Dan Walters: California higher ed resistant to change

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013 - 7:52 am

College administrators and instructors – particularly those in public institutions – usually profess "progressive" ideological outlooks.

Oddly, however, they tend to be very conservative, even reactionary, in resisting operational changes. They revere traditional classes in traditional classrooms, calendars organized by semesters and quarters of instruction, lengthy recesses between those periods, curricula controlled by faculty senates – and, of course, tenure.

That conservatism explains, one assumes, why two pieces of legislation that challenge academic orthodoxy have garnered so much opposition from those in the higher education establishment.

Three years ago, Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, carried a bill aimed at more fully implementing the 53-year-old state mandate that the state's three systems of higher education provide pathways for community college students to easily transfer into University of California and California State University campuses.

While a working relationship had been established between the 100-plus community colleges and the UC system, it has not been true of the Cal State University system, and Padilla's legislation was aimed at the latter.

Nevertheless, movement toward seamless transfers has been glacial, as the Legislature's budget analyst, Mac Taylor, pointed out last year, saying community college students often must navigate a complex maze of transfer course requirements, which can make accessing and completing a baccalaureate program difficult.

Taylor's report cited turf-protecting foot-dragging in both systems.

Padilla has a new measure, Senate Bill 440, which would ramp up pressure on the two systems to reconcile their academic offerings. But it faces opposition from the faculty senates of both, which see it as diluting their authority.

Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, also faces academic establishment opposition to his measure, Assembly Bill 955, which is aimed at encouraging community colleges to offer courses during academic recesses that are fully financed by students.

It would improve access to highly impacted local colleges, allow students to get on with their educations, and not cost taxpayers anything, so what's not to like?

Nothing, really, but most community college groups, including the state chancellor's office, are opposing it. They offer various rationales for the opposition, but the unspoken reason is that it would, they fear, reduce pressure on politicians to give the colleges more tax money. The much-amended bill would be just a pilot program, but the opposition remains.

California's higher education systems should adapt to new economic, sociological, economic and fiscal realties, rather than dwell in an obsolescent past. But since they are not changing willingly, the Capitol must force the issue.

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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