As we said in our previous post, the changes to the Senate bylaws being proposed by the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) will significantly alter the way shared governance is practiced at Nassau Community College. Especially for those of us who were here during our last accreditation review, when Middle States held us up as a national model of successful-shared-governance-in-action, that we even have to consider these changes is a hard pill to swallow. Indeed, given that we have been told they are a prerequisite for removing our Middle States probationary status, and with the Board of Trustees’ ultimatum in that regard hanging over our heads, we can understand why some of our colleagues feel like these changes are being rammed down our throats.
It is a fact that our system of shared governance worked very well when Sean Fanelli was president of Nassau Community College. It is a fact that the breakdown of that system was precipitated not by faculty mismanagement, but by a series of administrations unwilling and/or unable and/or not competent enough to work with us within that system. Nonetheless, the system broke down, and our whole campus is now dealing with the consequences. We have been deeply sympathetic to those voices urging Dr. Keen and his administration to argue that Middle States ought to give our system a chance to work again, now that we have put the dysfunction of the past six or seven years behind us; but we are also aware that change is inevitable. The fault lines along which our system of shared governance broke down did not magically appear when Donald Astrab became our president. Rather, they came to the fore when the adversarial stance that he and his administration took towards us made it impossible to avoid them. The difficulties we had with the two following administrations only served to widen those fault lines. Unfortunately, the fact that things have now quieted down and seem to be running more or less smoothly does not make those lines any less prominent.
To put all this another way, while considering changes such as those proposed by the GRTF would be difficult under any circumstances, the circumstances under which we are discussing them are weighted down with a lot of baggage—which is why we’re glad the Senate will devote an entire meeting on April 27th to the discussion we were forced to end prematurely when time ran out this past Tuesday. The pressures put on us by Middle States and the Board of Trustees may be what motivate our position that, as NCCFT President Frank Frisenda put it, we should “hold our noses” and vote to accept those changes, but we do not believe those pressures are a reason simply to rubber stamp the GRTF’s proposal. Not only do individual senators, as the elected representatives of their respective areas, deserve to be heard, but it is possible that ideas may emerge during the Senate’s discussion that will help improve what the GRTF has proposed.
Having said this, though, we also want to acknowledge that nothing we have heard so far in response to that proposal—not at Tuesday’s Senate meeting, or in the email discussions that have started to take place, or in discussion with colleagues throughout the campus—has been anything that was not already discussed and hashed out by the GRTF during its meetings. Indeed, it bears remembering that there were two sides on the GRTF: Dr. Keen and his cabinet and representatives of the elected faculty leadership, (the ASEC, the NCCFT Executive Committee, and the departmental chairs, and the AFA). We may have shared the common purpose of removing NCC’s Middle States probationary status, but our views on shared governance were very different and, in some ways, diametrically opposed.
The proposal that is before the Senate, in other words, is most properly understood as the result of a negotiation. It represents the best compromise we were able to achieve within the given time frame. That’s why President Frisenda made the point of calling the Senate bylaws a “living document.” Even Dr. Keen acknowledged the possibility of further refining the changes before us when he pointed out that, under normal circumstances, we would have given a good deal more time to discussion and deliberation than we are actually going to do. In the end, then, voting to accept the GRTF’s proposal does not need to be understood as the end of the process. We certainly intend to treat the Academic Senate Bylaws revision as a work in progress and we commit ourselves to making sure that Dr. Keen and his cabinet do the same.