PCC releases draft report of its probation fixes

2014-05-14T00:00:00Z PCC releases draft report of its probation fixesBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Pima Community College has released a rough draft of what it plans to tell its accreditor to try to get off probation, a document that illustrates both how far the school has come and how far it still has to go to shed the sanction.

The draft self-study report outlines progress PCC has made since probation was imposed last year, but it still doesn’t resolve some of the key problems that got the college in trouble.

Sexual-harassment training, new board policies and better complaint-reporting systems are highlighted in the draft hailed as a “milestone” by PCC’s public relations office in a news release Tuesday.

But entire portions of the report are missing or lacking key details. One section left blank, for example, is supposed to spell out how PCC is fixing what the accreditor described as a deeply flawed human-resources operation.

The report also doesn’t capture a number of negative events that have occurred since the probation sanction was issued, such as PCC recently being banned from enrolling military veterans because of its troubled record-keeping practices.

“ ‘Milestone’ is probably not the best word,” Chancellor Lee Lambert said in an interview of the unfinished report, the initial product of months of work by about 300 people from inside and outside the college.

Lambert said the draft document is intended mainly for an internal audience but was made public to show PCC’s commitment to increased transparency.

Work on the report is ongoing, and any holes  will be filled before a final version is submitted to the accreditor in July, he said.

PCC’s accreditor, the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, placed the school on probation after identifying widespread problems in the way it was governed and run under its previous leader.

The college is required to produce the self-study report to illustrate its underlying problems and show how they’ve been rectified.

Among the positive changes the report cites :

  • Extensive remedial training for longtime members of PCC’s Governing Board to teach them how to be effective. The accreditor deemed most board members “dysfunctional” and said they shirked their duty to watch over the school.
  • Plans for a new “Independent Office of Dispute Resolution” at a cost of $300,000 a year. The office would process, track and follow up on complaints from employees, students, taxpayers and others.
  • Expanded availability of a hotline for anonymous complaint reporting. Students and taxpayers will be able to use the service that now is restricted to use by college employees.
  • Improved policies to prevent corrupt procurement practices, such as the college’s previous awards of six-figure contracts for which no bidding took place.

Carol Gorsuch, a retired PCC executive who helped bring the college’s problems to the accreditor’s attention and has volunteered her time to help with fixes, called the draft report “unsettling.”

The amount of information still missing “gives a sense that the college is not able to get its act together,” Gorsuch said. “This tells me that they are not on top of this as much as they perhaps should be at this stage of the game.”

An accreditation team is scheduled to visit PCC in mid-September to investigate whether the college has improved enough to be taken off probation. A final decision is expected early next year.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com 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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