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.

Governing Board Address 1/25/22

Good evening, everyone.

In 2017, Dr. Summer Cherland was teaching a History seminar at South Mountain Community College. Dr. Cherland challenged this intimate group of twelve students by assigning a class research project: the students could choose any topic to study, so long as the whole class agreed and it related to Arizona history. Since they all grew up in the area, the students chose to explore their own community by studying the history of south Phoenix. For the next two weeks, the class combed every information warehouse they could find, from the local library to the state archives, and they found NOTHING in the way of scholarly work on south Phoenix’s history. With disappointment, Dr. Cherland suggested the class pick a new topic. To her surprise, the students rejected her suggestion. They argued that if nobody else had researched their community – their roots – then it was their job to do it. The students asked Dr. Cherland, “if not us, then who?”

“If not us, then who?” That question took Dr. Cherland and her students on a journey that ended up launching the South Phoenix Oral History Project: a student-led initiative to capture and preserve the history of south Phoenix. Since then, over 200 students have contributed to the Project in one way or another. They created an archive storing over 50 years of historical materials which they are working to index. They collected over 300 hours of recorded interviews about south Phoenix and its history. They produced a video documentary detailing the efforts of the south Phoenix community that ultimately led to the creation of SMCC. They designed a historic walking tour of the campus and a historic driving tour of the area. They even wrote the first-ever academic article about south Phoenix, forthcoming in the March edition of the Journal of Arizona History.

From the very beginning, the students decided that the Project would be student-driven and community-oriented, since most of South Mountain’s students have a deep connection to the area and typically remain local long after graduation. That sense of connectivity led them to establish the Project as a “shared authority,” with the community itself holding the responsibility for its authorship and also reaping the benefits as its audience. In that spirit, they chose to house their archives at the SMCC community library – itself a cooperative endeavor co-owned by SMCC and the City of Phoenix. In return, the community has embraced the Project, with enthusiastic support from the City of Phoenix Library, the Arizona State Archives, the Arizona Historical Society, and grants from local and regional organizations.

While the fellowships and stipends that the students can receive for participating do help to compensate for the significant time commitment that the Project requires of them, ultimately their efforts are a labor of love. Most of the student participants joined the Project from the SMCC History program after learning about it in classes like Arizona History, Mexican-American History and Culture, American History since 1865, or African-American History since 1877. However, when the students decided they wanted to take the Project into the digital realm, the STEM Scholar Program joined the cause, providing a handful of students with no connection to the History program but with experience in web and graphic design.

In the end, the Project itself celebrates every student contribution. They get complete credit for their work: all of the websites have student citations acknowledging their efforts, and the student researchers are cited as the authors of the academic paper. Knowing that they are creating something valuable to their community, and knowing that their names will forever be attached to the product of their labor, the students rise to the occasion…as they must, because when it comes to this Project, slackers need not apply. Despite being freshman- or sophomore-level academically, the student participants are doing graduate-level research. The students crave feedback and produce multiple drafts, never settling for anything less than professional-level output. It’s no wonder that the Project has won multiple awards for Innovation and Excellence.

Now, even setting aside the external support and accolades, the participating students recognize the value of the Project for themselves and for the community that they love. As our society scrambles to find ways to overcome the separations imposed on us by the pandemic, it is more important than ever to make meaningful connections with each other. The South Phoenix Oral History Project achieves that ambitious goal, connecting the students to each other, to the college, to the community…and to their past. Every semester, the participants in the Project write their own reflections, and these burst with enthusiasm and positivity for the program and its supporting faculty: Liz Warren and Dr. Travis May from the Storytelling Institute and Dr. Summer Cherland from the History Department. One faculty participant summarized the Project’s impact by saying that “the South Phoenix Oral History Project has given South Mountain Community College a sense of place.” A bit closer to home, one student put it plainly: “until now, I had no idea that south Phoenix even mattered.” 

Thank you for your time.

Association Education Topic: Property Taxes

As mentioned in an email to faculty, the Faculty Association will be sending periodic educational messages.  This first one pertains to where MCCCD gets the bulk of its funding: property taxes.

Most people are completely mistaken about how our property taxes work.  A general misunderstanding of how something works leads to faulty decision-making, so let’s explore the topic together.

Rate vs Levy

In most of the country, property taxes are set as a percentage of the value of the property. You assess a 0.2% property tax against a $150,000 home, and that collects 0.002 x $150,000 = $300. The downside of this approach is that property taxes swing wildly when property values change. If your home value falls to $100,000, your tax bill falls to 0.002 x $100,000 = $200, and the money collected by the government agency falls along with it. A property value increase reverses the situation, making government agencies flush with cash and increasing tax costs for homeowners, even potentially causing them to lose their homes because they can’t pay their taxes.

Arizona does things differently, and smarter. Instead of setting a tax rate, we assess a tax levy. Imagine that collectively the Maricopa government agencies need $500 million to operate this year. The county determines the cumulative value of all properties in Maricopa county to be $400 billion. Dividing $500 million by $400 billion gives 0.125% as the property tax rate that would generate $500 million in property taxes, and that becomes the property tax rate for all Maricopa properties for the year. If next year’s property values increase to $500 billion but the desired levy stays at $500 million, then the property tax rate that generates $500 million falls to 0.1% ($500 million divided by $500 billion). From an individual’s perspective, if your property values change the same way as the average in the county, your property tax bill doesn’t budge. Maybe you had a $200,000 home before, and you were paying 0.125% of $200,000, or $250 in property taxes. Now, your home value is $250,000, but the property tax rate automatically fell to 0.1%, meaning your property tax bill is $250,000 x 0.001 = $250, the same as before.

Market Value vs Assessed Value

Another wrinkle to know: Maricopa property tax rates are set as a percentage of the “assessed value” of the property, not the market value. This quirk explains why on paper Maricopa’s property taxes look much more expensive than they actually are. Our property tax rate in Maricopa county averages 6.1% of assessed value, which sounds incredibly painful. If you have a $200,000 home, a 6.1% property tax rate sounds like the county collects $12,200 per year in property taxes! It’s no wonder that people are up in arms about how we need to get our taxes lower. However, that 6.1% property tax rate is against the assessed value of the property, and the assessed value is lower than the market value. Specifically, Maricopa county sets the “assessment ratio” for owner-occupied residential property at 10% of the Full Cash Value (i.e., market value). So, our property tax rate is 6.1% of the assessed value, meaning 6.1% of 10% of the market value — in other words, Maricopa’s current property tax rate is actually 0.61% of the market value of a home. That means that the person with the $200,000 home is actually paying just $1,220 in property taxes per year. Also note that 0.61% is one of the lowest property tax rates in the nation — the national average is 1.07%.

Property Taxes vs MCCCD Tax

Of course, you should realize that MCCCD is just one of many different municipal government organizations that collect property taxes in Maricopa county. That 0.61% is the sum total of the property taxes of all the county’s different government organizations. Annually, MCCCD currently collects 0.11112% of the market values of properties in Maricopa County as a “primary levy” (the main and ongoing part), plus an additional 0.01145% as a “secondary levy” (exclusively for paying off our existing bonds), giving a total tax rate of 0.12257% — so on a $200,000 home, MCCCD’s tax levy collects $245.14 per year.

MCCCD Tax Levy Increases

Now, let’s talk about tax increases. Each year, MCCCD has the right (but not the obligation) to permanently increase our tax levy by up to 2%. If we choose to increase the levy, then the total tax dollars we collect will increase by 2%. Since our levy is currently $541 million, a 2% increase would boost MCCCD’s revenues by $10.8 million per year. (If we choose NOT to increase the levy, we retain the right to permanently increase property taxes later on to make up the shortfall. That accumulated total is called our “tax levy capacity.” Over the years, we have not taken full advantage of our right to boost the property tax rate; as a result, we have built up a tax levy capacity of $67.8 million, meaning that at any point, our Governing Board could choose to permanently boost our annual property tax revenue by $67.8 million.)

Many Arizonans vehemently oppose MCCCD raising property taxes on the grounds that if the District exercises its right to raise property taxes by 2%, then someone who owned a $200,000 home would have to pay an extra $4,000 per year just to pay our colleges. As you probably could have guessed, this line of reasoning is massively, breathtakingly, incredibly wrong. Looking above, you can see that our current property tax rate on a $200,000 home collects $245.14 per year. If we increased our levy by 2%, the total amount collected would rise by 2% per year from every property in Maricopa — for that homeowner, their property tax payment to MCCCD would rise to $250.04. In other words, if we increased the levy by 2%, the owner of a $200,000 property would have to pay an extra $4.90 per year in property taxes to fund the change.

New Construction

Lastly, let’s consider new construction. When new property gets built, that actually DOES increase the property taxes collected. The County Assessor’s office establishes the value of all properties in the county as of the previous January 1st to determine the net assessed value of all property in the county. Then, in August, the tax rate gets set for the next year. That means that all construction that occurs during this window doesn’t get calculated into the determination of the property tax rate, but the same tax rate gets applied to that new construction. As a result, MCCCD increases its tax levy by about $12-$16 million per year simply by collecting the standard tax rate on those new properties. Barring an actual increase in our property tax rate, this is the only way for MCCCD to actually boost our property tax revenue.

A few references for you, if you’re interested:

SmartAsset’s page on Arizona Property Taxes

Arizona-eHomes guide to Property Taxes in Arizona

AZGolfHomes has a detailed primer on taxes and timing

Actual tax levies for Maricopa County by year

The Faculty Association thanks you all for a successful membership drive

Colleagues:

It delights me to report the success of this year’s membership drive. Once again, a strong majority of our Residential Faculty continue to stand together to help fight for students, faculty, staff, and our community. With your help, the Faculty Association will continue to promote student success, shared governance, workplace democracy, and academic freedom. We want to thank those who joined us by becoming members, and those who renewed their long-standing memberships. We also want to thank those who volunteered during the membership drive, shared the good work of the Faculty Association with their colleagues, and made the benefits of membership clear.

Together, we will continue to advocate for the conditions and resources necessary to maintain a work environment that will allow us to provide a safe, healthy, and effective education for every student in our community. Together, we will continue to support the election of pro-education Governing Board members who understand that attractive employment opportunities allow us to hire high-quality employees, and high-quality employees create a worthwhile education for our students. Together we will continue to make MCCCD the best version of itself.

If you missed the opportunity to join with your fellow faculty in promoting this ongoing endeavor for excellence, don’t worry — it’s not too late. You can always join us by going to the Faculty Association website and navigating to the membership page. While there, feel free to browse through the available content. We have pages for:

  • About MCCFA”: information about your elected representatives, the rules governing the Faculty Association, and our rights and responsibilities under the Faculty Agreement.
  • Membership”: how to join the Association and the benefits you get from joining.
  • FacPAC”: the political arm of the Faculty Association that uses member contributions to fight for MCCCD at the ballot box. (Note: no Faculty Association dues are used by the FacPAC.)
  • Faculty Foundation”: the charitable arm of the Faculty Association that can turn your donations into emergency funds for desperate students…and then repay those funds as a state tax credit for you!
  • News & Media”: a repository for the Faculty Association’s public communications and event announcements.

One last bit of news: very soon, the Faculty Association will begin its “Association Education” series. These messages will provide information on confusing or commonly misunderstood facets of MCCCD in an effort to help pull back the curtain and demystify our organization. Watch for the first one on the topic of property tax rates and the operating budgets of the Maricopa Community Colleges.

Thank you all for your ongoing support of the Faculty Association. We are stronger when we all stand together. With you, we are all one step closer to achieving our goals.

Sasha Radisich, Faculty Association President