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A new chapter begins at Pima College

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Guest opinion

A new chapter begins at Pima College

A new chapter at Pima Community College began last week with the unanimous vote by the Board of Governors to appoint Dr. Suzanne Miles as interim chancellor. We are fortunate to have someone with her credentials at the helm at this critical juncture in college's history.

Miles is a 26-year veteran of PCC. Her knowledge of the institution and how it works is second to none. She has 30 years' experience as an educator at the post-secondary level and is seasoned administrator who most recently served as the college's provost and president of one of our six campuses.

Miles is the ideal person to lead PCC as we launch a national search for a new chancellor. That search will not conclude until we find the best person we can for this critical post.

Miles demonstrated her abilities last year when she filled in for former Chancellor Roy Flores while he underwent quadruple by-pass surgery. The serious health issues he confronted in 2011 have not gone away. He can no longer fulfill the requirements of the job with the same level of intensity and commitment that he would like or the position requires.

Given this situation, the board had no choice but to amend Flores' contract with PCC. We accomplished this in another unanimous vote last week and the end result will actually save about $400,000 of taxpayer money.

Flores had a contract – a legally binding agreement – that ran through June 2014. Had he worked through that date, the cost would have been approximately $1 million. We negotiated an agreement that will end in June 2013 at a cost of approximately $600,000.

The naming of an interim chancellor represents a pivot point in Pima's history. It provides us with an opportunity to look back as we chart a course for the future.

I have had the honor to serve on the board since 1999. I know from my own experience just how dramatically college operations improved after March 2003, when Flores came on board. Our community expects PCC to be run well and use taxpayer resources wisely. We've done that over the past nine years.

That we survived the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression without layoffs or furloughs might be the best example of the kind of creative leadership provided by Flores. The list of accomplishments also includes:

  • The long overdue raising of admission standards
  • Ensuring the continuation of adult education
  • Introducing data-driven decisions and accountability
  • Addressing an annual $1 million deficit at our Community Campus
  • Closing non-productive centers that were a drain on PCC's finances
  • Eliminating contracts that had little, if any benefit to the college or the community

Flores has always been candid, even blunt. He is a no-nonsense guy in a field known for more than its share of nonsense. But I have no doubt that PCC is a better place thanks to his determination to examine our weaknesses, build on our strengths, clean up our problems and move us forward. I would not for one minute give up the results he achieved.

Deciding who will occupy the chancellor's office is perhaps the single most important decision the Board of Governors can make. The search for a new chancellor should remind us of the reason we're here – make that about 30,000 reasons. That's how many students enroll at PCC each semester. For them, what goes on in our classrooms matters far more than the politics that play out in our board meeting room.

Scott A. Stewart, an optical engineer at Raytheon Systems Co., is the PCC Board of Governors member for District 4. He is serving as chairman for 2012.

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