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Pima picks community college vet as interim replacement CEO

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Pima Community College

Pima picks community college vet as interim replacement CEO

MIssouri's Zelema Harris tapped for temp chancellor

  • Harris
  • The PCC Board at last Friday's special meeting.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comThe PCC Board at last Friday's special meeting.

Pima Community College on Tuesday announced the hiring of a retired Missouri community college head as an interim leader for the embattled school Tuesday evening.

After interviewing candidates in a private session Friday, the Governing Board voted unanimously at a special meeting Tuesday to hire Zelema Harris as a temporary replacement for interim Chancellor Suzanne Miles, who's stepping down from that position.

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.

Harris will serve as Pima's CEO through June 30, but there's a "possibility of being able to extend that for a longer period," said Board Chair Brenda Even. Harris's first day will be April 15, Even said.

A monthly salary and benefit package for Harris has been negotiated, including housing and a car allowance, but a dollar figure wasn't immediately available, said college spokesman C.J. Karamargin.

The East Texas native has said she's passionate about education, according to a news release from Karamargin.

"I’m committed to doing everything I can to get people into the door but not only that, to ensure that they have the opportunity to be successful," Harris was quoted in the release.

Pima's new interim chief executive was not present for the vote, and was not made immediately available to speak with reporters.

Miles, who was provost of the college when she was picked to replace former Chancellor Roy Flores, will continue to serve as president of the Community Campus.

The five candidates for the temporary post were all from outside the college, and were vetted by the Association of Community College Trustees, who are also checking the backgrounds of applicants for the permanent post.

The new interim college CEO will head up a school in administrative turmoil.

PCC faculty and staff last week called on four of the five Governing Board members to resign, saying Brenda Marty Cortez, David Longoria and Scott Stewart are "an impediment to change."

Board members declined Friday to respond to reporters' questions about the no-confidence vote.

Harris "knows what she's walking into," PCC Faculty Senate President Joe Labuda said after the vote.

Labuda, who was part of a group of faculty and staff representatives who interviewed the candidates on Friday, said Harris may make a good interim leader because "she doesn't bear any of the responsibility" for the college's troubles.

The college is facing a vote by the Higher Learning Commission that may see PCC placed on a two-year probation, after a report by the accrediting agency found PCC had "a culture of fear and retribution that pervaded the administration."

In addition to questioning whether Pima's change in admission standards was an abandonment of its community mission, the report pointed to allegations that former college chief Roy Flores sexually harassed eight women, questioned Pima's awarding of high-dollar no-bid contracts, and described a culture of "fear and retribution" among campus faculty and staff.

In a response to the report, Pima last week acknowledged "serious breaches of integrity" and outlined a plan to improve the school's administration in an attempt to stave off an Higher Learning Commission vote to sanction PCC.

"We also recognize and accept full responsibility for the “serious breaches of integrity” in College administration and governance," the college's official response to the HLC said.

The Faculty Senate also said last week that the search for a permanent chancellor should be placed on hold until the four Board members can be replaced. College officials have said they hope to have a replacement CEO in place by July 1.

"A lot went wrong over a long period of time," Labuda said. "You can't fix it quickly. To try to do that is foolish."

An earlier search for a chancellor was botched when a headhunting firm vetting candidates missed a California over-billing scandal that implicated one of two finalists announced in January.

While Flores announced last year that he was resigning for health reasons, at least eight allegations of sexual harassment were filed against him.

Miles announced last month that she would step down as PCC's chief executive to become president of the Community Campus.

Miles said last March that she would not seek the chancellor's post on a permanent basis, after a Board attempt to install her met with widespread protests.

Formerly the college provost, she moved over to become the president of the Community Campus while 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.


Harris resume

Read the resume of Zelema Harris, selected as the new interim chancellor of Pima Community College on Tuesday.

Harris earned her master of science and doctorate of education degrees from the University of Kansas. She holds a bachelor of science degree from Prairie View (Tex.) A&M University. Harris has three grown children.

PCC Governing Board meeting

The sole agenda item was the announcement of a new interim chancellor.

  • 5:15 p.m. Tuesday
  • PCC District Office, Building C, Community Board Room, 4905 E. Broadway

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