The Oak Leaf

Academic Senate votes to adopt controversial program

Courtesy of Bakersfield College.

Courtesy of Bakersfield College.

Brandon McCapes, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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In a standing-room-only meeting, the Academic Senate voted to support a controversial statewide educational reform program after hearing diverse and strongly-held opinions from senators, students and members of the Santa Rosa Junior College community Wednesday in the Senate Chambers.

Students and student representatives attended to express their approval of the Guided Pathways program, which the Senate approved 16-10.

Guided Pathways is a program that seeks to increase transfer and completion rates and close equity gaps by providing students with more structured academic programs and support. The question of adoption split faculty members, many of whom expressed strong opinions against.

Those in favor of adoption cited the state’s restriction of funding to colleges that do not comply, success of learning communities similar to the new program on campus now and the need to better help students accomplish their academic goals.

Librarian Canon Crawford asked the Academic Senate to vote in favor. “Let’s move forward by ensuring that students will be guided and supported in many, many, many ways,” Crawford said. “Please accept the grant funding to explore all angles, limits, complications and opportunities.”

Several senators said they were concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the Guided Pathways program. They differed on whether it was preferable to sign on now, conduct one year’s investigation with state funding and opt out if Guided Pathways proves undesirable or to opt out now, volunteer free labor to investigate and sign on only if they deem Guided Pathways favorable.

One-hundred twelve of the 113 other community colleges in California have voted to adopt. Senators said Ventura College is the only college to refuse.

Although the state granted SRJC an extension to study the program after the fires, some senators said faculty, administration and students are not knowledgeable enough about Guided Pathways to make an informed decision.

For instance, sources have disagreed on the consequences of refusal. Some said the state would restrict the Board of Governors’ fee waiver, while others said it would only restrict the free first year of college.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Eric Thompson, president of the Academic Senate and signatory on the self-assessment document the body voted to sign. “Budgets have not been approved yet or finalized yet. Exactly what harm our students or our institution would suffer is not very clear or certain at this point.”

Student Trustee Robert Martinez, who spoke in favor of Guided Pathways at recent Board of Trustees, Academic Senate and Student Government Assembly (SGA) meetings encouraged the Senate to listen to students who came to speak.

“I really support Guided Pathways,” Martinez said. “I think this will be a great, tremendous help to students and you’ll hear that from the students. I ask that you deeply listen to these students because ultimately this will affect us.”

Anna Lopez, a student enrolled in the Connections learning community, urged Senators to vote in favor to assist minority student populations. “If you look at statistics, the success rate of minorities at SRJC with ‘GP’ is much higher than those without, giving them a fighting chance on equal grounds to graduate with their peers.”

Librarian Nancy Persons said SRJC badly needed more academic guidance from the college. “You have no idea how many students come and ask us every day about this kind of thing—how many students sit in our building and don’t know that there are books in our library that they can check out for free,” Persons said. “I can only imagine what happens when they try to sign up for a class.”

Other senators cited uncertainty, coercive methods, the perceived loss of autonomy and philosophical disagreements as reasons for their objections.

Adjunct Senator Paulette Bell also objected to what she said were the state’s “dirty” tactics, which divided faculty and students with competing interests. “I’m a little concerned about some of the heavy-handed tactics that are being used,” Bell said. “For example, at our last Senate meeting in December we had an email come out about how the BOG waiver was going to be taken away. For something that was a voluntary program, it felt like a threat.”

“I don’t think there’s one faculty member at this school who does not support student success and I think that the majority of the faculty support Pathways in some way. But I think there are some of us who are concerned with Pathways coming from the state, and what that entails,” Bell said.

Senators representing both the mathematics and English departments voted against.

Karen Walker, who represents the English department along with Anne Marie Insull, said the English department was unified against Guided Pathways.

“We put it to a vote, and to our surprise, we are not split—it was a landslide,” Walker said. “So when we vote today, we will do so on behalf of the English department, which is not split.”

Addressing students currently enrolled in learning communities, Senator Deborah Kirklin, who represents several liberal arts departments, said Guided Pathways will not benefit students the same way.

Kirklin said, “If Guided Pathways could be like the learning communities you’re in now, there would be no ‘no’ votes. If anything, the state is trying to take away your Promise money if we don’t sign to agree, so we’re held hostage to their system.”

President of SGA Evelyn Navarro gave the final word before the vote, and used her time to criticize the faculty for ignoring student input and conflating other issues between faculty and administration.

“I believe right now that we’re in this boiling pot of issues—issues that are really blending into the issue that we’re speaking about right now, which is Guided Pathways,” Navarro said. “This section of the room was full of students who waited for approximately one hour and didn’t get a chance to speak. In the future, for these types of meeting, I implore the chair of this meeting—as someone who is a chair of a meeting—to value the time and voice of the students.”

Confusion marred the vote, after Thompson attempted to introduce a second vote to change an aspect of the document they would sign based on the first vote. Record-keepers had three different counts of the vote, but those in favor clearly outnumbered those against.

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Academic Senate votes to adopt controversial program