Pima Community College may be in turmoil now, but it's poised to become one of the best schools in the country with the right person in the chancellor's chair.
That's how four would-be leaders sized things up this week when they came to Tucson to explain their interest in taking on a fixer-upper.
A new chancellor would be charged with guiding PCC through a two-year probation period recently imposed by the school's accreditor.
Poor morale, corrupt hiring and procurement practices and a "dysfunctional" Governing Board are among the problems that must be solved if PCC is to keep its accreditation.
Most of the same board members who hired disgraced former chancellor Roy Flores - he left last year, accused of serial sexual harassment - are now poised to pick Flores' replacement even as faculty and business leaders call on them to resign.
Here's some of what the finalists had to say at public forums this week:
TERRENCE J. BURGESS
Burgess, the retiring president of San Diego City College, has the most hands-on experiences with accreditation, though not with PCC's accreditor. He has served nine times - seven as leader - on teams that assess other colleges' compliance with their accreditation rules.
He said his current college has never been sanctioned during his 12 years as president there.
"I do not believe any of the other candidates can match the experience I have," Burgess said, describing himself as a "high-energy Type A" person eager to keep working for another decade or so past retirement.
He said the failings of PCC's board members seem to him "more unintentional than intentional." If they didn't know how to fulfill their duties, it's likely because Flores didn't teach them, which is part of a chancellor's job, he said.
"Don't damn me just because a board that's not in your good graces is going to make this selection," he told critics at PCC headquarters Tuesday.
LEE D. LAMBERT
Lambert, president since 2006 at Shoreline Community College in Washington state, hasn't faced accreditor sanctions either, and said he's helped turn around a number of schools with problems similar to PCC's.
Of all the finalists, Lambert has the most hands-on experience with human resource issues including prevention and detection of sexual harassment. A licensed lawyer, he was a vice president for human resources and legal affairs at two colleges before assuming his current job.
Lambert said when he came to Shoreline College, the school was in financial trouble and relations among administrators were strained "to a point where name-calling was routine."
"I thought I was living through a Seinfeld episode," he said, referring to the 1990s sitcom known for its neurotic characters.
Lambert said his openness and people skills have helped him build trust and find the best way forward in troubled situations.
"I love a challenge," he told his Tucson audience Monday. "I want to be part of transforming Pima."
GREG P. SMITH
Smith, president since 2008 at Central Community College in Nebraska, holds several distinctions among the Tucson finalists.
He's the only one whose current job is equivalent to the PCC chancellorship - the others all hold posts more similar to a PCC campus president's job - and the only one who reports directly to an elected board.
He's also the one most familiar with PCC's accreditor, the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, where Smith is an accreditation reviewer.
At a public forum Wednesday, Smith was openly critical of how PCC board members and other college officials have reacted since the school's problems became public.
He questioned why the board hasn't publicly apologized, and said PCC might not be on probation if college leaders hadn't botched their written response to the accreditor's findings.
The March 29 response "was arrogant and dismissive," he said. If the tone had been less defensive, PCC could have received a less serious sanction that would have been easier to rectify, he said.
Smith said as much as he wants to be PCC's next leader, he won't take the job unless its board members agree to a number of conditions.
He didn't state them all publicly, but said "the board, at a minimum, has to commit to some fairly extensive professional development activities."
ELñORA T. WEBB
Webb has the least executive experience - three years as president of Laney College in Oakland, Calif. - and might not have been a finalist if PCC's search committee had known that her current school is under a warning sanction imposed by its accreditor.
Narcisa Polonio, PCC's search consultant, told the Arizona Daily Star she knew about the warning sanction, but likely didn't mention it to the search committee. She said she was more focused on Webb's role in successfully guiding Laney through probation in 2010 before the lesser warning sanction was imposed in 2011.
Webb told an audience Thursday that she expects the warning to be lifted soon. She said she applied for the PCC post only after someone from Tucson sought her out, believing she had the skills and values to help heal the organization.
She described herself as transparent and collegial, a problem-solver who's willing to work hard.
"I don't have a prescription" for fixing PCC, Webb said. "It would all be based on what I find at this college and in the community."
PCC's board is due to announce its choice for chancellor sometime this month. The new leader would likely start work in Tucson this summer.
Go to pima.edu and click Chancellor Search for finalist forum videos.
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4138.