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Pima College to select new chancellor Friday

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Pima College to select new chancellor Friday

  • Lambert

After nearly a year without a permanent chief, Pima Community College will have a new chancellor soon. The school's Governing Board announced that a vote to pick a new college CEO will be held Friday morning. The leading choice is Lee Lambert, now the head of a Washington community college.

The Board will meet at 11 a.m. Friday at the PCC District Office, after having met Wednesday in an executive session to discuss appointing Lambert and outline contract negotiations.

A six-member delegation from the college paid a visit to Shoreline Community College on Monday and Tuesday — the school run by Lambert, the man announced last Friday as the "leading candidate" to take over as permanent head of Pima.

While Pima officials won't go on the record about plans to hire Lambert, all signs point to him being tapped to become the school's next chancellor. Pima has been without a permanent CEO for over a year.

The Governing Board quietly posted a special meeting notice on Pima's website Tuesday afternoon, giving notice of Wednesday's executive session to discuss appointing Lambert.

The Board didn't hold a public vote on the hiring Wednesday; the notice was careful to note that "there will be no action taken by the Governing Board at this meeting" other than the behind-closed-doors discussion on filling the chancellor's seat.

While the executive session agenda also allowed for discussion of other candidates, input from Pima's attorneys, and consideration of contract negotiations, the only finalist mentioned by name was Lambert.

The delegation from Pima on the trip to the Seattle-area Shoreline CC included Board Chair Brenda Even and Boardmember Sylvia Lee, along with West Campus President Lou Albert, faculty member Kimlisa Salazar Duchicela, Admissions Director Terra Benson, and Norm Rebenstorf of the PCC Foundation.

Those on the trip were to "continue the vetting process, talking to people the candidate works with on a daily basis," Karamargin said last week.

In addition to the vote on hiring, those who made the site visit will give comments at Friday's meeting, Karamargin said.

A call to Even was not immediately returned Tuesday evening, while Lee said at the time that she wouldn't yet comment on Lambert. Calls to Board members and Lambert were also not returned Thursday morning.

In a special meeting last Friday, Even announced that Lambert was "the candidate that seemed to rise to the top" as the school vetted four finalists for chancellor.

While PCC employees and faculty have called for the search to be halted as they push the resignation of most of the college's Board, the president of the Faculty Senate offered qualified praise for Lambert on Thursday.

"I have heard some pretty good feedback about him," said Joe Labuda. The Board "may have stumbled into a fairly good decision."

"If this is the guy, I want him to succeed," he said.

Labuda criticized the morning timing of the meeting — "a lot of people can make it to that," he said sarcastically — and the general process of selecting a new chancellor.

The Board has "been obsessed with hiring a chancellor," he said.

"They said they'd be transparent, and then went ahead to do exactly what they want," Labuda said of the Board. "Make is so people can see you in action," he said of the Governing Board's frequent executive sessions in special meetings.

All four finalists met with Pima employees and the public in a series of forums two weeks ago.

Anonymous comments about Lambert submitted to Pima officials were mixed, but mostly favorable. Of the 126 comment forms received, many cited Lambert's experience at institutions with major challenges, but several questioned his grasp of the seriousness of the challenges faced by the school. While some pointed to his experience in resolving allegations of sexual harassment, others pointed to his lack of experience at multi-campus institutions like PCC, and that he's not worked with an elected board.

Lambert has led Shoreline CC since 2006. Prior to that, he served as the college's vice president for human resources and legal affairs for a year. Previously, he held administrative positions at Centralia College and Evergreen State College, both in Washington. At Evergreen, he taught law, civil rights and social justice classes.

Lambert earned a bachelor's degree in liberal arts at Evergreen, and a law degree from Seattle University School of Law. Born in Korea, Lambert graduated high school in the Olympia, Wash., area after growing up on three continents, according to his resume. He is a U.S. Army veteran.

Whoever is appointed will take on a college in administrative turmoil. Not only has the school lacked a permanent leader for over a year, PCC was placed on probation by accreditors last month.

A previous search for a permanent leader was scrapped when the one finalist withdrew her name after she was linked to an overbilling scandal. Dr. Maria C. Sheehan, president of Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, dropped out in February after PCC officials learned of fudged enrollment and $5.2 million in overbilling during her tenure at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif.

The school was was placed on probation by a national accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, last month. 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."

Last month, PCC hired a retired Missouri community college head, Zelema Harris, to head the school on a contract basis while the search for a permanent chancellor continued.

An earlier chancellor, Suzanne Miles, who announced in March that she would step down after the Higher Learning Commission issued a report that pointed to management issues and a “culture of fear” at the school.

PCC has lacked a permanent chancellor since Roy Flores was replaced by Miles on an interim basis in February 2012. He had been on medical leave since October 2011, and ended his contract with the school on June 30, 2012.

Miles has taken a position as president of the college's Community Campus.

Faculty, staff call for search delay

While the Governing Board is pushing to install a new chancellor by July 1, PCC faculty and staff, along with local business leaders, have called for a halt to the search.

The Faculty Senate and Staff Council have both called for the resignation of four of the five Governing Board members over the ongoing administrative troubles at the school.

Members of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, a private group of local business leaders, said last month they plan to push the resignation of Pima College board members, and would back a recall effort if the longtime Governing Board members remain in office.

Although willing to work with whomever is hired "because the probation is so daunting ... it's in our self-interest," the faculty will continue to press for the resignation of four of the five PCC Board members, Labuda reiterated Thursday.

Board members Even, David Longoria, Marty Cortez and Scott Stewart are "an impediment to change" and should step down, said a resolution passed by the college's faculty representatives in March. The only member not targeted is newly elected Sylvia Lee — who has also called for the rest of the Board to resign.

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 meeting in March, 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 in March, 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 Thursday that he would support a recall that targeted the four Board members if they refuse to resign.

"If momentum stays outside the college, the recall effort will go forward," he said. Even if Lambert is a good hire, the Board will "manage to make a mess of things again," he said.

SALC President Ron Shoopman wrote last month to PCC Governing Board members that Harris, the retired head of St. Louis Community College who started at Pima last week, should be given time to stabilize the school, which was placed on a two-year probation by the Higher Learning Commission earlier this month.

If Pima presses ahead toward a stated goal of finding a permanent chancellor by July 1, Harris' ability to deal with the probation "will be limited as she will be perceived as a 'lame duck' leader," Shoopman told board members.

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