The accrediting body for Pima Community College is sending an investigative team to Tucson early next year to examine the circumstances behind recent controversies at the school.
The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission notified the college in a letter Wednesday that it will conduct a "fact-finding visit" in response to numerous complaints from citizen groups, college retirees and, most recently, from several women who say they were sexually harassed by PCC's former chancellor.
The complaints center on the college's spending, procurement and personnel practices and perceived mishandling of sexual-harassment allegations against ex-Chancellor Roy Flores, who was accused by eight current and former female employees.
Flores denied wrongdoing, and PCC's Governing Board allowed him to retire for health reasons earlier this year. The college spent more than $40,000 looking into the harassment allegations but refused to make the findings public.
The actions of PCC's interim chancellor, Suzanne Miles, will come under particular scrutiny in the commission's investigation, the accreditor's letter indicates.
That's because several people who complained accused Miles of misleading the accreditor in an eight-page letter she sent the commission in July. In it, Miles downplayed problems at PCC and said the college was the victim of media bias and political maneuvering in an election year.
After the letter was made public by the Arizona Daily Star, the commission was contacted by college insiders "challenging the truthfulness and accuracy of your response," said Wednesday's letter from the accreditor, which is addressed to Miles.
The investigation will be led by Kathleen Nelson, a retired president of Lake Superior College in Duluth, Minn. Her report to the commission will guide its next steps.
The commission has the power to force corrective action at the college and to require ongoing monitoring until improvements are made.
The college welcomes the accreditor's visit, PCC board Chairman Scott Stewart said in a news release Wednesday.
"The board and the college will cooperate in every way we can."
Many of the complaints the commission has received were made in response to Star investigations that revealed a number of problems at the school, including undetected overbilling by college attorneys and PCC's awarding of more than $300,000 in unbid consulting work to a man who claimed to be a boyhood friend of former Chancellor Flores.
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at email@example.com or at 573-4138.
On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/pdf to read letters between Pima Community College and its accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission.