Call Me Maybe? : When to Contact the Chancellor’s Office and How to Find Information on Your Own

June
2013
Julie Bruno, Curriculum Committee Chair
David Morse, Co-Chair, System Advisory Committee on Curriculum

An important role of the California Community Colleges’ Chancellor’s Office is to support local colleges in various ways. The Chancellor’s Office (CO) is the official voice in terms of interpreting and implementing Title 5 and Education Code at the local level, but the CO also often provides details on following procedures and helps to disseminate important information. For these reasons, local colleges often call the Chancellor’s Office for guidance or assistance, and the CO staff understands the importance of responding as quickly and effectively as possible to such inquiries. However, in many cases colleges call the CO asking for information that is readily available from other sources or looking for answers to questions that are properly decided at the local level and outlined in local board policies and administrative procedures. Therefore, while the Chancellor’s Office is always willing to provide assistance when it can, colleges should always consider whether contacting the CO is necessary or appropriate and whether the information needed is more readily available from another source.

A great number of the calls received by the Chancellor’s Office concern curriculum issues. At present, the CO has only four full-time equivalent employees responding to all inquiries on curriculum, including those regarding credit courses, degree approvals, transfer degree proposals, certificates, noncredit courses and programs, and other matters. An additional half-time employee is devoted to matters regarding technical assistance and Curriculum Inventory functionality. Given these personnel constraints, the CO staff responds as promptly and directly as possible to all communications from local colleges, but they also appreciate colleges that understand the CO’s limited resources and the limitations of the office’s scope of authority.

Many of the inquiries received by the Chancellor’s Office regard matters that are properly subject to local determination. For this reason, the first step in addressing most curriculum issues at a local college or district is to check local policy and regulations and to discuss the matter with the local chief instructional officer (CIO) or with other local faculty leaders who may have knowledge or experience regarding the issue. If a local policy exists, the most appropriate answer to the question may well be found there. If no policy exists, or if the policy is vague, ambiguous, or outdated, then the district may consider whether a policy should be created or revised.

The answer “it’s a local decision” is often dissatisfying to those who contact the Chancellor’s Office. While the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges always defends the principle of local control to the greatest degree reasonable and possible, at the local level a directive from the CO can sometimes make life much simpler. A direct mandate from the CO eliminates the need for local deliberation and discussion that can often be difficult and uncomfortable. Likewise, when one can blame an unpopular but necessary decision on the Chancellor’s Office, a great deal of pressure on the local decision-makers is removed. However, with the concept of local control comes local responsibility. The Academic Senate often works with the Chancellor’s Office to create Title 5 language that leaves as much freedom as possible for individual colleges and districts, but this freedom comes with a price in that local colleges and districts must be willing to make hard decisions for themselves. Nevertheless, the answer “it’s a local decision” should be a cause for celebration rather than frustration, as it acknowledges the importance of local autonomy and allows colleges to address their needs in the ways they think most appropriate.

However, even when a decision can be made locally, guidance to help in making that decision is often available on the Chancellor’s Office website. Guidelines, memos from the vice-chancellor, updates, and other materials can be found at http://extranet.cccco.edu/Divisions/AcademicAffairs/WhatsNew.aspx#Curriculum/ADT. For legal opinions and other legal advice, information can be found at http://extranet.cccco.edu/Portals/1/Legal/Guidelines/Legal_advice.pdf. Additional resources may also be found at http://extranet.cccco.edu/Divisions/AcademicAffairs/CurriculumandInstructionUnit/Curriculum.aspx#resources. These materials can often provide immediate answers to local questions, and thus colleges that make use of these resources may not only receive the information they need more quickly but will also free up Chancellor’s Office staff to personally answer more complex or specific questions.

Even when issues are not entirely a matter of local control, colleges can often find the answers they need on their own. After local board policy and regulations, the next level of inquiry for curricular matters should be the Program and Course Approval Handbook (PCAH), available at http://extranet.cccco.edu/Portals/1/AA/ProgramCourseApproval/Handbook_5th%20Ed_DRAFTv7_24_13.pdf. This document is often more detailed than other guidance documents from the Chancellor’s Office, and because the PCAH is approved by vote of the Board of Governors, it is also more official and binding.

Answers to many curricular questions can also be found on the Academic Senate Curriculum Website at http://www.ccccurriculum.info. This site contains links to various types of information on articulation, instructional support, Academic Senate papers, and other topics. As of 2012, the site also contains a Frequently Asked Questions resource with answers to many common curriculum questions (http://www.ccccurriculum.net/faq/). The responses included in this FAQ document have been vetted with the Chancellor’s Office staff and thus can prove very helpful in resolving local curricular issues.

Finally, the Curriculum Inventory website (curriculum [at] cccco.edu) features a searchable database through which one can find many useful pieces of data. Without any log-in or registration, users of this site can find information on classes and programs offered throughout the community college system. The Curriculum Inventory allows for various types of searches and reports and is thus a valuable resource that can help to answer many questions.

When a question is truly a matter of Title 5 or Education Code interpretation, one may yet be able to find answers by looking at the exact language of these documents, both of which are readily available online. The Chancellor’s Office is also happy to assist with such inquiries. Questions for the Chancellor’s Office regarding curriculum should be sent to curriculum [at] cccco.edu. However, when contacting the CO, local colleges should attempt to avoid two problematic practices: shopping for answers and unrealistic expectations.

On occasion an individual from a local college will send separate versions of the same question to multiple recipients, hoping to get a desired response from one of them. “Shopping for answers” in this way wastes the time of all involved and slows down the responses to other questions from the Chancellor’s Office. The staff of the Chancellor’s Office communicates regularly with the Academic Senate, with the co-chairs of the System Advisory Committee (SACC), and with other relevant bodies. Thus, if the same question comes to the Academic Senate Curriculum Chair, one of the SACC co-chairs, and Chancellor’s Office, the three recipients of the question will talk with each other and provide a single consistent answer, and in all probability they would have done so before answering even if only one inquiry had been sent. A question generally needs only to be sent to one source of information in order to receive a response that will be supported by the others.

When sending an inquiry, colleges should also remember that any response will come from a human being who also has other responsibilities and other demands on his or her time. One recent but not atypical email to the CO began with the statement, “There is confusion over several issues that we need to have clarified, and if possible, before today's curriculum committee meeting.” Such a demand for an immediate response is unreasonable, as the recipient of the message may be out of the office, may be working on another issue, or may be unable to answer immediately for any number of other reasons. Colleges that need information from the Chancellor’s Office should be realistic regarding both the specificity of responses and the time frame in which a response is expected.

None of this should imply that the Chancellor’s Office does not wish to be contacted by local colleges. The CO staff includes dedicated, capable employees who fully understand their obligation to be responsive to local college issues and needs. Colleges should consider whether a true need to contact the CO exists or whether information could be found more quickly and readily from another source, but when a real need to contact the CO arises, the Chancellor’s Office staff is absolutely willing and ready to provide assistance.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.