Faculty members at Pima Community College burst into applause Friday when a familiar face returned to greet them in a newly created executive position.
Zelema Harris, a retired chancellor of St. Louis Community College who was PCC’s interim leader earlier this year, made her first campus appearance at a faculty meeting after signing on as the Tucson school’s second in command.
Monday will mark Harris’ first official day as executive vice chancellor for institutional effectiveness, a post she’ll hold until at least June and possibly longer.
The job comes with an annual salary of $194,000.
On and off campus, her hiring is seen as major step forward as PCC tries to shed a probation sanction imposed by its accreditor.
Harris has decades of experience in college leadership and in turning around troubled schools — far more expertise than her new boss, PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert.
“I think it’s terrific,” Larry Aldrich, of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, said of Harris’ return. Council members were highly impressed with her during her stint as interim chancellor from April to June, he said.
“Bringing back Dr. Harris is an extremely positive move,” agreed Joe Labuda, president of PCC’s Faculty Senate.
Lambert announced the appointment in an email to employees early Friday.
In an interview, he said PCC’s problems are deeper than he realized when he assumed the school’s top job July 1.
Now that he’s had some time to take stock, he said: “I recognize I need help. I can’t do this alone.”
The litany of problems that led to probation — including sexual harassment, ethical lapses by board members and administrators, and corrupt hiring and contracting practices — were “the tip of the iceberg,” Lambert said.
Other troubles that have emerged include declining enrollment, shortcomings in the school’s veterans program, faulty record-keeping, complaints about the leadership of health programs and a creaky administrative structure that has 16 people — about three times more than normal — reporting directly to the chancellor.
Since June, five college administrators have resigned, retired or were fired from their six-figure positions.
Lambert said Harris will serve as his top adviser. She will supervise ongoing improvement projects and oversee strategic planning, institutional research, public information, state and federal government relations, and several other areas.
She’ll also be in charge of running the college when Lambert is away.