Pima College placed on probation
2-year review process outlined
Pima Community College has been placed on probation by a national accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission. The HLC announced the move Wednesday morning, saying 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 HLC's Board of Trustees voted April 6 to place Pima on probation, a notice posted on the accrediting body's website said. The HLC outlined a two-year process for Pima to improve its operations and retain its accreditation.
PCC's latest interim chancellor, newly hired Zelema Harris, emailed staff at 10 a.m., confirming that the college had received word of the probation vote Wednesday morning.
"We can use this opportunity to improve services to our students and the community," she said, pointing out that the college remains fully accredited, financial aid is unaffected by probation, and that PCC courses will continue to transfer to other schools.
"The quality of our instruction and programs is undiminished. The HLC has not identified any concerns with PCC academics or student services," Harris said.
Faculty Senate President Joe Labuda said he "was not surprised" by the move. "We still have the same issues" the HLC indicated, he said.
HLC President Sylvia Manning said last month that she would recommend that Pima be placed on probation.
The commission investigated complaints about the school's administration earlier this year, and released a report finding that PCC "had "a culture of fear and retribution."
In addition to questioning whether a 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 acknowledged "serious breaches of integrity" and outlined a plan to improve the school's administration in an attempt to stave off a vote to sanction PCC.
Pima faculty and staff, while calling for the resignation of four of the five PCC Governing Board members, sent a letter to the HLC two weeks ago asking that the college not be placed on probation, but be given a lesser sanction.
Those requests were in vain, as the HLC outlined a two-year review process for the school:
During the probation period, PCC will remain an accredited college. The presidents of the University of Arizona, as well as ASU and NAU, reiterated last month that credits from the school will continue to transfer.
"We are aware that the concerns regarding Pima Community College's accreditation are not related to the College's academic programs and services. Because nothing has changed that affects the quality and integrity of the courses that PCC transfers to the University of . Arizona, the transfer policies and procedures between PCC and the University of Arizona will remain unchanged as well," UA President Ann Weaver Hart wrote to Suzanne Miles, PCC's former interim chancellor.
The faculty will continue to press for the resignation of four of the five PCC Board members, Labuda said Wednesday.
Board members Even, Marty Cortez, David Longoria and Scott Stewart are "an impediment to change" and should step down, said a resolution passed last month by the college's faculty representatives. The only member not targeted is newly elected Sylvia Lee — who has also called for the rest of the Board to resign.
Lee said Wednesday that probation is "a real tragedy ... but I'm not surprised."
The process needed to move the school off probation could be "a first step toward real healing" at PCC, she said.
Pima has "had a lack of governance over many years," she said. "This is an opportunity to take a look within."
PCC's response to the HLC report "did not take any responsibility, did not admit to some of the wrongdoing," Lee said. Pima's troubles have been "exacerbated by leaders in denial" about the Board's responsibility for problems.
"How can you fix it if you're part of it," she said.
Even and the other Board members have declined to answer questions on the call for their resignations, but given indications that they will stay on. In a recent meeting, Even told the Faculty Senate she won't resign.
Probation "gives that much more motivation to go forward" with moves to oust the Board majority, Labuda said. "We don't see us coming out of this probation with the same Board we have now."
Faculty members have also called for a search for a permanent chancellor to be halted until a new Board can be seated.
"Don't pursue the chancellor search just to have it done," Labuda said. Faculty members would prefer to work with the interim chancellor to "clear things up," he said.
"Dr. Harris has some experience with HLC issues," Labuda said.
Lee echoed concerns about proceeding with the search for a permanent college CEO, calling Harris an "outstanding chancellor."
Speaking last month, Labuda acknowledged that while the faculty don't have legal authority to force resignations, but said "we have the moral authority within the college."
Labuda said that he would support a recall that targeted the four Board members if they refuse to resign.