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Students speak up while Pima Community College looks toward the future by Chelo Grubb
Marlena Hanlon, a professional organizational analyst taking classes at Pima Community College, is trying to make sure students don’t get left out of the discussion as the college works to address issues threatening its accreditation.
“I had a personal experience on two occasions which I felt were not resolved well or fully,” she said. Hanlon felt ignored by the college. After going to board meetings and seeing other students express concerns, she figured she probably wasn’t alone. “I didn’t feel like they were being sufficiently heard, nor did I feel like their comments were being sufficiently integrated.”
Hanlon says she reached out to Pima’s student newspaper, the Aztec Press, and was disappointed that the paper didn’t accept more submissions from students outside the journalism program. She also reached out to community groups that support students and employees of the college, but found them busy addressing policy concerns about the college and unable to be the student ally she was looking for.
“The feedback loops that were present weren’t very effective,” Hanlon said. “There just didn’t seem to be any outlets. There were all these problems, all these individual experiences that weren’t being consolidated in a meaningful way, so it seemed clear that we needed some pathway of communication with each other and with administration, to carry more weight and to create some kind of organizational unity when we go to these meetings.”
So she decided to start her own group. WikiPima is, at a glance, a PCC student club. However, instead of selling cookies and planning dances in the cafeteria, this club is giving Pima students a platform to share their grievances. On its website (wikipima.wordpress.com) and through social media, the club is soliciting stories from students who have run into obstacles at the college.
Hanlon says a couple of students have already submitted complaints about their experience with the college and the group has started the process of investigating the claims.
Joe McGrath, a student who has been an active voice for Pima’s students, is calling for students to send a message another way: by helping collect signatures supporting a recall election for Pima’s longest-standing board members.
Pima was placed on probation almost a year ago, after the Higher Learning Commission, which accredit colleges, received several complaints from Tucsonans concerned about operations at Pima. Investigation into the claims lead the HLC to say Pima had cultivated a “culture of fear” under the previous chancellor and failed to live up to HLC standards in other areas.
“Anyone who is a student at the college or who has been a student at the college should get informed and get involved,” McGrath said.
Groups such as Citizens for PCC Integrity, which was created in response to discontent at the college, is leading an effort to replace the people who have been on Pima’s board since the troubles started.
“We asked them to resign and they did not,” Phil Lopes, a Tucsonan assisting with the recall effort, said of the board. “Even though recall is a serious decision, which should not be frivolous and should not be based on one decision, we felt since they lost the community’s trust (and) they refused to resign, the only option we had was for recall.”
The board has five members: Chairwoman Brenda Even, Scott Stewart, Marty Cortez, David Longoria and Sylvia Lee, who is new to the board and not being targeted in the recall effort.
Stewart, who was chairman of the board when most of the issues at the college came to light, and Cortez, who was re-elected in November 2012, are the only members the recall effort is currently targeting.
Even, if she decides to run again, will already be on November’s ballot because her current term will be up at the end of the year. The recall website, fixpimacollege.com, lists events at which the organization will be at collecting signatures.
Longoria was not included in this initial push because the group feared it would be stretching itself too thin to go after all of the board members at once. It does, however, plan to target Longoria for recall “based on how these two go,” Lopes said.
“We chose Cortez and Stewart because they’ve been on the board the longest and they should know better,” he said.
If the group manages to collect enough signatures by late April, the two board members would have to win another election in November to stay on the board. The group needs a total of 15,000 signatures to push Stewart onto the ballot and 13,000 for Cortez.
Meanwhile, the college and the board have been focused on addressing the school’s issues. In early January, PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert blogged about the progress the college has made since probation was announced last April, and talked about the challenges of helping the college grow while addressing the HLC’s concerns.
“I often compare Pima Community College to an airplane that is being built while it is flying. Nowhere is that metaphor more apt than in our planning processes. PCC must constantly monitor its current operations and make adjustments quickly and decisively, while continually checking for storms and breaks in the clouds far out on the horizon.”
The college hosted a summit Feb. 18 in which about 200 people—both Pima employees and members of the community— broke into small groups, discussed trends in education and talked about what Pima should do to continue growing in its service to the community.
“All flights land, eventually. But the process we are initiating will be ongoing,” Lambert wrote.
Even said the feedback from the community echoed her feelings and the inclination of the board as far as what direction Pima needs to move in.
“I think it is going very well,” Even said. “I think everyone has just worked like crazy to be sure we don’t miss anything.”
Pima’s timeline to work through HLC issues and an itemized list of what each aspect of its response entails is available at pima.edu/about-pima under “PCC Addresses Probation.”
Lopes says the community is happy with the new leadership from Lambert, Lee and Zelema Harris, the college’s former interim chancellor who is back at Pima filling in at another administrative position. Despite that, it looks as though people will be keeping a close eye on operations at the college.
“The mantra that the school kept harping on was ‘This is operational, this has nothing to do with student instruction,'” Hanlon said, noting that professional experience as an analyst made her skeptical of those claims. “I just know that it’s impossible to have a pervasive culture such as the one they were describing, and not have that filter through every aspect.”
WikiPima is working on stories from students and staff, as well as formulating proposals for changes which support the student body at Pima Community College. In particular, if you have experiences to share about the following, Wiki wants to hear from you:
- Financial aid snafus
- Grade appeal problems
- Student complaint experiences, particularly about instructors or staff
- ADA violations
Please send us your experience and/or suggestions to WikiPima@gmail.com.
Join us, also, on Thursday, 2/20/14, at 5:30pm Downtown for a kick-off meeting!!
By Jim Nintzel
A recall effort is in the works to unseat three members of the Pima Community College governing board.
Former state lawmaker Phil Lopes tells The Range that paperwork was filed today to begin the process of gathering signatures to knock Scott Stewart and Marty Cortez. A recall effort against a third board member, David A. Longoria, is likely to start next month, according to Lopes.
PCC Board member Brenda Even isn’t going to be targeted because she’s up for reelection in November, so her political opponents will just try to defeat her then, Lopes says.
PCC has had a troubling few years, culminating with the school being put on probation by the Higher Learning Commission, an accrediting agency. Much of the controversy occurred under the leadership of former chancellor Roy Flores, who resigned in 2012.
Lopes says a recall is necessary because “these people were responsible for putting Pima’s accreditation in jeopardy. It was on their watch that things happened during the Flores era. We don’t think they’re taking care of the college or the community.”
2-year review process outlined by Dylan Smith
Pima Community College has been placed on probation by a national accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission. The HLC announced the move Wednesday morning, saying 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.”
The HLC’s Board of Trustees voted April 6 to place Pima on probation, anotice posted on the accrediting body’s website said. The HLC outlined a two-year process for Pima to improve its operations and retain its accreditation.
PCC’s latest interim chancellor, newly hired Zelema Harris, emailed staff at 10 a.m., confirming that the college had received word of the probation vote Wednesday morning.
“We can use this opportunity to improve services to our students and the community,” she said, pointing out that the college remains fully accredited, financial aid is unaffected by probation, and that PCC courses will continue to transfer to other schools.
“The quality of our instruction and programs is undiminished. The HLC has not identified any concerns with PCC academics or student services,” Harris said.
Faculty Senate President Joe Labuda said he “was not surprised” by the move. “We still have the same issues” the HLC indicated, he said.
HLC President Sylvia Manning said last month that she would recommend that Pima be placed on probation.
The commission investigated complaints about the school’s administration earlier this year, and released a report finding that PCC “had “a culture of fear and retribution.”
In addition to questioning whether a change in admission standards was an abandonment of its community mission, the 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 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.
Pima faculty and staff, while calling for the resignation of four of the five PCC Governing Board members, sent a letter to the HLC two weeks ago asking that the college not be placed on probation, but be given a lesser sanction.
Those requests were in vain, as the HLC outlined a two-year review process for the school:
- “The College is required to file a monitoring report no later than August 1, 2013, outlining a plan by which it will establish conformity with the Commission’s Assumed Practices related to complaints and grievance procedures (Assumed Practice A.4) and to faculty oversight of the curriculum (Assumed Practice B.2.c) by July 2014.”
- “The College is also required to file a comprehensive self-study no later than July 2014 or eight weeks prior to the comprehensive evaluation. The self-study must provide evidence that the College has resolved the concerns of the Board identified in the Probation action and evidence that the College meets the Criteria for Accreditation.”
- “The College will host a comprehensive evaluation visit in Fall 2014. At its meeting in February 2015 the Board will review the Probation Report and the report of the evaluation visiting team to determine whether the College can be removed from Probation. If the College has not resolved the Board’s concerns that led to the imposition of Probation and demonstrated that it is in compliance with all the Criteria for Accreditation, other action may be appropriate.”
During the probation period, PCC will remain an accredited college. The presidents of the University of Arizona, as well as ASU and NAU, reiterated last month that credits from the school will continue to transfer.
“We are aware that the concerns regarding Pima Community College’s accreditation are not related to the College’s academic programs and services. Because nothing has changed that affects the quality and integrity of the courses that PCC transfers to the University of . Arizona, the transfer policies and procedures between PCC and the University of Arizona will remain unchanged as well,” UA President Ann Weaver Hart wrote to Suzanne Miles, PCC’s former interim chancellor.
The faculty will continue to press for the resignation of four of the five PCC Board members, Labuda said Wednesday.
Board members Even, Marty Cortez, David Longoria and Scott Stewart are “an impediment to change” and should step down, said a resolution passed last month by the college’s faculty representatives. The only member not targeted is newly elected Sylvia Lee — who has also called for the rest of the Board to resign.
Lee said Wednesday that probation is “a real tragedy … but I’m not surprised.”
The process needed to move the school off probation could be “a first step toward real healing” at PCC, she said.
Pima has “had a lack of governance over many years,” she said. “This is an opportunity to take a look within.”
PCC’s response to the HLC report “did not take any responsibility, did not admit to some of the wrongdoing,” Lee said. Pima’s troubles have been “exacerbated by leaders in denial” about the Board’s responsibility for problems.
“How can you fix it if you’re part of it,” she said.
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 recent meeting, 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 last month, 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 that he would support a recall that targeted the four Board members if they refuse to resign.