Lee Lambert is under no illusions about what lies ahead when he takes the helm of troubled Pima Community College.
Some who work there now will likely have to go, he said. Morale that plunged under a previous leader will need to be restored, and those skeptical of Lambert's hiring will need to be won over.
Winning over skeptics is one of Lambert's many strengths, say those who visited his current employer this week for a final round of vetting before he was appointed as PCC's new chancellor.
The college's Governing Board approved the hiring unanimously Friday, pinning their hopes on Lambert to steer the college through two years of probation imposed by PCC's accreditor.
Lambert is expected to start work July 1, with a three-year contract and annual compensation totaling $344,000.
"To be honest, I had hoped I would find reasons to come back and say 'no,' " to Lambert's hiring, said board member Sylvia Lee, part of a team that visited Shoreline Community College in Washington state, where Lambert has been president since 2006.
Instead, "I found numerous reasons to say 'yes,' " said Lee, who had called for PCC to delay the chancellor search.
Kimlisa Salazar Duchicela, a PCC instructor who also went on the visit, said she initially doubted whether Lambert, who now runs a much smaller school, could effectively lead PCC.
She said she went to Washington looking for red flags "under every rock and crevice," and questioned more than half of Shoreline's faculty, asking if Lambert was up to the job. "The answer from everyone I spoke to was yes," she said.
Lambert, a lawyer, has extensive experience in sexual harassment and personnel issues, areas in which PCC is deficient, according to the accreditor that placed the school on probation.
PCC's last full-time chancellor, Roy Flores, left last year under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations. The college's "dysfunctional" board failed to act on warnings about his conduct, or to rein in abusive administrators, the accreditor said.
Others who visited Lambert's school hailed him as a visionary with superlative people skills and creative problem-solving abilities.
Employees there told the PCC visitors that when Shoreline was hit with a 50 percent state budget cut, Lambert saved it from possible closure by attracting high-paying international students and by persuading major corporations to invest in its training programs.
Norm Rebenstorf, a board member with PCC's fundraising foundation, said he was impressed by Lambert's humble demeanor. A Shoreline student who struggled in math recounted how "Lee" would stop to offer her encouragement when their paths crossed, he said.
" 'Lee' - that's what everyone calls him," said Rebenstorf. "No matter who we talked to, they knew him on a personal level."
That may be more difficult at PCC, which is many times larger than Lambert's current college. Shoreline, in its entirety, is roughly equivalent to PCC's West campus.
Still, Lambert said in an interview that he hopes to continue his informal style when he comes to Tucson.
"I actually prefer Lee," he said. "Or maybe Chancellor Lambert since that's the new title."
He also intends to give PCC more of a social media presence, by blogging and tweeting about college affairs as he does now.
Lambert said he expects his first weeks and months at PCC to be intense.
"There's a lot of heavy lifting that needs to happen, no doubt about it," he said.
"That may involve some changes in people. I'm sure it will. I hope to get the support to get it done."
Meanwhile, calls for the resignations of four Flores-era board members - Brenda Even, Scott Stewart, Marty Cortez and David Longoria - are likely to continue.
The four "have failed the college and the community by ignoring the problems that led to probation," said Ron Shoopman, president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, a local executives group that is pushing for the four to step down and considering recall action if they won't.
PCC employees and other groups are also calling for resignations.
Even so, Shoopman said, the leadership group intends to support Lambert unequivocally. "He is who we have now, so we want him to be successful."
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at email@example.com or at 573-4138.
Lee Lambert facts
• Age: 50
• Family: He and his partner, physician Katherine Kyung Eun, have two daughters ages 4 and 6.
• Background: Korean-American, child of a U.S. Army family, born in Seoul, South Korea.
• Education: Law degree from Seattle University, bachelor's degree in liberal arts from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
• Work experience: President since 2006 at Shoreline Community College in Washington, has also worked there and at another school as head of human resources and legal affairs and as a paralegal for the U.S. Army.
• Interests: reading, hiking, watching football and basketball, movies, music, live theater.
• Contract terms: Total PCC compensation of $344,000 a year including $290,000 base salary compared with $189,000 he made in Washington, $10,200 vehicle allowance, $30,000 tax-sheltered annuity allowance and business expense allowance of $13,800.
- Carol Ann Alaimo, Arizona Daily Star
College Pima Community Shoreline Community
Annual enrollment: About 60,000 About 20,000
Budget: $299 million $38 million
Employees 2,384 870
Campuses: 6 1