Pima College submits probation progress report
Pima Community College filed a 300-page report with accreditors on Wednesday, laying out the school's work to fix systemic problems pointed out by the Higher Learning Commission last year. Chancellor Lambert called the self-assessment "part of a continuous process of improvement."
Citing shortfalls in administrative oversight of finances, unreviewed policies and pointing to uninvestigated allegations of sexual harassment, the national accrediting body placed Pima on probation in April 2013.
In particular, HLC accreditors noted that PCC had developed "a culture of fear and retribution that pervaded the administration of the college." Pima was also admonished for changing its admission policies without adequate community involvement, although that factor did not rise to the level of being a cause for probation.
In July 2013, amid turmoil and calls for the resignation of multiple members of the Governing Board, Lee Lambert was appointed chancellor.
Wednesday, Lambert described the report, required as part of the HLC's process to retain accreditation, as part of the college's mission, rather than a distraction.
"You're never done," he said. Meeting the requirements laid out by the accrediting body is "continuing to do the work of the college ... it's part and parcel."
The report lays out Pima's plan to tackle the multiple shortfalls noted by HLC last year. PCC was placed on probation because of "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 said in 2013.
"Considering the magnitude of what needed to be rectified," Lambert said Wednesday that he's satisfied with the progress the college has made. "Things are much better than when I arrived."
"In some cases, you've seen me make changes," Lambert said, alluding to the many PCC administrators who have left the school over the past year.
In an introduction to the report, Lambert said it was "a milestone but not an endpoint."
Yet to come are a September site visit by HLC representatives, a December opportunity to present further progress and an HLC vote next February on the college's fate.
If the school loses its accreditation, it would no longer be eligible to receive tuition from students on federal financial aid, among other challenges.
According to the report, "The college has implemented processes to address each of the HLC’s findings, including measures that ensure that the college follows fair bidding processes and that the Board of Governors has adequate oversight of the budget; hiring processes have been revised, and processes for handling complaints against senior administrators have been revised."
The report summarizes the various college policies that have been revised, and notes that training on many of those new policies is ongoing.
New policies regarding sexual harassment have been put in place, Lambert said Wednesday.
From the report:
PCC’s Board of Governors did not investigate the complaints it received about former Chancellor Flores’ abrasive managerial style or claims that he sexually harassed several women during his tenure at PCC. The Board’s inaction appears to have been the result of a number of factors. At the time the complaints were received, Board members did not share a clear understanding of how the Chancellor should behave. Furthermore, when these complaints were lodged, the Board’s complaint handling process required members to refer complaints to the Chief Executive Officer. This protocol created an obvious conflict of interest when complaints were filed against the CEO himself. Finally, many of the complaints were filed anonymously, and in the absence of a robust complaint-handling process, Board members failed to thoroughly investigate them. To remedy these deficiencies, PCC has adopted a Chancellor Evaluation Process that clearly defines what it expects from its CEO. It has provided sexual harassment training for its Board and employees, and it has revised its protocols for investigating complaints to prevent conflicts of interest that might hinder an impartial investigation of the facts surrounding a complaint.
Lambert said he led sexual harassment training for the Governing Board and senior administrators, but that "it could take years" before every college employee has taken the training, citing scheduling difficulties.
PCC has set up a new Office of Dispute Resolution to address complaints made by faculty, staff and students, Lambert said. That office is only now up and running, he said, and has yet to handle any grievances.
Since the spring 2013 probation announcement, Pima has handled complaints via a hotline, he said.
"No matter what policies you put in place, you're only as good as the people who are here," Lambert said.