‘Atmosphere of fear’ persists, says summary of Pima College workforce survey

2014-03-26T00:00:00Z 2014-03-27T14:17:17Z ‘Atmosphere of fear’ persists, says summary of Pima College workforce surveyBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Pima Community College is a workplace divided over whether the troubled school is improving, a new employee survey shows.

While many see PCC taking positive steps to recover from past mismanagement, others say it still suffers from inept leadership, poor communication and a “culture of fear” identified by its accreditor when the school was placed on probation last year.

The survey, which drew 982 responses from a workforce of close to 4,000, was done late last year, about six months after Chancellor Lee Lambert took over the school’s top job.

Respondents rated their overall workplace satisfaction at 3.7 on a scale of 5. Major differences emerged when they rated specific topic areas.

Of 660 who commented on PCC’s culture and policies, for example, those who said things are getting worse outnumbered those who said they’re getting better “by close to a 2:1 margin,” a summary said.

Of 500 or so who weighed in on what the college is doing to get off probation, “opinions were almost equally split” on topics such as the competence of college administrators and of PCC’s Governing Board.

“According to non-administrative employees, an atmosphere of fear, low morale, possible retribution and instability continues to exist throughout the district,” the summary said.

In a news release, Lambert said “the college has a lot of work ahead of it to improve morale.”

Some fixes are already in place since the survey was done, such as a new governance council that will give employees more say, the news release said.

PCC released a 13-page summary of the results Monday. A copy posted to the school’s website did not include nearly 200 pages of comments employees made as part of the anonymous survey.

The Arizona Daily Star obtained those comments through a public records request. Employees can see copies of the comments on their campuses, officials said.

Among the major themes:

  • Many said they’re pleased with the tone Lambert has set but fear he’s being hampered by subpar administrators hired by the school’s previous troubled CEO.

“For every person who is moving this institution in the right direction there are equally as many who are still practicing poor leadership,” one commenter said.

  • Many expressed dismay that four Governing Board members the accreditor deemed complicit in PCC’s problems have refused calls to resign. The four —
  • David Longoria, Scott Stewart, Brenda Even
  • and
  • Marty Cortez
  • — have opted instead to stay on and take training courses in how to be better board members.

“The board’s actions are still very frustrating and perpetuate the previous culture of lack of trust and transparency,” one survey commenter said.

  • Among employees who identified their home campus, PCC’s East Campus was mentioned most often for having a positive work atmosphere. Its West Campus, recently roiled by the firing of its nursing dean over drug-use allegations, was mentioned most often as lacking effective leadership.

PCC’s news release said the college’s survey results compared favorably to six “benchmark institutions.”

But none of the six is a recognized benchmarking peer of PCC, such as Austin Community College or Portland Community College, which are similar in size and complexity.

Instead, PCC compared its survey results to those of much smaller schools, some with fewer than 5,000 students and most in small cities or rural areas.

PCC spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the smaller schools were used because each had surveyed its workforce in the past three years using the same consultant PCC used.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnetcom or 573-4138.

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

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