The president of the organization that accredits Pima Community College is recommending that the college be placed on probation -- a move that could lead to the loss of its accreditation.

Should the Higher Learning Commission follow the recommendation of its president, Sylvia Manning, PCC would be required to undergo a comprehensive evaluation within two years to prove it meets all criteria for accreditation "and has remedied all the issues that led to the imposition of the sanction," says Manning's letter to Interim Chancellor Suzanne Miles. The letter accompanies a 30-page report from a fact-finding team that visited Tucson in January. At the end of the probationary period the commission’s board of trustees would determine whether to remove the PCC from probation or withdraw its accredited status.

The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission sent a four-person fact-finding team to Tucson in January to probe complaints about the college’s personnel and procurement practices. The team met with members of the PCC Governing Board, administrators and attorneys. It also set aside time to meet with citizen groups, college leaders and anyone from within or outside the school who wanted to speak one-on-one.

The team found "serious concerns" with PCC's criteria for accreditation, Manning's letter says:

- "PCC's decision to change its admissions policy despite community opposition conflicts with its stated mission of developing the community through learning and demonstrates a lack of understanding of its role in serving the public good in its community," Manning writes. Such a change in mission shouldn't have happened until PCC submitted a formal application to the commission and was granted permission to do so.  

- The college issued contracts without first seeking bids from other vendors. "By failing to follow its own policies on fair bidding on institutional contracts the College did not operate with integrity," Manning wrote.

- The college did not engage in systematic and integrated planning. "The fact-finding team found a frequent use by the College of interim and acting administrative leaders and constant turnover in administrative positions that led to reports from senior administrators of discontinuity in meeting institutional goals," Manning wrote.

- The college did not promote effective leadership. "The fact-finding team noted a culture of fear and retribution that pervaded the administration of the College," she wrote. Also, "the Board of Governors did not act with regard to the former Chancellor until several years after it had become aware of allegations of misconduct. These findings further indicate a situation in which the College failed to have effective structures for contribution and collaboration and failed to exercise leadership effectively."

Complaints investigated by the accrediting commission included:

• The award of more than $300,000 in unbid contracts to a man who claimed to be a boyhood friend of former PCC chancellor Roy Flores.

• Eight current and former female employees who accused former Chancellor Flores of sexual harassment.

• The college’s handling of harassment claims. Flores denied the allegations of sexual harassment and he retired for health reasons a few months later. At least one of the women who accused Flores harassment has been paid an out-of-court settlement of $30,000.

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

The commission has the power to force corrective action at the college and to require ongoing monitoring until improvements are made.