Community college faculty will continue to have some shared governing authority with their local boards of trustees under a court ruling made public last week.

The legal sparring began nearly a year ago, when the group California Competes, an Oakland-based nonprofit higher education policy and advocacy organization, filed an official request with the state community college chancellor’s office challenging 23-year-old rules providing for faculty participation in community college decision-making. Under those regulations, local community college boards of trustees can essentially give faculty senates decision-making authority on academic policy issues or agree to come to a consensus with faculty on those issues.

California Competes argued that by giving Academic Senates final say over academic matters the regulations violate state law and create dysfunctional governance systems at community colleges.

“This is not merely a legal quibble – there are significant instances where academic senates have stopped important action,” alleged California Competes.

In a three-page response last January, Community College Chancellor Brice Harris rejected the organization’s request to clarify the regulations to make it it clear that, while faculty would have input, local trustees would have the final say.

“California Competes’ public policy arguments are off the mark,” Harris wrote.  “These arguments present the opinion of a small organization with very limited experience or understanding of community colleges in California.”

The organization took it to the next level, filing suit in San Francisco Superior Court. California Competes Director Robert Shireman said they had hoped to avoid a lawsuit by first going directly to the chancellor’s office.

“They did not want to discuss it. We asked for hearings (before the Board of Governors) so that it could be discussed, and it was straight-armed,” Shireman said.

In a succinct one-paragraph ruling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch rejected the lawsuit.  Shireman said California Competes is discussing whether to appeal.

Paul Feist, vice chancellor of communications for the statewide community college system, questioned the lawsuit’s entire foundation. He pointed out that Santa Barbara City College, which uses a shared governance model, won the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

“This is the same set of regulations that extremely high performing college districts operate under,” Feist said.

Going deeper

Response to initial legal challenge and petition, Brice Harris, California Community College Chancellor

California Education Code regarding shared governance at community colleges

Local Community College Governance, California Competes

Brief from the California Attorney General’s office asking the court to reject the lawsuit

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