PCC Chancellor Lambert stepping down to run college in Silicon Valley
Governing Board to discuss steps to fill Pima Community College leadership post
After a decade leading Pima Community College — and several unsuccessful efforts to leave for other schools — Chancellor Lee Lambert is resigning to take up the reins of a community college in Silicon Valley.
Lambert, who was tapped to be PCC's top administrator in May 2013 after his predecessor left in disgrace and a search process was bungled, will become the chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, which serves Palo Alto, Cupertino, Mountain View and other communities in the south Bay Area.
Lambert, who has been paid more than $438,000 in salary and benefits (such as $60,000 in deferred pay) by Pima College, will leave for his new job — with a base salary of $448,000, plus a benefits package that hasn't yet been publicly detailed — at the beginning of August. Lambert's contract with PCC had guaranteed him a position through 2026; his initial contract with the new college will run through June 2024.
PCC Board Chair Theresa Riel congratulated Lambert, saying the board "recognizes there are a limited number of college administrators who have the experience that Lee Lambert has. Over the last 10 years, working closely with PCC employees, he has used his vision to assist in the creation of PCC’s Centers of Excellence."
PCC's Governing Board will meet "during the next few weeks" to plan how to handle the search for a replacement, she said in a news release.
Lambert has applied to be the chancellor of other West Coast schools in recent years, including being considered by San Diego Community College and Evergreen State College (his alma mater).
Since the last election for the Governing Board, the balance of power shifted away from those who have backed Lambert in his role. Boardmember Demion Clinco decisively lost his bid for re-election in November, and then Boardmember Catherine Ripley resigned from the five-member body just days later.
"It has been an incredible honor working with the PCC community, as well as the city of Tucson, Pima County and business leaders to transform the college into an award-winning cutting-edge educational institution that is well positioned to take on the challenge of building a highly skilled 21st century workforce," Lambert said in Tuesday's release.
"I leave PCC with fond memories and deep friendships with those who share our collective purpose of transforming the lives of our learners and improving the economic health of our communities," he wrote.
Officials at the California college called him a "visionary" and "transformative leader with an impressive record of accomplishments."
"We are confident that he is the right person to build on Foothill-De Anza's legacy of educational excellence and excited to have him lead our exceptional team into a new era of equity and innovation," said Board of Trustees President Patrick Ahrens in a news release.
The current head of the Silicon Valley school is retiring after 35 years with that district, representatives said.
Before coming to Pima, Lambert was president of Shoreline Community College in Washington.
Lambert took on a college in administrative turmoil. Not only had the school lacked a permanent leader for over a year before he was hired, PCC was placed on probation by accreditors just a month before he was hired by the Governing Board.
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 2013 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 placed on probation by a national accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission. 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."
Citing shortfalls in administrative oversight of finances, unreviewed policies and pointing to uninvestigated allegations of sexual harassment, the HLC undertook a systematic review of the school. The commission had investigated complaints about the school's administration earlier that year, and released a report finding that PCC "had "a culture of fear and retribution."
It took years for Pima to resolve its issues with the HLC. What was supposed to be a two-year process of review then stretched to four years, before the accreditors lifted the probationary status but kept the college "on notice" that more improvements were needed in administration. Loss of accreditation would have meant Pima students would no longer qualify for federal financial aid, and that credits earned at the college would not be transferable to other accredited schools.
Before Lambert PCC had lacked a permanent chancellor since Roy Flores left, mired in scandals, in February 2012. He had been on medical leave since October 2011.
In addition to questioning whether a change in admission standards was an abandonment of its community mission, an HLC 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 2013 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.
From Pima officials on Tuesday:
Under Chancellor Lambert's leadership, PCC has been named a top 50 community college for Hispanic enrollment and number one in Arizona. PCC earned a prestigious Bellwether Award for developmental education programs and was selected for recognition by Harvard University for innovative workforce training programs and partnerships with Tucson's largest employers, including Raytheon, IBM, Caterpillar, TuSimple and area hospitals. The college also rebuilt its aging physical and IT infrastructure and opened new facilities, including a new Automotive Technology and Innovation Center, an expanded Aviation Center and the recently opened $35 million Advanced Manufacturing Building.
Recently, Chancellor Lambert led the development of the college's Centers of Excellence in applied technology, health care, hospitality, information technology & cybersecurity, public safety, and the arts. He also established micropathways programs to train learners for in-demand jobs, invested heavily in Pima Online and embedded robust diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives throughout PCC's campuses and centers. He also helped secure a $5 million gift, the single largest donation in the college's history.