Pima College to Tucson: 'We did not listen' and are sorry

'Era of inattention, heedlessness is over,' college's mea culpa says
2013-07-07T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T11:04:04Z Pima College to Tucson: 'We did not listen' and are sorryCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

After nearly a year of downplaying its failings, Pima Community College has issued a sweeping public apology for the pervasive problems that recently led to the college's being put on probation by its accreditor.

"We accept full responsibility and say we are profoundly sorry for the serious breaches of integrity" that occurred, says a new draft document produced in response to the accreditor's demands.

"The era of inattention and heedlessness is over," it adds.

The document directly acknowledges for the first time that PCC failed to act promptly when sexual harassment allegations surfaced against former Chancellor Roy Flores, who retired last year.

"We failed to respond quickly and give proper credence to allegations of sexual misconduct," it says.

It also admits college officials ignored "legitimate concerns" that arose when PCC, at Flores' urging, canceled its longstanding open-admissions policy in 2011.

"Our constituents, stakeholders and colleagues spoke, but we did not listen. For this, we are truly sorry," the document says.

"We understand that as a result of these deficiencies, many members of the community we serve have serious doubts about our commitment to the public good."

The tone of the new document is markedly different from the college's past responses to its accreditor, the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, which put PCC on two year's probation in April.

Until now, PCC minimized its problems or accepted only partial responsibility for the wrongdoing the accreditor identified.

Past responses were crafted internally by 17 people, including five Flores-era administrators, four lawyers, three public-relations staffers, two PCC Governing Board members - Brenda Even and Scott Stewart, who both face calls for their resignations - and a faculty member with expertise in creative writing.

The latest response was prepared by a six-person team that reports to PCC Provost Jerry Migler, who was not part of the Flores era.

The 83-page document lists a number of steps the college has taken or plans to take to ensure future complaints are handled properly and that the faculty has more input into college decision-making.

This is the first of a number of reports PCC must submit to its accreditor over the next year or so.

Future responses likely will address other problems the accreditor identified, such as a "climate of fear and retaliation" among the school's work force.

PCC could lose its accredited status if it doesn't make required changes, which would effectively put the school out of business.

Lee Lambert, the new PCC chancellor who started work Monday with a pledge to make the school more open and accountable, said it's important for the college to fess up in order to regain public trust.

"The tendency in any organization is to want to make yourself look good," he said. But "we've got to be honest."

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

On StarNet: Read PCC's public apology at azstarnet.com/pdf and find more news about Pima Community College and other Tucson schools at azstarnet.com/education

Then and Now

Pima Community College's responses to its accreditor's concerns have changed in tone and content over time. Here are some examples:

On allegations that eight current and former female employees were sexually harassed by former chancellor Roy Flores:

• July 2012: The women "may or may not have had legitimate complaints."

• March 2013: "The board does dispute some of" the accreditor's findings about sexual misconduct.

• July 2013: "We failed to respond quickly and give proper credence to allegations of sexual misconduct."

On whether complaints made to the accreditor were legitimate:

• July 2012: Complaints were "biased and and unsubstantiated."

• March 2013: "We do not dispute the perceptions" of the complainants.

• July 2013: "We take full responsibility and say we are profoundly sorry."

On whether PCC properly consulted the public and its faculty before it canceled the school's longtime open-admissions policy in 2011

• July 2012: "Despite the contention of some, the college has maintained its open admissions policy."

• March 2013: "Discussions occurred with key college groups."

• July 2013: "Our constituents, stakeholders and colleagues spoke, but we did not listen."

Got comments?

A draft of PCC's proposed next response to its accreditor has been posted online for public feedback before it's finalized. To read it and comment, go to pima.edu and click on the "PCC addresses probation" link. The deadline for public input is July 14.

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