'Culture of fear' is found at PCC

Fact finders urge probation; accreditation could be lost
2013-03-17T00:01:00Z 2013-03-17T22:05:26Z 'Culture of fear' is found at PCCKimberly Matas Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 17, 2013 12:01 am  • 

The president of the organization that accredits Pima Community College is recommending that the college be placed on probation - a move that could lead to the loss of its accreditation.

A four-member fact-finding team from the Higher Learning Commission found "a culture of fear and retribution that pervaded the administration," commission President Sylvia Manning wrote in a letter to PCC's interim chancellor, Suzanne Miles.

A 30-page report accompanying Manning's letter says PCC's Governing Board has a "siege mentality" and did not act for several years after learning of allegations of sexual harassment by then-Chancellor Roy Flores.

If the Chicago-based commission's board follows Manning's recommendation, PCC will be put on probation for two years. After that, the commission will decide whether to withdraw the school's accredited status.

Accreditation is important because employers may consider only degrees from accredited colleges and universities when making hiring decisions. Attending an accredited college also makes it easier for students to transfer credits to other reputable institutions should they move or decide to further their education elsewhere.

In an email Miles sent to PCC employees Saturday evening following the release of the report, she wrote, "It is important to note that the proposed recommendation will not impact Pima's academic programs and financial aid for our students."

Written complaints

The investigation was conducted in mid-January after the commission received written complaints from individuals and two community groups. Among the accusations it considered:

• The college's handling of harassment claims. Flores denied the allegations of sexual harassment by eight current and former employees and retired for health reasons a few months later.

• The award of more than $300,000 in unbid contracts to a man who claimed to be a boyhood friend of Flores'.

• A hostile work environment perpetrated or overlooked by senior administrators.

• Excessive turnover of administrative positions.

• Unclear human resources practices.

• A change in the mission of the college without internal and community input.

• Dishonesty in Miles' responses to the commission.

• Failure by the Governing Board to conduct its work ethically, honestly and in the best interests of the college, employees and students.

Team members interviewed 108 people during their investigation.

Though much of the report cites issues created or cultivated by the former chancellor, investigators concluded that the institution was "shrouded in the shadow of silence that was fostered through a pattern of protection created by members of the board of governors. The culture persists today."

Letter details issues

Among the issues Manning cited in her letter:

• "PCC's decision to change its admissions policy despite community opposition conflicts with its stated mission of developing the community through learning and demonstrates a lack of understanding of its role in serving the public good in its community," she wrote. Such a change in mission shouldn't have happened until PCC submitted a formal application to the commission and was granted permission to do so.

• The college issued contracts without first seeking bids from other vendors.

"By failing to follow its own policies on fair bidding on institutional contracts the college did not operate with integrity," she wrote.

• PCC did not engage in systematic and integrated planning. "The fact-finding team found a frequent use by the college of interim and acting administrative leaders and constant turnover in administrative positions that led to reports from senior administrators of discontinuity in meeting institutional goals," she wrote.

• The college did not promote effective leadership.

"The fact-finding team noted a culture of fear and retribution that pervaded the administration of the college," she wrote. Also, "the board of governors did not act with regard to the former chancellor until several years after it had become aware of allegations of misconduct. These findings further indicate a situation in which the college failed to have effective structures for contribution and collaboration and failed to exercise leadership effectively."

board "dysfunctional"

The investigative team that visited PCC called its board "dysfunctional" and had equally harsh words for administrators.

"When outcomes become more important to a board and its senior leaders than telling the truth or caring for the people in its employ, then members of that board and those administrators have been misdirected or fallen into patterns of behavior which do not reflect the levels of integrity expected of higher education leaders," the report said.

Miles has until March 29 to respond. The Higher Learning Commission board will decide at its April 6 meeting whether to accept Manning's recommendation and place the school on probation.

Vice Chancellor C.J. Karamargin said PCC plans to file a response to the report and some of the issues raised by the commission "are in the process of being remedied."

PCC was last put on probation in 1989, largely due to bickering board members and an ineffective president - all of whom were replaced during the 18-month probationary period. By October 1990, the college had so thoroughly turned things around that it got an A+ grade from its accrediting agency and its accreditation was extended for 10 years.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or at 573-4191.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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