Pima Community College's Governing Board took decisive steps last week by dismissing the firm hired to find a new chancellor. The move came after the pool of top candidates dwindled from three to two to one shortly before meetings with the public and college community.
First a finalist dropped out, preferring to stay in her current position in New Mexico. Then another withdrew her name after Star reporter Carol Ann Alaimo found that a government audit in California questioned her past job performance in a community college there.
The third candidate, Terrence Burgess, president of San Diego City College, has told the board he remains in the running.
Now the board must act quickly to determine whether it is realistic to find what board chairwoman Brenda Even describes as "wonderful, superhuman" candidates, interview them and make a hire to have the new chancellor in place by July 1.
The board and PCC is going to need some luck, given the compressed timeline and impact of their choice.
They need a top-tier candidate willing to tackle the morale problems that became clear in public forums last September.
Because top administrators across the country generally renew their contracts or decide to move to another institution in the spring, Pima is late to the race for the best candidates.
Last week, as it fired R.H. Perry & Associates, the board hired the Association of Community College Trustees to continue with the search. The deadline for applications is March 25.
Even told us the search firm has a mandate to be assertive and aggressive by advertising the opening and by recruiting at Community College National Legislative Summit this week. Some 900 trustees and college presidents are expected to attend.
Even said she is optimistic a new chancellor can be found in the short timeframe. Although she declined to offer a Plan B now, she says the board will determine in May if an alternative path is necessary.
"I'm not willing to go into the alternatives. We want to look at this from a positive standpoint and don't want to have other options. This is what we're doing now and it's the most expedient and important thing to do," she told us.
Certainly, outstanding candidates who didn't come forward on the first round may apply and, we hope, pass a thorough vetting by the search firm, something lacking previously.
But Jane Robbins, whose doctorate is in higher education management and who has expertise in institutional leadership and decision-making, confirms our belief that finding a permanent replacement may not be the best move. Robbins is a senior lecturer at the UA Eller College of Management's McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship.
Robbins has worked in business and education and says getting a good candidate to go into a situation like PCC's is very tough. There is "too much risk right now and the challenge is very, very high."
For Pima, she sees the best option as an interim person, likely a retired community college president, with a "squeaky clean reputation" who would come in as a temporary steward. This would not be "someone to make a lot of changes, but someone to hold the rudder steady and get the boat level again."
In Robbins' mind, there'll be no storming in, firing or slashing.
"Stewardship implies a sense of responsibility and preservation of the future."
We have no way to know if the "walk on water" candidate that PCC staff have wished for will apply in the next six weeks.
But we support the idea of a neutral, squeaky clean steward to guide this valuable community asset for a year, while faculty and staff begin to feel less guarded, nervous and fractured.
Then Pima Community College will be ready for a new chancellor.
Arizona Daily Star
From reports by Star reporter Carol Ann Alaimo:
Former Pima Community College Chancellor Roy Flores resigned in April under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations raised by eight current and former female employees.
Flores left for health reasons and denied wrongdoing, but the college paid a $30,000 settlement to one of his accusers.
During the time Flores headed the school 60 administrators left - more than a 100 percent turnover rate.
The chancellor search is taking place as PCC is under investigation by its accreditor, the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, over the handling of sexual harassment allegations and other problems at the school. Its report is expected in the next few weeks.
In a public forum last September, staff described the workplace atmosphere as "guarded" and 'nervous" and the school as "fractured."