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Pima brings back ex-interim head as probation advisor

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Pima Community College is bringing back Zelema Harris, who served as interim chancellor earlier this year, as a special advisor charged with navigating the school off probation.

Harris led the school from April through June, coming aboard after a former interim head, Suzanne Miles, stepped down from PCC leadership in the wake of the college being placed on probation by national accreditors.

Harris, a former community college head in Missouri, will be paid $193,946 in the new position of Executive Vice Chancellor for Institutional Effectiveness. She starts work Monday.

Although he acknowledged that "this is a critical time for Pima," PCC spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the creation of the position and the hiring of Harris doesn't point to any troubles the school is having in the accreditation review being conducted by the Higher Learning Commission.

"We're ahead of where we are supposed to be," Karamargin said. "It's a heavy lift in a short period of time; (Harris will) be here to do it quickly and to do it right."

The hiring was announced Friday morning.

"Dr. Harris will serve as my principal advisor and liaison," said PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert in an email to faculty and staff.

"Her specific areas of responsibility include representing the College with the community, supervision of ongoing projects, strategic planning and change management, as well as oversight of Planning and Institutional Research, State Government Relations, Public Information and Federal Government Relations, Grants, and the PCC Foundation," Lambert wrote.

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Harris was appointed to fill the new position on an interim basis, with a contract running through June 30.

"It's undetermined if she'll continue on" after that, Karamargin said.

The return of a former — if temporary — leader is noteworthy for a school that has recently seen much high-level turmoil.

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

Miles, who temporarily led Pima after Flores resigned, abruptly resigned in June after 27 years at the school.

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

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.

She 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.

Instead, she resigned before the school's new permanent leader, Lambert, took up his duties.

Lamber indicated a willingness to clean house at the school even before he began work at the school on July 1. Beyond Miles, several other PCC administrators have stepped down.

"I'm a fair guy," Lambert said in a May interview. "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."

Lifting the Higher Learning Commission's probation of PCC will require a lot of effort, Lambert said then.

"We have to have evidence to support our assertions" that problems have been fixed, he said.

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."

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.

In placing the school on probation in April, the HLC said it "took this action because of concerns related to integrity, financial management, personnel policies and procedures, shared governance, Board oversight of the institution, and systemic and integrated planning."

The outline of Harris' duties in the new position match up with several of those points, with oversight "Planning and Institutional Research" notably placed at the top of the list.

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1 comment on this story

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1468 comments
Nov 1, 2013, 1:12 pm
-0 +1

I don’t like where this is going. The way to clean up PCC is obvious, which is to get rid of the “usual suspects”. There are a lot of assholes remaining in the ranks of PCC, and it is generally known there who they are.

Paying “advisers” these exorbitant salaries isn’t the answer, firing the people who need to be fired is the answer. Simpler, quicker, easier, and cheaper. Oh yeah, and more effective.

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Before leading Pima on an interim basis, Harris retired in 2011 from a post as chancellor of St. Louis Community College, which she led for four years. Before that, she led Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., for 16 years. Before that, she served as president of Penn Valley Community College in Kansas City, Mo.

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