Governing Board Address 04/26/22

Good evening, everyone.

My year as President of the Faculty Association flew by quickly, and tonight I give my last address to you. As I reflect on it all, my thoughts keep drifting to the Indian parable of the six blind men and the elephant. Encountering an elephant for the first time ever, the men touch the creature to try to learn what it is. The one who feels its side says that an elephant is like a wall; the one who feels its tusk counters – no, it is actually like a spear; the one who feels its tail argues that it is like a rope; and so forth. After the elephant leaves, they have a lengthy and heated argument about the issue, with each man certain that he alone knows the truth. I don’t remember the story’s exact ending, but I believe it involved filing a Resolution of Controversy, followed by expensive third-party mediation.

Although thousands of years have passed since its writing, this ancient story’s message still remains relevant today: since we each only see a small piece of our big and complicated world, we shouldn’t expect that our limited experience paints the complete picture. To fully understand any situation, we need to get input from all the different vantage points. Additionally, disagreements don’t always mean that someone is right and someone else is wrong; often, it means that both viewpoints are simply incomplete.

In the world of higher education, this concept is neatly summarized in the phrase “shared governance.” While the common interpretation of shared governance revolves around decision-making authority, the core idea really comes back to the six blind men and the elephant: no one person has enough information to fully understand any situation, but we can’t make wise choices without that understanding. Shared governance says that we should gather input from as many different angles as possible to build a complete picture of the situation before we decide how to proceed.

Luckily for Maricopa, Chancellor Steven Gonzales sees shared governance not as a box to check but as a philosophy to embrace. He has the humility to admit that he doesn’t know everything (sorry for letting the cat out of the bag, Chancellor), and he has the wisdom to get the vital missing information from others before making his decisions. Better still, he’s proselytizing about shared governance throughout the District, and as the philosophy spreads it is causing our decisions to improve.

As just one example, consider Maricopa’s budget process. We used to choose budgets with a level of secrecy that fell somewhere between “masonic rituals” and “nuclear launch codes.” I’ve literally heard college presidents tell me that they would learn their own college’s financial allocation for the next year while listening to the Governing Board budget presentation. Chancellor Gonzales changed all that. Last year he created the Advisory Budget Council to bring a collaborative approach to our District’s budgeting process. By construction, this Council brings together administrators from both the District office and the individual colleges, as well as faculty and staff, to help craft the District’s budget. By increasing the diversity of viewpoints our budget process immediately began to benefit: new perspectives raised new questions, which led to new data analyses, which led to new revelations, which took the budget in new directions. The budget proposal you are currently considering changed dramatically as a result of this shared governance, with our deeper understanding of underlying issues molding the shape of the budget to better fit the actual needs of our District. We were able to present you with a wiser budget because we are wiser when we work together.

This year I’ve been overjoyed to see our District’s pool of wisdom swell as our decision-makers poured in the input from many talented and hard-working faculty members. I’ve been delighted to see those decision-makers also splash in the perspectives of our phenomenal staff (under the wildly talented leadership of Shannon Monge and Ana Chandler). I’ve even had the honor of adding my own drop of wisdom to the District’s ample pool. I can’t wait to see how this dramatic expansion of our perspective transforms our decision-making process in the future, but I plan to be around to see it bear fruit.

As I said earlier, this is my last Governing Board address as Faculty Association President, but I am not saying “goodbye.” I’ll be around – one more drop in the pool of our collective wisdom, one more voice in our shared governance chorus. So, rather than saying, “goodbye,” let me instead offer up a traditional American farewell between people who plan to reunite soon:

“Happy trails to you, until we meet again….”

Thank you – now, and always – for your time.

Sasha

3/22 GB Resolution Regarding FACT

Last week, residential faculty began to express nervousness after the Governing Board unanimously approved an item through their consent agenda whose operative portion reads as follows:

The Chancellor is charged to create and implement a new structure that overcomes the current challenges and provides both Residential and Adjunct Faculty individual and appropriate voice and representation in policy recommendations, as required by shared governance and accreditation criteria, by no later than June 30, 2022. Upon implementation of the new structure, the currently existing FACT structure will be dissolved. Further, the Chancellor is charged with recommending to the Board amendments to the Faculty Agreement that align with the new structure no later than December 1, 2022. For no period of time should a Faculty Agreement cease to be in effect.

This resolution could make anyone with institutional memory justifiably anxious, given that it sounds like a return to the Bad Old Days when a (drastically different) Governing Board unilaterally retired our Residential Faculty Policy manual (“the RFP”) and simultaneously abolished Meet & Confer. However, in reality this resolution represents the height of shared governance: it actually grew from a November request by the Faculty Executive Council (FEC) to decouple the residential and adjunct faculty workplace negotiations in order to accelerate both processes.

First, some recent history. FACT began in early 2019 in the wake of a Governing Board decision to end our existing policy negotiation process (“Meet & Confer”) and begin a new and untested replacement: the Faculty Administration Collaboration Team, or FACT. For its first task, FACT needed to quickly craft a new combined workplace contract for both residential and adjunct faculty: the Faculty Agreement (FA). To meet their tight timeline, FACT borrowed heavily from existing policies – primarily the now-expired Residential Faculty Policy manual (itself the result of four decades of accomplishments by the old Meet & Confer process). The Team did remarkable work, producing a first draft for a new policy contract in a relatively short period of time. However, given their time constraints, the Team deferred all points of disagreement for future negotiations, focusing exclusively on the completion of this flawed-but-functional document.

In February of 2021 the Governing Board approved the freshly minted FA, and FACT transitioned from the completed goal of policy compilation to their new goal of policy negotiation. Here, the process began to fail as its fatal flaw became increasingly clear. Undeniably, residential faculty and adjunct faculty perform a similar duty in the classroom. However, beneath that similarity lies a profound workplace asymmetry: full-time, tenure-eligible employees have more rights, more obligations, and a more complex relationship with their employer than part-time, at-will workers. Suddenly, FACT began to ask adjunct faculty to weigh in on nuanced issues of residential employment that lie outside of both their experiences and interests, which significantly slowed down the negotiation process. Additionally, since both groups wanted to focus on issues relevant to their own circumstances, the FACT meetings effectively became two simultaneous and overlapping conversations. The Team found it impossible to give either set of issues sufficient focus and attention to make suitable progress, slowing negotiations even further.

By November, FEC realized that the design flaws in FACT sabotaged its ability to negotiate changes to workplace policy in a quick and efficient manner. As a result, faculty leadership reached out to Chancellor Gonzales with wisdom that dated back to the Industrial Revolution: efficiency requires specialization. The faculty leaders urged the Chancellor to split FACT into a dedicated process exclusively focused on resolving residential faculty workplace issues and a separate, dedicated process exclusively focused on resolving adjunct faculty issues. Ultimately, specialized processes will benefit both groups by bringing clarity and focus to the team’s missions. Last Tuesday’s Governing Board resolution granted FEC’s request. The Chancellor is now collaborating with both residential and adjunct faculty to determine the shape of our replacement for FACT.

To summarize: at FEC’s request, Maricopa is replacing a unilaterally imposed process that was created without any faculty input. The Chancellor is relying on faculty feedback to shape the new process. This entire situation reflects our District’s new focus on shared governance and workplace democracy.

In short, something good just happened in Maricopa.
Sasha Radisich, Faculty Association President

Governing Board Address 3/22/22

Good evening, everyone.

Ah, springtime: when a young man’s fancy turns to tax preparation! Despite Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “nothing is certain except death and taxes,” polls indicate that about 70% of American adults fear the process of preparing their returns. It’s easy to understand that fear when you consider that we collectively spend an estimated 2.6 billion hours per year working on our taxes – the job is big and complex, with lots of opportunities for costly mistakes.

With these worries in mind, the IRS created the VITA grant program, which stands for “Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.” For over 50 years, this initiative has offered free tax preparation assistance for the people who need it the most, such as low-income, elderly, disabled, and limited English-speaking taxpayers. The IRS partners with local non-profit organizations to provide this assistance throughout the country. In the Valley, non-profits such as the the City of Phoenix, the United Way, New Leaf, and Masters of Coin are VITA partners: together, they provide the funding to help at-need taxpayers with this important service.

Now, that funding is a necessary piece of the puzzle, but actually preparing the taxes requires additional resources, and that’s where the Maricopa colleges enter the equation. For over a decade we have provided the venues where this free tax preparation occurs, with space donated by Estrella Mountain, Gateway, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Phoenix, and South Mountain. Additionally, Maricopa faculty have given their time and expertise to help fulfill VITA’s mission locally, training the volunteers needed to get the work done. To be clear, we’re talking about a LOT of work: every year, the local volunteers prepare the tax forms for tens of thousands of community taxpayers, securing millions of dollars of refunds for our county’s neediest members. Our community owes a debt of gratitude to professors Lynn Clark, Vanessa Logan, Doug Northway, Mark Sassetti, Kortney Song, Annette Torrey, and Bill Wyngaard, along with retired professor Jim Simpson, for generously providing their time and expertise to make this project happen.

The program works. It’s straightforward. It’s effective. It’s good. Of course, for Maricopa faculty, “good” just isn’t good enough. Sure, VITA serves community members by handling their taxes, but what about the other side of the equation? The faculty involved with the program realized that we could squeeze even more benefit out of it by expanding the preparer training into a full-blown educational path. So, our faculty took the program to the next level. Working through the instructional councils, they created a related certificate program where the training taken to become volunteers (combined with the experience they gain from voluntarily preparing tax returns) would get students ready to take the IRS’s Enrolled Agent Examination, which would then launch them into a lucrative career in the field of tax preparation. So now, in addition to helping tens of thousands of community members navigate the often overwhelming and frightening task of tax preparation, we’re simultaneously creating new high-paying career opportunities for the student volunteers on the other side of the desk. In the business community, that’s what’s known as a “win-win.” 

Thank you for your time.

Association Education Topic: Shared Governance

In higher education, faculty and administrators often come into conflict over shared governance: faculty demand shared governance at their organization, and administrators counter that the organization already HAS shared governance. The faculty feel ignored and gaslit; the administration feels frustrated and unappreciated. The surprising reality is that in these conversations, both parties are usually acting with honesty and good faith. How can that be? Because “shared governance” is a term with many different definitions – all reasonable, and all in conflict with each other.

In his 2003 book Improving Faculty Governance, Michael Miller presents the “ladder of faculty involvement in shared governance.” It lays out eight distinct levels of faculty involvement in a college’s operations:

In our careers, faculty typically experience examples of each rung of this ladder. Here are the definitions for each of these category titles:

No Faculty Involvement:

1. Manipulation: in this category administrators disguise their complete lack of shared governance through trickery. Operationally, Manipulation can take many forms, including simple flattery and positive speech, dangling the prospect of a future reward, or generating an atmosphere of artificial crisis to justify the need to “temporarily suspend” shared governance.

2. Therapy: after making a decision, the administrator allows unhappy faculty to express their dissatisfaction, often through something like an “open door policy.” The administrator may listen intently and even offer up statements of sympathy and understanding for the faculty member’s position, but the faculty member’s impromptu therapy session does not affect the decision itself.

Minimal Faculty Involvement:

3. Informing: administrators share their finalized decisions with the faculty before the decisions get implemented. Faculty still have no input, but at least have access to the information in advance.

4. Consultation: prior to making the decision, administrators seek faculty input about the decision. The faculty input is non-binding, and administrators still retain complete decision-making authority.

5. Placation: after an unpopular or unwise decision, loud and persistent faculty complaints can cause the administrators to alter their decision in response. (Note: although this scenario is deeply unpleasant – infantilizing the faculty and establishing an adversarial relationship – it actually represents a non-trivial level of shared governance, since faculty can sway decisions through the power of their obnoxiousness.)

Full Faculty Involvement:

6. Partnership: decisions are jointly made by faculty and administration, often implemented through a consensus-based model where both sides must support the decision in order for it to proceed.

7. Delegated Power: administration technically has the decision-making authority but chooses to pass that authority over to the faculty.

8. Faculty Control: the decision-making authority inherently rests with the faculty, not the administration.

Discussions between faculty and administration about shared governance often suffer from a lack of specificity about the different definitions of the concept. When faculty demand shared governance only to be told by administration that the college already has it, this ladder often holds the explanation for the disconnect: implicitly, the faculty and the administrators are each envisioning a different rung on the ladder. Only by understanding this nuance of the topic can we have meaningful discussions that allow us to resolve this issue.

The question everyone wants to answer – the question every college needs to answer – is: which rung of the ladder of shared governance is the one we should adopt? Faculty often think the most appropriate type of shared governance for their institution is level 6 (Partnership). Meanwhile, administrators are often most comfortable with shared governance sitting at level 4 (Consultation). In reality, both of these positions are incorrect! Running a college involves making countless decisions on a wide array of topics, and the appropriate level of faculty involvement in those decisions will vary based on the topic. For example:

  • No shared governance is appropriate on issues unrelated to teaching and to student life (e.g., “when should we overseed the lawns with winter grass?”)
  • Informing (level 3) is sufficient faculty involvement on matters related to students but where faculty input isn’t vital (e.g., “which Governing Board member will we invite to our Graduation ceremony?”)
  • Colleges should use Consultation (level 4) for matters where faculty input may be valuable, but the decision has minimal impact on the classroom (e.g., “which vendor should we select to sell textbooks at our bookstore?”)
  • Colleges that appropriately embrace the concept of faculty involvement usually adopt partnership (level 6) as the default level of shared governance. This consensus-based decision making would apply to most matters of significance to the college experience (e.g., “who should be the graduation speaker this year?”)
  • Delegated Power (level 7) makes sense where faculty have specific expertise and the decision has a large impact on faculty (e.g., “which candidate should we hire as our new Biology instructor?”)
  • Colleges should always use Faculty Control (level 8) to decide matters of academic freedom (e.g., “what should be the course level objectives for CIS 105?”) 

Nuanced topics require nuanced discussions, and questions about the decision-making processes for the college deserve that nuance. The next time you see a shared governance conversation between faculty and administration, with no common ground in sight and with frustration levels on the rise, remember the ladder of shared governance and ask the question: is this actually a disagreement about the concept itself, or are we just using different definitions for the same term? Broaching that subject might be enough to bridge the gulf between the two sides and get the conversation back to productive territory.

Governing Board Address 2/22/2022

Good evening, everyone.

Gather ‘round the fire and let me tell you the story of the Festival of Tales. In 2010, Residential Faculty member Meggin Kirk first taught a storytelling class for Paradise Valley Community College’s Education department. Professor Kirk saw how much effort her students were putting into the course, and she didn’t want all their hard work to go to waste. How could she get her students an audience worthy of their commitment? Her answer was to create the Festival of Tales.

On one Saturday each semester, volunteers from local high schools and the community join with PVCC students, faculty, and staff to put on a Festival promoting education and literacy for community children. In each of its first few semesters, the event drew about 300 attendees, but enthusiasm is infectious, and great ideas have a way of gathering momentum over time. When the childhood-support non-profit “Southwest Human Development” partnered with the Festival, they brought more volunteers and more resources, donating $6-$8,000 worth of books per semester to the event. They also brought more community awareness to the Festival, and attendance grew to 600 per event, and then 800, and eventually 1,000. 

The next leap forward for the Festival of Tales came when Paradise Valley’s Fine Arts Department joined the group. With their partnership, the Festival added more community groups, new alumni participants, activity booths, live music, dance, theater, school group performances, food trucks, and more. By this point in its history, the event was drawing over 2,000 participants per semester, and although attendance has dipped during the quarantine, each Festival still draws over 1,000 attendees.

Today, Meggin Kirk continues to lead the project with the help of Paradise Valley’s Education Club and Education Program, and with Music faculty Dr. Chris Scinto running the performance portion of the Festival. The PV Marketing team ensures that the event will draw a crowd and its Facilities team works tirelessly in the background to keep everything flowing smoothly. Although the storytelling sessions remain at the heart of the Festival, many other academic groups from the college have found ways to participate. As just a few examples, the Library faculty host a literacy booth, the Fine Arts department have a clay ornament painting booth and a public art scavenger hunt, the Science division puts on a microscope demonstration, and the Health & Exercise Science department teaches children how to grow lima beans. The event runs for 4-5 hours, and there’s never a shortage of activities to keep the children’s attention. The feedback from attendees supports this conclusion, with many families turning the Festival into a much-anticipated twice-a-year family tradition.

Now, it would be easy to dismiss this event as nothing more than a day of fun and diversion for attendees, but doing so would miss the deep benefits that it provides to the community. Through the art of storytelling, the Festival of Tales teaches young children that reading can unlock the mighty realms of understanding and imagination. Reading helps children develop problem-solving skills, and enhances many important characteristics in a child, including curiosity, self-confidence, empathy, patience, and morality. And, of course, reading also leads to greater academic success.

One final benefit of the Festival of Tales is that by inviting young children to come to a college campus, it teaches them that college is a place where they belong. Too often, first-generation and underprivileged students view college as a domain reserved for the elite, not for themselves. By demystifying college when they’re young, the Festival breaks down the barriers to college access, showing the children (and their parents) that college is attainable and inviting. When children from all backgrounds can see attending college as a viable path for themselves, the doors of higher education are opened to a much more diverse group of future students. This democratizes higher education and it also helps to ensure that Paradise Valley Community College will always live up to its slogan: “A Great Place to Be!” 

Thank you for your time.