task Force recommendations make good policy sense and will help ensure that the community colleges are leveraging all available resources to help students succeed.”
New Chancellor Bypasses Collegial Consultation as Part of Overhaul
The California Community College Board of Governors appointed Eloy Oakley Ortiz to the position of Chancellor in December of 2016. He had been a close associate of then Governor Jerry Brown, and a like-minded advocate for overhauling the community college system.
His desire to remake the community college has put him at odds with many constituent groups working within the system, whom he has publicly derided for clinging to a failed model. At a Board of Governor’s meeting in March 2018, he disparaged the work of thousands of educators and administrators across the system, claiming that “What we’re doing is not in any way, shape or form working for any Californian, period[.]” This may go far in explaining why he has bypassed shared governance consultation and has instead chosen to take a heavy hand in imposing his agenda.
The chancellor’s disdain for consulting with constituent groups through this process is made apparent in the Academic Senate’s Fall 2018 resolution:
Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley has unnecessarily set an adversarial and defensive tone by limiting collegial consultation and transparency, has actively diminished the role of stakeholder leadership by decreasing access to meetings in which decisions have been made, has exhibited a general disregard of the concerns of the faculty and other stakeholders in a manner that goes against previous practice and the expectations as outlined in the California Education Code, has commented publicly on the work of the colleges in ways that diminish or demean employees of the colleges, and has appeared to regard the role of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office as an agency that should fix the colleges rather than support the colleges and the communities they serve.
Three of the main tenets of the chancellor’s reform model have included the introduction of “performance-based funding” the creation of a “fully-online” college, and the implementation of “Guided Pathways”. These models increase standardization, top-down decision-making, and expand the role of the private sector in the administration of the public college. The widespread opposition to these changes may go far in explaining the “go-it-alone” approach taken by the Chancellor.
A Closer Look at the Chancellor’s “Reforms”
Faculty groups have not only been critical of the breakdown of collegial consultation, but have also expressed concern about the nature of the flurry of policy changes being designed and implemented with the consultation of frontline academic professionals. Areas of concern have included performance-based funding (PBF), the Fully Online Community College (FOCC), and the implementation of Guided Pathways.
The historical funding model of California’s community colleges has been based on open-access and enrollment numbers, or “Full-time Equivalent Students.” This is rooted in the California Master Plan for Higher Education, “envisioning higher education in California as a single continuum of educational opportunity” which enshrined the principle that the “California Community Colleges were to admit any student capable of benefiting from instruction.”
This attempt at top-down system overhaul comes after decade of significant and incremental changes have shifted the paradigm of public higher education as a “social good” to one as a commodity based on increasing the rates of quantitative productivity, the marketization of education outcomes, and the privatization of administrative and logistical functions. Taken together, these follow the corporate profitability model, which squeezes out democratic and participatory decision-making in favor of market demand. Increasingly, state education officials come from—or have vested interest in—the private sector, are comprised of people with limited educational background; or they are wealthy individuals who want to re-make public education based on their own vision.
Incremental changes towards the standardization of “production,” centralization of decision-making in public education, and reliance on private funding have already entered into the community college system in various ways. These include the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges requirement for the measurement of student, program, and institutional outcomes in 2002, increased dependency on “public-private partnerships” to fill funding gaps created by budget attrition (alongside fee/tuition increases), the parceling out of campus management, planning, and assessment processes to for-profit “ed-tech” industries, and most recently the introduction of “performance-based funding.”
In June of 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed the first operating budget in history to incorporate performance-based funding (PBF) into the country’s largest statewide higher education system. The budget model was developed by the office of Chancellor Oakley Ortiz in consultation with the Lumina Foundation, business and corporate interests, and administrative executives, with only symbolic faculty input though the Academic Senate allowed after-the-fact.
According to the model, fifty percent of funding will now be based on enrollment numbers, a quarter dependent on the enrollment of low-income students who receive state financial aid, and the remaining quarter would be tied to the number of degrees and certificates granted and the share of students who completed them within three years.
This shift towards PBF was first carried out in K-12. The “Every Student Succeeds Act” of 2015 (successor to the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) was signed into Law by Barack Obama, affirming that states standardize curriculum through assessment tools and requires every state that receives federal money to submit a plan for managing and using the funds.
Other incursions of PBF have included the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” (2009), which tied funding awards to structural changes pursued at the school district level to compete for federal grants, including support for the expansion of charter schools. This was then followed by the introduction of Common Core Standards in 2010 during the Schwarzenegger governorship, and a statewide assessment system in 2013 by then Governor Jerry Brown. Lastly, Brown then signed into law the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013, replacing the 40 year-old general fund allocation model with a new system of base grants linked to a “Local Control Accountability Plan” which ties future funding to student outcomes. Performance-based funding has since spread nationally.
The popularity of PBF has inspired California’s policy-makers, despite the fact that accumulating academic research shows that there is no evidence to linking PBF to increased outcomes. Furthermore, new research shows that while PBFs may increase graduation/transfer rates in the short-term, they may cause long-term damage to public education. As a recent Community College Research Center report concludes:
- Institutions face obstacles to responding to performance funding demands, including student populations that face academic, social, and economic hurdles to graduation; insufficient institutional resources; and inappropriate performance funding metrics.
- Studies have failed to consistently find that states with performance funding saw improvements in student outcomes.
- Performance funding provides an unintended incentive to weaken academic quality and to restrict the admission of less prepared and less advantaged students, who are less likely to finish college and thus less likely to pay off for institutions.
The California Federation of Teachers (CFT) has already anticipated these potential problems in opposing the funding plan. As Jim Mahler, President of the Community College Council of the CFT has explained:
The new funding formula was purportedly devised to help those Districts that have a higher percentage of at-risk students. But 20% of the new funding proposal is based on student “performance” indicators, despite the fact that research shows that performance funding inadvertently hurts students of color and low income students, and the colleges that serve large numbers of these students.
Several years ago the legislature adjusted the community college funding formula to ensure all districts received equal revenue per student served. The new funding formula widens the gap between the richest and poorest districts by over 25% after just two years. Thus the new funding formula runs 180 degrees counter to the previous intent of the legislature to ensure all Districts are equally, and fairly funded.
Districts are already making programmatic changes to ensure their “metrics” increase, without any regard to actually improving the teaching and learning process. Watch for the transition to a diploma mill coming soon to a district near you.
Fully Online Community College (FOCC)
All constituent groups have gone on record in opposing the creation of a 115th community college that will be fully online. As the Sacramento Bee described:
Faculty leaders contend that the online college — which will receive $100 million to launch and $20 million annually after that for ongoing costs — is a waste of money that duplicates online course offerings already available at existing colleges while diverting resources from those campuses.
The Statewide Academic Senate leadership stressed their opposition in great detail upon learning of the Chancellor and Governors’ plan. Statewide Academic Senate President John Stanskas articulated four major criticisms of the FOCC after consultation with faculty on the matter was precluded. As he wrote in 2018, the FOCC 1) shifts needed resources away from where they are needed; 2) would likely draw students out of existing online programs already in operation within the system; 3) fails to provide any demographic evidence to show that targeted student populations want or need a separate online college; and 4) that the separate college will isolate students away from existing educational opportunities and pathways within districts.
Despite universal opposition by all faculty groups, the $120 million to fund the creation college was written into the 2018 budget. The Chancellor has been placed as the CEO of the college by the Board of Governors (acting as the Board of Trustees), and he is authorized:
to take the official actions to manage the online college including, but not limited to, acquiring or disposing of online college assets, entering into contracts, making expenditures, and managing facilities, funds, personnel and property until the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive Officer for the District.
The first contract established under the Chancellor’s leadership of the online college is with Wal-Mart. The US-based multinational corporation has agreed to pay $2.4 million to develop curriculum for classes to train retail workers to become supervisors. Based on this model a one-time curriculum development grant is a great investment, as the college then houses and staffs an on-going management program training program used exclusively for the company.
“Ed-Tech” in the Community College: Guided Pathways and Viridis
Another new initiative in the community colleges pushed aggressively by the chancellor—and with procedural faculty consultation bypassed—is Guided Pathways. Guided Pathways refers to, in theory, a broad project to retool and align curriculum and support services into field-specific pathways to move students more quickly through community college towards a goal: degree completion and into the workforce or transfer to four-year institutions. It is a national trend, with more than 250 community colleges nationwide having committed to the changes.
In practice, the implementation of Guided Pathways has synched with other concurrent changes taking place in the California Community Colleges. Without faculty design, implementation and control, it runs the risk of becoming a myopic and potentially harmful top-down restructuring of the institution that standardizes and reduces college priorities to be in accordance with direct regional economic and corporate needs. This could contribute to the narrowing of the student population recruited into the campus, or the gradual attrition of programs and departments that are not as “economically viable” in practice. Furthermore, it lines up with trends toward the for-profit sector expanding its influence over the curricular and programmatic development. In anticipation of its implementation, “ed-Tech” startups are moving into place.
Oakley Ortiz is an “education advisor” to Viridis, a private, “edtech” start-up company funded by venture capitalists seeking to profit from investment in “human capital”. The product they sell is access to a company platform and database that gathers, aggregates and catalogues community college student data to make accessible to “employer partners”.
Based on their processing of data, they make career and technical “pathway” recommendations to students to align with employer “partners” and follow the experience of registered students to collect further data. While individuals can pay into their program, the big prize is through contracts with community college systems. Licensing fees are paid by the public colleges, and range between $35,000 to $250,000, depending on the number of students in each institution.
In essence Viridis is a labor contractor, designed to plug into the “Guided Pathways” framework, while also maintaining and selling data sets that they collect on students moving through the system. A sample of some of the investors in the project show how the high hopes that Viridis will turn a sizable profit. According to Forbes magazine:
Viridis has just raised a new $3.2 million from Thayer Ventures ($1 million), Lumina Foundation ($750,000), the nonprofit group dedicated to improving the number of college graduates in the country, and the Carver Family Office ($500,000), among others. In its last two venture rounds, Viridis received over $7 million in funding from investors including the NVC Investment Fund and the James Family Charitable Foundation, bringing its post-money valuation to $12 million. (A full list is here.)
By early 2017, the company had only contracted with twenty community colleges nationwide. As an advisor to and supporter of the company, Oakley Ortiz would likely want to see it contract with all of California’s 115 colleges as part of the full implementation of Guided Pathways.
Campuses Respond: Votes of No Confidence
In response to the fundamental breakdown of collegial consultation at the state level, local academic senates have begun to take action. In a prelude to the near universal statewide support for issuing the “Bill of Particulars”, twelve local college senates passed votes of no confidence in the state chancellor on their own initiative. This has included campuses within the state’s largest districts in Sacramento, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
In an email addressed to the Board of Governors, Oakley Ortiz lashed out at the California Federation of Teachers. He falsely accuses the union of spearheading the effort to pass votes of no confidence against him, and distorts and redirects faculty opposition to his governing style and directives to the Board of Governors:
These actions are coordinated and are meant to challenge the authority of the BOG and the chancellor. These efforts are primarily led by CFT, which has consistently opposed many of the actions and positions our office has taken. They are purposely misinforming local faculty of the consultative process that we have engaged in and are trying to influence the budget negotiations in the Capitol.
In reality, faculty members have become acutely aware of the impact of the chancellor’s methods in their work environments, such as imposing substantive changes with short deadlines, making threats for non-compliance, while shuttering pathways to consultation. There is also awareness and unease that the dismantling of open-access and fully-funded public education in favor of the narrowing of access and incremental privatization will be detrimental to students.
Last Vote of No Confidence Against a Chancellor
At the Spring 1994 Plenary, the Academic Senate of the California Community Colleges (ASCCC) passed a vote of no confidence in State Chancellor David Mertes by margin of 94-6. The faculty presidents determined that Mertes failed in “in following and facilitating his own consultation process.” As reported in the Sacramento Bee, “The faculty members were upset at not being consulted – or having their views ignored – on a number of issues, including proposed college reforms.” (‘Embattled Chancellor Softens Position” May 13th, 1994). Mertes dismissed the vote “as the opinion of a handful of academic senate leaders.” (Sacramento Bee, “Community College Teachers Challenge Chancellor’s Record,” April 20, 1994).
The Executive Committee was tasked to inform the Board of Governors of the “no confidence” vote and to request they conduct a formal evaluation of the Chancellor and the functioning of collegial consultation. Furthermore, if the evaluation produced a negative result, that Academic Senate directed the Executive Committee to recommend that the Chancellor should be terminated. Within 18 months, and after the Board’s investigation, the 8-year Chancellor resigned.
There has been strong legislative support historically for the role of faculty in assuring the function of shared governance as defined by law. California Senate Bill 55 (2005) affirms that right, for instance, by establishing a formal process for faculty votes of no confidence in executives. As it states:
The bill would require that, when the presiding officer of a local academic senate notifies, in writing, the executive officer of a community college district governing board that a motion of no confidence has been adopted by that academic senate with respect to a campus or district administrator of that district, the executive officer of the governing board shall cause that matter to be placed on the agenda of the next meeting of that governing board. The bill would also require the matter to be placed on the agenda of a second meeting of the governing board, to be held no sooner than one month, and no later than 2 months, after the first meeting for which the matter was placed on the agenda in order that the governing board may make certain determinations regarding that matter.”
The use of the “vote of no confidence” has been the means for faculty to hold system administrators accountable for collegial consultation at all levels. One study shows that faculty senates carried out 35 votes of no confidence against campus executives between 1994 – 2003, with 40% of them based on the breakdown of shared governance. In 32/35 cases, there was some form of action taken to rectify the issue.
The current breakdown of collegial consultation and shared governance in the office of Chancellor Oakley Ortiz is reminiscent of 1994. As the 2019 Spring Plenary of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges approaches, it remains to be seen if the fundamental criticisms outlined in the “Bill of Particulars” have been addressed, or if the chancellor will continue to flout the faculty leadership and push an unpopular overhaul over and onto the heads of the faculty—and closer to a statewide vote of no confidence.