If you've ever lodged a complaint with Pima Community College and felt like it fell into a black hole, there's a very good chance it did, a new report indicates.
Sexual-harassment claims against the school's former chancellor aren't the only complaints that fell on deaf ears. PCC has been operating for years without systems in place to track, analyze or resolve concerns raised by students and taxpayers, it says.
"No formal processes exist for how triage, follow-up, complaint closure and reporting will be handled," says a report filed this week with PCC's accreditor, which recently put the school on two years' probation over failings in administration and governance.
The lack of proper complaint mechanisms is one of two areas PCC was required to look at first in its quest to fix the problems that led to the sanction.
The report also explains how top college executives engineered a reversal of PCC's open admissions policy in 2011 by falsely claiming the change was "faculty-driven."
A draft version of the report was put out for public comment before the final version was filed July 29 with the accreditor, the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission. Both versions begin with a lengthy apology for the school's shortcomings.
Among the final report's conclusions:
• Many would-be complainants end up going around in circles due to conflicting advice on PCC's website.
A purported "online student complaint form," for example, tells students that they can't complain online. Instead, they're told to pick up a packet of paper complaint forms that doesn't exist. "There is no such packet," the report says.
• Until recently, the school's Governing Board members could not be contacted directly through PCC's website. Their email addresses were added to the site in late July in response to the accreditor's criticism.
• PCC has no policy requiring a board member who receives serious complaints to share them with fellow board members.
The policy gap is significant because one board member, Scott Stewart, kept it to himself when he received an anonymous letter in 2008 alleging former chancellor Roy Flores was a sexual harasser. Flores resigned last year after eight women came forward accusing him of harassment.
• The college has no rules for investigating complaints against the chancellor.
In the absence of rules, the Governing Board hired the wife of PCC's then contract attorney to investigate the harassment claims against Flores. At the time, the spouse's law firm was getting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of business from PCC on Flores' say-so.
The report says any future probes of wrongdoing should "not involve investigators who have a contracted financial relationship with the college" in order to "minimize conflicts of interest."
• On the question of changes to PCC's open admissions policy, the report says Flores and his second-in-command, then-provost Suzanne Miles, short-circuited faculty input by making the change through an internal administrative protocol "to curtail in-depth review."
When the change sparked public protests and complaints to PCC's accreditor, Miles told the accreditor that it was the faculty's idea and that it had unanimous support of the Faculty Senate - statements that were "inaccurate and untruthful," the report says.
PCC's board recently voted to restore open admission. The report suggests policies be reviewed to ensure proper scrutiny when major changes are proposed.
Some of the shortcomings the report identified have already been fixed, with other fixes to occur over the next year or so.
The college also must address many other problems the accreditor identified, including corrupt hiring and procurement practices and a "culture of fear" that fractured PCC's workforce.
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at email@example.com or at 573-4138.
On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/pdf to see a copy of Pima Community College's report to its accreditor.
"No formal processes exist for how triage, follow-up, complaint closure and reporting will be handled."
Final report to Pima Community College's accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission