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A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table

TCC’s Joint Consultation Committee (JCC) provides opportunities for faculty members to drive change


The founding faculty of what was in 1967 Tarrant County Junior College was a rather feisty bunch, and one of those rowdies was Gary Smith, then a biology teacher and now retired as vice president for academic affairs at TCC Northeast.

“I was in my 20s,” he said many years later. “And if you think I’m foolish now, you should have seen me then.”

Chancellor Joe B. Rushing, for all his meticulous planning, had made no provision for any kind of faculty organization, so Smith and some cohorts up and started one—the Faculty Association.

“The day we started it, all the administrators were off campus, and they thought we were trying to stage some sort of coup d’état,” Smith said. “We didn’t even know they were gone. We were just trying to find a time in the schedule to meet.”

There was plenty to talk about—sticky topics like academic freedom and faculty tenure. “It was getting pretty contentious,” Smith said, “and Dr. Rushing told us one time, ‘I’ve been staying up late worrying about the faculty and this Faculty Association thing, and I’ve finally figured out that I have better lawyers than you do, so I’m not worried about anything.’”

Rushing realized, Smith said, that such an organization was needed, provided it stayed in the framework of the College, rather than in a faculty union. The result was the Joint Consultation Committee or JCC, recognized publicly as “the official channel of communication and consultation between the faculty and the administration.” It consists of two representatives from each campus, plus a chairperson.

Smith said at first, discussions were sometimes “bare knuckles. Maybe it was like the two-year-old who’s ready to pull away from the hand of the parent. We were young and trying to find out how we all fit together and what parts each of us played in the organization. But it (JCC) eventually became institutionalized.”

While the JCC could make recommendations and attend Board of Trustees meetings, however, there was no system for regular consultations to take place. David Clinkscale, now retired, but who served two campuses as a JCC member in different decades, said communications were “more informal, more of an as-needed thing.”

Change, when and if it occurred, was glacial. “It has been an exceedingly slow process,” said TCC South’s Robbie Sheffy, “and any successes achieved were always a function of the personality of the chancellor and his/her willingness to acknowledge the value of having a relationship with faculty.”

However slow and infrequent, though, the JCC has effected some lasting changes, such as an increase in payments to all employees for supplemental health insurance, boosts in adjunct faculty pay, and reimbursement for faculty required to take continuing education courses, such as nurses. It also played a large role in the implementation of the TCC Plus textbook program.

More recently, a JCC recommendation triggered the current study to overhaul the faculty evaluation process, and it worked to expand the pathway to promotion for technical program faculty. One of the recommendations still in the pipeline concerns paternity leave.

The JCC finally got a seat at the table in 1997 with the appointment of Chancellor Leonardo de la Garza, only it was more like the children’s table at a family Thanksgiving. The Chancellor’s Executive Leadership Team (CELT), as the Cabinet was then known, met behind closed doors, occupying chairs at one end of a large rectangle. After the CELT-only agenda was finished, JCC members were admitted and took seats at the far end of the rectangle. “We were at the back of the room and generally were silent until spoken to,” Sheffy said. “The chancellor talked to us, but it was sort of a father-knows-best kind of thing.”

De la Garza’s successor, Erma Johnson Hadley, understood the optics of this “us vs. them” arrangement and shook things up at her first meeting, directing the campus presidents to sit alongside their respective JCC members. The JCC chair, she had decided, would sit beside her.

“Erma scared the ever-loving dickens out of me,” the now-retired John Crawford said. “There was an empty chair beside her. She hollers at me and says, ‘John, you come up here. This is your seat now.’”

Crawford and his colleagues soon discovered that the new arrangement was much more than window dressing. “When she [Hadley] had questions about whatever we were discussing, she’d lean over and ask me,” he said. “All of a sudden we were involved in the budget process, involved in a lot of the decision-making.

“We went before the Board and made presentations, which to my knowledge had never occurred. It became a more interactive, congenial atmosphere and a way to communicate with upper administration.”

Although the JCC was involved in decisions, it still was as a junior partner, and Hadley’s decisions on hot-button issues sometimes seemed autocratic to some faculty members. When Eugene Giovannini was chosen as her successor, Shereah Taylor, representing TCC South on the JCC, wondered if it would bring a change.

Did it ever!

The initial gust of fresh air came when Giovannini first met with the entire JCC. Following custom, President Steve Smiley served as spokesman, asking all the questions, or trying to. “At the third question he (Giovannini) held up his hand and said, ‘Stop,’’’ Taylor recalled. “He said, ‘There are 13 of you in this room and one person asking questions.’” Told it was custom, the new chancellor promptly authored a new custom. From now on, the person with the question would do the asking.

That was just for openers. As the fall 2016 term began, Smiley and President-elect Taylor were asked to attend a meeting with the Chancellor and Cabinet. “True to form,” said Taylor, “we sat there with our hands folded. Then Dr. Giovannini said, ‘You’ll notice that the chair and chair-elect of the JCC are here, and they’re not just attending the meeting. They are now members of the Cabinet.’”

That was big news to Smiley, Taylor and the entire faculty. “We were asked to make decisions, to drive change,” Taylor said. “It was weird for us and also very different for the faculty back on the campuses. Instead of reporting back to our constituency on what might happen, now, it was what was going to happen. And not only that, but it was what was going to happen and why. He had completely changed the culture of faculty and administration.”

The incorporation of faculty into the College’s administrative process didn’t stop at the JCC level. Chairs of committees drafting portions of the faculty’s annual proposal to the administration found themselves meeting with Giovannini and being questioned. They also found themselves working directly with the top administrators charged with carrying out the approved proposals.

Including the JCC leaders in the Cabinet came with a cost, requiring much more time and a large dose of responsibility. They meet twice monthly with Giovannini; one of those meetings including Provost Elva LeBlanc. The sessions are frank, sometimes including matters that are not to leave the room. “Sometimes you have to do that because I think it gets a greater buy-in to know that there are no secrets,” Giovannini said.

That trust is taken very seriously by the JCC leaders. “We would have meetings on campus where you knew some of the information others were talking about, but it wasn’t your place to divulge it,” said TCC Northeast’s Kevin Harper, JCC chair in 2018. “Sometimes it was a little bit hard for you to hold your tongue, but not really, because you don’t want to lose that trust.”

This sea change in the faculty-administration paradigm was not for show. TCC has discovered that Eugene Giovannini doesn’t do show. He was acting on his view that governance is not just the Board of Trustees or the policy manual or about things like academic freedom. Instead, he said, “Governing the institution is about governing the work of the institution. It’s inclusive engagement of the stakeholders in the work of the institution, one of which obviously being the JCC.”

What constitutes the work of the institution was clarified with months of introspection leading to TCC’s Three Goals and Eight Principles (3G8P), for which hundreds of faculty and staff are now hammering out recommendations for implementation. These, Giovannini said, “are the fundamental work of how we exist every single day. You need people participating and being involved, engaged in doing that work every day. So, in my view, those people, the front-line workers engaged in the Principles work, that is governance.”

It’s taken some time, Harper said, for the faculty to begin to accept this new reality, that this is different from some of the previous initiatives du jour that have left them jaded. “He (Giovannini) lets everyone know that this is the way the College does business,” he said. “It’s the way we do things now. A lot of faculty members want to become members of the Principles’ advisory panels because they realize that’s where decisions are going to be made.”

The JCC and its leaders might take occasional guidance from Giovannini, but not instructions. “This is not me telling them what to do,” he said. “This is me saying, ‘Hey, this is what the expectation is for you to be at the table as a full player. You carry the faculty voice, the input around the faculty perspective on things. And it’s now your obligation and responsibility to take those things back to them.’”

Are the faculty listening? Some, Smiley said, but getting faculty to understand what he called “the business of the College” can be frustrating when many don’t look beyond their campuses. “The Chancellor’s One College focus will make a better college for Tarrant County,” he said, “but it needs communication to overcome 50 years of entrenched campus-first mentality.”

Creating a Districtwide, ongoing faculty-administration dialogue is crucial, he said, adding that it’s the JCC that serves “the important purpose of bringing the two viewpoints together.

Taylor said too few of the faculty are engaged in Giovannini’s inclusive notion of governance. “We have, what, almost 200 full-time faculty members (on her campus) and we might have 40 show up for a meeting,” she said. “But when we have ownership of the work that is going on, that’s going to change. I definitely believe we’re in a time of change where it’s not us vs. them any longer, but a collective effort.”

2021-22 Joint Consultation Committee (JCC)

The JCC is made up of a chair, who does not represent a specific campus, and the presidents and presidents-elect of the six campus faculty associations (FA). One of the Faculty Association presidents also serves as chair-elect of the JCC.

  • JCC Chair – Mike Downs (Southeast)
  • FA President and JCC Chair-elect – Tia Cole (South)
  • FA President-elect – Michael Jackson (South)
  • FA President – Stephanie Hawkins (Southeast)
  • FA President-elect – Monica Escobar-LeBlanc (Southeast)
  • FA President – Michelle York (Northwest)
  • FA President-elect – Kathleen Galindo (Northwest)
  • FA President– Rosa Mendez (Northeast)
  • FA President-elect – Shewanda Riley (Northeast)
  • FA President – Angela Thurman (Connect)
  • FA President-elect – Allegra Davis (Connect)
  • FA President – Christine Blevins (Trinity River)
  • FA President-elect – De’Leon Addison (Trinity River)