Pima College board has been unfairly criticized over harassment issue, its leader says

2013-04-14T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T11:03:01Z Pima College board has been unfairly criticized over harassment issue, its leader saysCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The head of Pima Community College's Governing Board doesn't think the board mishandled sexual harassment complaints against former Chancellor Roy Flores, despite a recent finding by the school's accreditor that it did.

In a recent speech to the college's Faculty Senate, board Chairwoman Brenda Even maintained that the board - described by the accreditor as defensive and "dysfunctional" - has been criticized unjustly.

"I'm not planning to resign and I'm not necessarily agreeing," with the recent findings of an investigation by the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, Even said at the Senate's April 5 meeting, a video of which is posted on PCC's website.

Her comments mark the first time a board member has spoken at length about the probe that found grave failures in college administration and governance.

Asked by faculty if she felt any culpability for PCC's troubles, Even replied, "I feel that I have done a good job."

The accreditor is poised to put PCC on probation over problems detected during a site visit in January.

They included corrupt contracting practices, mishandling of harassment complaints against Flores and a "culture of fear and retribution" fueled by abusive executives, many of whom still work at PCC.

Flores resigned last year after eight women accused him of sexual harassment. The board publicly claimed he left for health reasons.

Even and three other board members in charge during his tenure are facing calls for resignations from college employees, taxpayer groups and others.

Even's talk to the Faculty Senate came a few days after senators passed a no-confidence vote in her and board members Scott Stewart, David Longoria and Marty Cortez.

Asked if she understood why faculty members want her gone, Even said: "Probably not, simply because I don't think you have all the facts."

She then shared a version of events sharply at odds with the accreditor's findings.

While the accreditor said PCC's board had indications of Flores' "inappropriate behavior" three times since 2008, Even, who's been a board member since 2001, told faculty that wasn't true.

She said her first hint of trouble was a letter she received in late October 2011 from a former college administrator. Two weeks later, she said, the board received an anonymous statement saying "there could be some sexual information coming your way," about Flores.

Even said she and another board member - she didn't say who - decided they should talk to the college's then-attorney who was out of town until December.

The attorney said the anonymous complaints couldn't be investigated without more detail, she said.

The accreditor's report challenged that view.

"The explanation provided by the board (that the complaints were anonymous) is not a viable reason for leaving very critical complaints against a senior college officer uninvestigated," it said.

The attorney, John Richardson, told the Arizona Daily Star on Friday that he stands behind his advice to the PCC board.

Some anonymous complaints "contain so few details that they are virtually impossible to investigate," he said in an email.

Joe Labuda, president of the Faculty Senate, said members were taken aback by Even's remarks at the meeting. "They were stunned, angry or a combination of both," he said.

The claim that anonymous complaints can't be probed makes no sense, he said, in light of PCC's decision to set up an anonymous hotline to report misconduct after Flores left.

Even didn't respond to a request for comment on her remarks to the faculty.

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

On StarNet: See meeting video

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