REPORT: Pima Community College’s mission at risk

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 10:38 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima Community College is once again under scrutiny.

We’ve learned about more troubling allegations on how the college is run.

A focused visit team from the national accrediting body, Higher Learning Commission, reported the college’s mission is at risk.

Could it be history repeating itself?

PCC just can’t seem to stay on a positive track for very long.

The college had been placed on probation in 2013 and got past it, but now we’re learning of this new development.

KOLD obtain a new HLC draft report from a source.

It’s a *preliminary account of the team’s findings and will be reviewed by the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council, which will accept or modify the report.

Trouble has been bubbling on the board.

KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring

The public has witnessed clashes first hand during the meetings.

It’s what led to a “new series of complaints” to the commission, which are all spelled out in a 22-page HLC draft report that was put together after a team visited the college late March.

In 2013, there had been issues with public trusts, senior leadership and governance.

The recent visit primarily focused on governance after receiving complaints of the board’s dysfunction.

Luis L. Gonzales is one of two board members who has felt marginalized. “It’s because we asked a lot of questions,” he said.

The other board member is Maria Garcia. She said, “I’m open minded to understanding what needs to be done. And I want to do what’s best for the community -- doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to go along with them”

“Them” is the operative word.

The HLC team noticed a pervasive “we verses them attitude” between the other board members and senior administrators.

Their review of board meeting minutes revealed “a number of 3-2 votes taken by the board on major policy issues”.

The team determined this “rift” is severe enough to put the college “at risk”.

The HLC draft report reveals the team recommended that “monitoring is required” because there’s “little evidence of a quick and easy path to harmony”.

So what’s at the heart of this rift.

Garcia and Gonzales say transparency and respect or the lack of it.

“The board has given the chancellor unilateral authority basically saying he can do whatever he wants, but that shouldn’t be. It’s the board that makes the final decision. The board has to be informed of any decision that’s being made,” Gonzales explained.

The HLC team recommended there needs to be “clarification and agreement on the delegation of authority for the Chancellor.

And “information should flow to all board members”.

In the HLC draft report, the team advises the Board against forcing major changes to its bylaws with 3 to 2 votes.

Former board member, Luis Armando Gonzales, also felt the frustration during his time in the elected seat.

“Information is withheld. And you’re only told what they want you to know. And if you ask the tough questions, they dance around them and most of the time you don’t get the answers,” he said.

They are issues experienced by faculty.

“A Lack of transparency from administration about how decisions are made and communicated to the college community,” said Makyla Hayes, president of Pima Community College Education Association.

She’s speaking on behalf of the full time faculty members who also feel marginalized.

“Employees feeling a lack of representation for their voice in decisions that affect the areas that they work with,” Hayes said.

And they feel they can’t speak up.

The HLC team wrote: “Faculty and staff voiced their opinions that PCC had embraced an institutional culture of fear, bullying, and intimidation and that the Office of Conflict Resolution was an ineffective body”.

They recommend the college “strongly review these allegations” and “monitoring is needed”.

“There have been a lot more rushed decisions and a lot more policies put in place that had the appearance of stakeholder input that have had trickle down effects and not always in a positive way,” Hayes said.

KOLD reached out to PCC for a response asking for an on-cam interview with the Chancellor on this and other allegations. He declined.

But it was after weeks of back and forth emails with PCC leadership.

They first wanted to meet with me and my boss to explain why we shouldn’t pursue this investigation.

And when I declined that meeting and pushed for the interview saying the public should get the full story, including Lambert’s side. They appealed to the News Director.

They asked for the questions and KOLD responded with a lengthy email with the line of questioning because we wanted them to be prepared.

After about two weeks, KOLD finally received an email with “written” responses and no word of whether the Chancellor would do an on-camera interview.

KOLD pushed again and finally got the response that he wouldn’t do it.

The college’s written response stated in part “there are no proposed sanctions or limitations to accreditation”, but the report recommends “further monitoring of the Governing Board”.

And PCC places the blame squarely on the two minority board members.

They sent KOLD this letter from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office that cites Garcia and Gonzales for numerous violations of the State’s Open Meetings law because they disclosed confidential information to the public.

We found it’s primarily the same information and issues reviewed by the HLC focused visit team.

Both Garcia and Gonzales confirmed that and told me they didn’t know they violated open meeting laws.

PCC wrote that they’re hopeful Garcia and Gonzales will “conduct themselves in accordance with state laws and board policies” and the responsibility to follow the rules rests solely on the board.

There’s no mention of the serious “rift”, what’s “at risk”, or any PCC senior leadership shortfalls noted in the HLC draft report.

HLC report still needs to be reviewed by the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council before any final decisions are made.

KOLD may get word of the outcome in October.

KOLD’s investigation into the PCC conflict will continue in the coming days and weeks.

PCC’s full written response on the HLC focused visit:

“The stated purpose of the visit by the Higher Learning Commission’s (HLC’s) peer reviewers was narrowly focused on HLC’s Criteria 2C and its subcomponents which explore whether “the governing board of the institution is autonomous to make decisions in the best interest of the institution in compliance with board policies and to ensure the institution’s integrity.”

The reviewers have submitted their report, which includes recommendations for further monitoring of the Governing Board, to the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council (IAC) for further consideration in accordance with the HLC’s procedures. Notably, these recommendations do not include any proposed sanctions on the College or limitations on the College’s accreditation.

The next step is for the IAC to consider the peer reviewer’s report, and any additional materials, and decide whether to accept or modify the report and recommendations. It’s the College’s understanding that the earliest the IAC will consider the report is at their regularly scheduled fall meeting in October 2022.

The College, including Chancellor Lambert, welcomes additional monitoring of the Governing Board, especially in the wake of a letter from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office citing Board members Maria Garcia and Luis Gonzales for numerous violations of the State’s Open Meetings law (please see attached letter from the Arizona Attorney General Office -Pima County Comm Coll. Dist. Ltr (3).pdf.) These violations occurred despite numerous training sessions on Board governance laws and regulations (see attached list of Board training sessions and attendees -PCC Governing Board Training.xlsx)

It’s important to know that responsibility for ensuring that the Board follows state laws as well as its own policies and procedures falls squarely on the Board itself. We’re hopeful Board members Maria Garcia and Luis Gonzales will conduct themselves in accordance with state laws and Board policies in the wake of actions against them by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.”