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Miles to go: Ex-interim chancellor retiring from Pima College

Suzanne Miles, who temporarily led Pima Community College after the resignation of former chancellor Roy Flores, is abruptly resigning after 27 years at the school.

Miles stepped down as interim chancellor in April, as the troubled college was placed on probation by accreditors, and assumed a position as president of the Community Campus.

Miles' retirement, effective Friday, was announced Thursday night by the current interim leader of the college, Zelema Harris. A new permanent chancellor, Lee Lambert, takes over July 1.

Lambert has signaled a willingness to clean house at the embattled school.

"You will be accountable," he said his message will be to faculty and staff, in an interview two weeks ago.

Friday morning, Lambert said, "I would like to applaud Dr. Suzanne Miles on her 27 years of service to Pima."

"Her decision to retire represents a turning of a page. As we begin our new chapter I look forward to being a part of the healing process," he said.

In a news release on her leaving PCC, Miles said it "has been a tremendous honor to serve my community for nearly three decades."

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Miles had just over a year remaining on her $189,000 employment contract.

"This is something I have been thinking about for a long time," Miles said in the release, issued at 7:20 p.m. "The work we do here – helping our students realize their dreams – has been gratifying beyond description. I will always be grateful for the outpouring of genuine support I received, particularly during the many challenges we faced over the past few months."

In an email announcing the resignation sent to college staff and faculty just prior to the news release, Harris said, ""I sincerely appreciate the support that Dr. Miles has given to me since my arrival at Pima on April 15th. She has been gracious in sharing information and has remained dedicated to the College throughout the transition in leadership."

Dr. Darla Zirbes, the vice president of instruction at the Community Campus, will head that campus while the college searches for a replacement for Miles, Harris said.

Miles was provost of the college when she was picked to replace Flores, and had long been part of the former chancellor's leadership team.

Beset with allegations of sexual harassment by Flores, along with allegations of financial mismanagement, complaints of an institutional "culture of fear and retribution," calls for the resignation of most of the Governing Board, and a two-year probation by accreditors, Pima faces tough challenges.

Lifting the Higher Learning Commission's probation of PCC will require a lot of effort, incoming Chancellor Lambert said in a previous interview.

"We have to have evidence to support our assertions" that problems have been fixed, he said, saying that a lot of work is already being done as an August deadline looms for a report to HLC.

Pima's troubles arose because people weren't held accountable, he said.

"Those complaints (of harassment) should have been taken seriously," he said. "In fairness to the women who began the complaints, and in fairness to (former chancellor Flores), they should've been investigated."

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A report by the HLC said it was "highly unlikely" that Miles, who was Flores' second-in-command, had no knowledge of his alleged misconduct. Flores has denied the accusations that he sexually harassed eight women during his near-decade running PCC.

The HLC also said Flores and his administrators committed "serious breaches" of ethics.

Lambert said he intends to set up "climate committees, for lack of a better term" at Pima's campuses.

Those focus groups will take a look at issues facing the school, and "determine options that will help us resolve the problems."

Speaking two weeks ago, the new chancellor said he's open to changes in administrators.

"I'm a fair guy," he said. "But if you want to be a part of the team, understand that there'll be a new set of expectations."

"You will be accountable," he said. "At the end of the day, all we have is the values that we bring to the table."

Three decades at Pima

Miles served as Pima's interim chancellor for 14 months, but began effectively running the school when Flores went on medical leave in October 2011. He resigned in February 2012.

Miles announced last March that she would not seek the chancellor's post on a permanent basis, after public complaints when the Governing Board attempted to install her without a wider search for candidates. Instead, the Board rejected Flores' recommendation that she be his permanent replacement, and voted 3-2 to conduct a national search.

Formerly the college's provost, Miles moved over to assume the presidency of the Community Campus while also filling the chancellor's seat. Before that appointment, she had said that she would return to serve as provost after a permanent head of the college was hired.

Miles held 10 different positions since starting at Pima in 1986. Prior to the interim chancellor appointment, she served as provost and executive vice chancellor, president of the Downtown Campus, dean/vice president of instruction, dean of Mathematics and Communication, associate dean, department chair, educational program planner and coordinator, and an adjunct faculty member in Communication.

Miles was a Fulbright Scholar, a Kellogg Fellow, a graduate of the Harvard Institute for Management and Leadership in Education and a graduate of the Executive Leadership Institute with the League of Innovation, according to the news release.

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3 comments on this story

Jun 7, 2013, 12:52 pm
-0 +0

Pima’s troubles arose because people weren’t held accountable, he said.

Absolutely, 100% correct. No accountability, no consequences. Anyone could do anything they wanted when I was there. It was the primary reason why I left. Come to think of it…it is the only reason I left. What I mean by that is that all the reasons I left eventually led back to the lack of accountability. Were people there held accountable for their misdeeds, and were consequences provided, I would still be working there.

Jun 6, 2013, 7:57 pm
-1 +2

“I will always be grateful for the outpouring of genuine support I received, particularly during the many challenges we faced over the past few months.”

Where was all this support? Where her supporters communicating their support telepathically or something?

Jun 6, 2013, 7:49 pm
-1 +1

While this is good news for PCC, I for one think it would have looked better in the eyes of the HLC if she were outright and publicly fired rather than this (speculating here) back-room, retire-before-we-do-something-else offer.

PCC still has a long way to go, and the Flores Board will probably be an insurmountable obstacle to getting off of probation. However, this is good news in that the HLC called her out for lying to them. There was no way in the world PCC was going to emerge from probation with Miles still there.

Oh, and for the record, in my four years plus at PCC, I personally never had any interaction of any kind with Dr. Miles; good, bad, or indifferent. I was in the crowd when she would speak at All College Day each year, and that was it. What she spoke about I have no idea…that was so boring it was a challenge to stay awake, let alone retain anything.

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Miles, center, with PCC Provost Jerry Migler and college attorney Jeff Silvyn at a March special meeting of the school's Governing Board.