Two top administrators at Pima Community College’s downtown campus have been let go amid claims that student veterans were harassed and that PCC’s veterans center is alienating those it’s supposed to help.
Luba Chliwniak and Jerry Haynes, president and vice president respectively of PCC’s downtown campus, were terminated late Friday after an investigation of complaints about campus leadership.
Student veterans attending the college told the Arizona Daily Star they were interviewed recently by a Phoenix-area attorney the college hired to probe the reported problems.
The lawyer questioned them about the job performance of Chliwniak, Haynes and one of their subordinates, Diane-Marie Landsinger, who formerly oversaw the veterans’ center, the students said.
Chliwniak, who made about $164,000, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. Calls to a home phone number provided by directory assistance were answered by a recording saying the number had been disconnected or was out of service.
Haynes, whose salary was about $126,000, couldn’t be reached because he has no home phone listing, according to directory assistance.
Landsinger remains on PCC’s payroll at a $59,000 a year but no longer works with veterans. She would not comment when reached by phone late Tuesday, and PCC didn’t immediately respond to requests for her current job title and duties.
PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert sent an email to campus employees Tuesday that announced a “leadership transition.”
The message held few specifics but said the decision was made after “careful deliberation.”
“As chancellor, I determined that a change in leadership was necessary and in the best long-term interest of downtown campus and PCC as a whole,” Lambert wrote.
The investigation is ongoing and other personnel changes may be needed at the campus, Lambert said in a phone interview late Tuesday.
The concerns raised by student veterans were one factor, but not the only one, in terminating the two officials, he said. The campus has additional problems that “are bigger than just the veterans situation,” he said.
Lambert said he expects to be able to release more information to the public once investigations conclude and remaining issues are settled.
The investigation was launched earlier this year by Zelema Harris, who was PCC’s interim chancellor before Lambert started work at the school in July.
Student veterans interviewed by the Star describe the PCC center, set up in 2011 at a cost of $30,000, as ill-conceived and barely functional because of the administrative turmoil.
For example, they said, the tiny room has computers that require users to sit with their backs to the doorway — making them anathema to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who often panic when they can’t see who’s behind them.
Many veterans avoid the center as a result, said Jared Taylor, 30, immediate past president of the PCC chapter of Student Veterans of America.
Taylor said veterans centers typically are staffed by people who are veterans themselves, as is the case at the University of Arizona’s center.
At PCC, officials installed Landsinger, a human resources analyst, to the position last year.
“When I asked her what experience she had working with veterans, she said ‘I volunteered for the USO once,’” recalled Taylor, a former counter-sniper with an explosive ordnance disposal unit at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Landsinger often tried to censor private conversations between veterans within the center, and would make them shut off the television news, claiming that watching it might trigger their combat stress symptoms, he said.
When challenged, “she gets upset and lashes out,” he said.
“She seemed like she was afraid of us,” Taylor said. “I said, ‘Look, we’re not ticking time bombs. All of us are getting help and we help each other.”
Taylor said Chliwniak once berated him publicly on campus when his service dog was off its leash. The animal is trained to help him cope with combat stress symptoms, he said, by inserting itself between him and others to maintain a comfortable distance.
“I know lots of people with PTSD and they don’t need a dog like that,” he recalled her saying.
Jonah Fontenot, 36, a former Army truck driver and now a member of the student veterans group at PCC, said he made two formal complaints to the college about Landsinger alleging “harassment and a hostile work environment” at the campus.
He said he complained repeatedly to Haynes, Landsinger’s immediate supervisor, to little avail.
Fontenot said he couldn’t provide specifics because some aspects of his complaints were still being dealt with by the college.
Both veterans said they are hopeful that Lambert, the new chancellor, who is an Army veteran himself, will bring much-needed changes to the veterans center. The college has about 1,500 student veterans in a typical semester.
“We just want to be listened to and respected,” Fontenot said.
“Up until now things have been very frustrating for us.”