Investigation at Maricopa Community Colleges

By Hans-Joerg Tiede

In March the Association published the report of a governance inves­tigation at the Maricopa Com­munity Colleges, which consist of ten institutions serving Phoenix and surrounding areas in Maricopa County, Arizona. The report of the investigating committee concerns the actions of the governing board of the Maricopa County Com­munity College District (MCCCD) to terminate “meet-and-confer,” a process that the faculty and administration had used for four decades as a mechanism for estab­lishing institutional policies related to faculty matters and for making recommendations to the board on salary and budgetary matters. The governing board also mandated the later repeal of the entire faculty manual and directed the adminis­tration to oversee the creation of a new manual, subject to restrictions on the ability of the faculty mem­bers to participate in institutional decision-making.

Faculty at Maricopa participate in governance at the college level through elected senates, which in turn are represented on the Faculty Executive Council (FEC). Prior to the changes made by the govern­ing board, the FEC had served simultaneously as a district-level faculty governance body and as the governing body of the Mari­copa Community Colleges Faculty Association (FA), a voluntary labor organization that had represented the interests of the full-time faculty for more than thirty-five years. In the absence of enabling legislation that permits public employees to bargain collectively, the FA had employed the meet-and-confer process, which is permitted under Arizona law. The actions of the board eliminated not only the mechanism by which changes to institutional policies related to faculty matters were negotiated but also the role of the district-level rep­resentative faculty governance body.

The investigating committee was unable to find any evidence to suggest that the board’s actions were in the institution’s best interests. Instead, correspondence by individual board members obtained through open-records requests—including email mes­sages sent by a former Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives who served as a board member and another who served as chair—strongly suggested to the committee “that the board’s intervention was an engineered performance of political theater motivated by partisan ideology and political ambition.” The commit­tee concluded that “the governing board’s resolution should be seen for what it is: union-busting—or more precisely, mischaracteriz­ing the Faculty Association as a collective bargaining agent and then destroying it and, with it, all vestiges of a once-effective system of shared academic governance.”

The committee found that, in terminating the meet-and-confer process and repealing the faculty manual, the governing board acted in disregard of the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, which provides that “the structure and procedures for faculty participation” in institutional governance “should be designed, approved, and established by joint action of the components of the institution.” Moreover, the commit­tee concluded that “by removing robust governance structures with no plan for replacement, the MCCCD board plunged the conduct of governance at the institution into chaos. While this chaos was entirely the result of the ill-considered board actions, the senior administration simultaneously abdicated its appro­priate leadership role by failing to engage the issues publicly.”

Since the visit of the investi­gating committee, the AAUP has continued to monitor develop­ments concerning governance at the Maricopa Community Col­leges. In November 2018, three new members were elected to the district governing board. In January, events suddenly took a welcome turn after the Associa­tion sent a prepublication draft of the investigating committee’s report to the principal parties. A majority of the new governing board called for a special meeting to elect new officers at the begin­ning of the year, although the term of the board chair had not yet expired. At the special meeting on January 15, the board president announced his resignation, and the governing board elected a new president. Among the first actions of the board’s new leadership was to adopt a resolution that rescinded the actions taken when the board terminated meet-and-confer and repealed the faculty manual. The board established a new governance system that, for the first time, included part-time faculty members in institutional decision-making. Writing to the members of the FA, its president applauded the restoration of shared governance and recounted that “in recognition of the Board’s vote, in a standing-room-only Rio Conference Center packed with faculty and staff, the Board received a cheering standing ovation.”

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