The experience of California's community colleges in coping with the crisis created by the passage of Proposition 13 suggests critical elements necessary for recognizing problems and mitigating chaos.
As Paul Valery so succinctly put it, "The problem with our times is that the future isn't what it used to be." There are many of us who would relish the notion of going back to simpler, less chaotic, more predictable futures. That is purely wishful thinking, particularly for those of us who toil in the community college vineyard. The future promises to be more, not less, complex. The major problem will be to recognize that uncertainty will continue to be a fact of life and to develop plans and strategies that can accommodate and shape that reality. Educational leadership, whether it is in administration, among the faculty, or within boards of trustees, will be more difficult. Leaders will have less control over their own destinies, and the role played by external forces affecting their leadership capabilities promises to be even greater. Thus, leaders of the future may well have to major in ambiguity and minor in conflict resolution.
In 1986, California community colleges are just now slowly emerging from the shock and aftershocks of the infamous Jarvis-Gann-sponsored Proposition 13, overwhelmingly approved by the California electorate in 1978. To say the colleges were unprepared to deal with the chaos created by its passage is an understatement. Proposition 13 affected every phase of college operations, and districts found themselves woefully ill equipped to deal with problems of such magnitude. An old Chinese proverb reminds us that "out of the mud grows the lotus." Hopefully, a review of the post-Proposition 13 era in California can be instructive in recognizing and coping with future crises. This article focuses on the California situation—first, because it is familiar to the author; second, because it represents a significant portion of the national community college movement; and finally because it holds important clues for actively affecting the unpredictable future. Finance, mission, and governance are the three general areas of focus.
This article was originally published in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal by Emerald Group Publishing and Wiley.