Pima College's problems are fixable, school tells accreditor

Admits failings, says solutions are coming; employees still upset
2013-03-30T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T11:02:56Z Pima College's problems are fixable, school tells accreditorCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 30, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The overseers of Pima Community College, whose ethics and competence have been called into question by the school's accreditor, faced mounting calls for their resignations Friday as college officials maintained PCC's problems are fixable and should not lead to probation.

In a letter sent Friday to PCC's accreditor, school officials said solutions are already in progress for many of the shortcomings identified in the accreditor's recent investigation of the college.

Any outstanding problems would be best resolved with supervision and guidance, rather than a formal sanction of probation, it said.

"The college does not dispute that there have been shortcomings and that significant change is necessary," said the letter to the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, signed by Jeffrey Silvyn, PCC's new in-house attorney.

But "probation would have significant negative impacts on our students and create unwarranted doubt about the quality of educational services provided by the college," Silvyn wrote.

The letter and accompanying documents marked PCC's formal responses to the recent investigation that identified a litany of failings in the management and oversight of the school.

Investigators found evidence of cronyism, corrupt contracting practices and serial sexual harassment of female employees for years by former PCC Chancellor Roy Flores.

They also said PCC's decision to end its long-time open-door admissions policy was unauthorized and ill-considered. The college's board voted Friday to suspend the admissions change.

Investigators said PCC's board was "dysfunctional" and had a "symbiotic" relationship with Flores that compromised its oversight role and led to chronic neglect of problems.

As a result, the accreditor is poised to put PCC on probation. If it does, the college would have two years to either clean up its problems or lose accreditation.

Accreditation is necessary for students to receive federal financial aid. It also allows them to transfer PCC credits to other schools.

A corrective action plan PCC submitted as part of its response said college officials "recognize and accept full responsibility for the 'serious breaches of integrity' in college administration and governance" that were identified by the accreditor.

Because of the college's errors, "many members of the community we serve have profound doubts about our commitment to the public good," it said.

The college's submission acknowledged several failings identified in PCC's business and personnel practices.

It agreed, for example, that PCC's human resources department - responsible for detecting and preventing sexual harassment - was run by unqualified people for most of the nine years Flores led the school.

The college's submission also cited several cases in which, it said, the accreditor's findings were in error.

For example, it said the accreditor wasn't correct to say that members of PCC's Governing Board were alerted three times - in 2008, 2010 and 2011 - to concerns about Flores' "inappropriate behavior."

In fact, it said, only one PCC board member received a 10-page anonymous complaint in 2008 that included the headline "sexual harassment" on Page 4. The complaint was confusing, and the board member who received it stopped reading before Page 4 and didn't tell other board members, it said.

In 2010, which the accreditor said was the second time PCC's board was alerted, "neither the board nor the administration is aware of an anonymous complaint received during this year," it said.

On Friday, the college's two largest employee groups made a formal call for the resignations of the four PCC board members who served during the Flores years. The board members have so far not responded.

On StarNet: Read the response of Pima Community College, a timeline and letters at azstarnet.com/pdf

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

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