Probe of Pima Community College is coming next week

4 from oversight body will look at school's recent controversies
2013-01-09T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T10:51:06Z Probe of Pima Community College is coming next weekCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

An oversight body for Pima Community College is sending investigators to Tucson next week to probe recent controversies at the school and is inviting public input as part of the process.

A four-person team dispatched by the Higher Learning Commission, PCC's accreditor, will be in town Jan. 17-18 to question college Governing Board members, administrators, lawyers and others.

The visit stems from a string of complaints made to the Chicago-based commission about PCC's personnel, procurement and admission practices and the alleged mishandling of sexual harassment claims against former Chancellor Roy Flores.

Besides meeting with college leaders and citizens groups, investigators have set aside 48 time slots of 20 minutes each to meet with anyone from within or outside the school. Those participants are being offered anonymity.

"The team will maintain confidentiality about the names of individuals or groups" who book such meetings, and also will keep specific remarks confidential unless people give permission to be identified, said a commission statement posted on PCC's website Tuesday.

The fact-finding team is being led by Kathleen Nelson, a retired president of Lake Superior College in Duluth, Minn.

Several complaints to the commission stemmed from the findings of recent Arizona Daily Star investigations that uncovered undetected overbilling by the college's contract attorneys and PCC's award of more than $300,000 in unbid contracts to a man who claimed to be a boyhood friend of Flores'.

The Star also reported that eight current and former female PCC employees came forward internally last spring accusing Flores of sexual harassment. The college's Governing Board allowed him to retire for health reasons a few months later.

Flores denied wrongdoing, but PCC recently paid a $30,000 out-of-court settlement to one of his accusers. Some of the women who said they were harassed have complained directly to the commission.

The college's handling of harassment claims appears to be of special interest to investigators, judging by a public list of the meetings they've booked so far with college officials.

Among those to be questioned are:

• Janet May, PCC's head of human resources.

• Charlotte Fugett, former head of human resources and now president of PCC's East Campus.

• Doreen Armstrong, second-in-command in human resources

• John Richardson, PCC's longtime contract attorney, who has handled much of the sexual harassment matters.

• Richardson's wife, Alice Callison, also an attorney, who investigated the claims of Flores' female accusers and whose findings PCC has never made public.

Accrediting bodies like the Higher Learning Commission function as quality-control guarantors for the institutions they oversee. They aim to ensure consistency in educational quality so that credits earned at one school can be readily transferred to another.

Accreditors have the power to force changes if they find things amiss. It wasn't immediately clear Tuesday when PCC's accreditor might issue its findings.

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

If you go

Investigators from the Higher Learning Commission will be available to meet with the public at the following times and places:

• Jan. 17 - 3 to 5 p.m. at Pima Community College's Northwest Campus at 7600 N. Shannon Road and its East Campus at 8181 E. Irvington Road.

• Jan. 18 - 3 to 5 p.m. at Desert Vista Campus at 5901 S. Calle Santa Cruz and at West Campus, 2202 W. Anklam Road.

To book a time, contact the commission by email at ccaine@hlcommission.org or by phone at 1-800-621-7440, Ext. 125.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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