PCC Chancellor, Board Of Governors Found Lacking By C-FAIRR

C-FAIRR, a local advocacy organization formed in 2012 to challenge public policy and officials completed its evaluation of Pima Community College’s Chancellor and its Board of Governors. Chancellor Lee Lambert and the Board were evaluated based on their respective goals and priorities for 2016-2017.

Mario Gonzales, one of the founders of C-FAIRR (Coalition for Accountability, Integrity, Respect, and Responsibility), advised the PCC leaders that the organization “presents these evaluations with the hope that you will be open to constructive criticism and seek to improve upon your performances in the areas needing enhancement.”

Gonzales says that it is time for the community to challenge what C-FAIRR considers a fiasco. “We must uncover the truth about these serious allegation against Dr. Flores and the Board of Governors, and expose the people who condoned unethical conduct to go unchallenged.”

“We did not employ out-of-town consultants nor did we cherry pick those who contributed to this evaluation process,” wrote Gonzales. “PCC’s 360-degree evaluation process allows those undergoing evaluation to personally select others to evaluate them; we believe such an approach is unethical and skews the evaluation results. Except for the immediate supervisor, others should be selected randomly and be a third-party from a list of all College stakeholders who have interacted with the College. The contributors to C-FAIRR’s evaluations were all stakeholders of the College, i.e. tax-payers, residents of Pima County, and those who have attended Pima or have had family members attend as students at PCC. We also strongly believe that your evaluations should be as transparent as possible and that a process for stake holder inclusion be developed–stake holders like students, College employees, and members of the general community–and the percentage of each of these categories be announced in advance of the evaluation.”

C-FAIRR’s evaluation concludes, “Thus, for C-FAIRR, the Board has failed not merely in its fiduciary responsibilities but in its Arizona statute-mandated responsibility to meet with the entire College community, their constituents and the Pima County community at large which includes all businesses and employers.  There is time for the Board to improve, but College and Pima County community patience is wearing thin.”

C-FAIRR findings:

PCC CHANCELLOR LEE LAMBERT’S EVALUATION, by C-FAIRR JUNE, 2017

Accountability, (including goals, clearly measurable objectives, and verifiable evidence), is fundamental to the success of education.  In short, goals, and clearly measurable objectives performed at all levels of academia allow the administrators, faculty, and staff to take an introspective look at how they perform their jobs. Through the accumulation of documented evidence, sound goals and objectives allow College educators to know whether they are achieving success and where they need improvement.  The emphasis here is on clearly measurable objectives.

In this vein, C-FAIRR finds that while Chancellor Lambert’s overall goals are laudatory; most of his objectives, however, are nothing more than platitudinous goal statements that are not measurable.  What’s more, we find that he takes credit for what others have done for the College NOT actions upon which he should personally be evaluated.  In fact, while we would like to credit Chancellor Lambert with being instrumental in PCC’s renewed accreditation, we cannot.  It was faculty and staff and, to some extent student, work that actually remedied the situation.   If the Chancellor craves credit for allowing the various task forces that worked to remove PCC’s accreditation sanctions, we will give him that.  However, because his stated objectives are not clearly measurable—he fails to indicate HOW/WHAT ACTIONS—he will take to accomplish his objectives.  Moreover, due to the poorly defined metrics in his objectives, the Chancellor is unable to gather the necessary evidence to clearly demonstrate areas of success and areas in need of further improvement.  C-FAIRR has no option but to assess Chancellor Lambert based on what he has said he would like to achieve.

Since his arrival at PCC in 2013, Chancellor Lee Lambert has consistently pointed out that “The College has destroyed its developmental education program, limiting access to thousands of Pima County residents”.  C-FAIRR , in its monitoring of the College, has seen no significant return to the once vibrant numbers of student enrollments (2011) in credit courses in the Developmental Education Program at Pima Community College.  In fact, the Developmental Education redesign plan approved by Chancellor Lambert’s Executive Council has only 12 percent of its recommendations actually implemented over the past 3 years.  Year after year, recommendations are reworked and reworked, never to be brought to full implementation.  Those that have been implemented appear to be “boutique” programs that are special courses in writing and reading that are offered at limited times and on limited campuses.  These are not at a scale on a district-wide basis to assist the numbers of students who  need these services.  Only the Math Emporium program offered a genuine alternative to the structured, traditional classroom approach across all campuses and for day and evening students in developmental education courses.  And, this program was established before Chancellor Lambert arrived.  Therefore, C-FAIRR believes that the Chancellor has not met his goal.  Indeed, we have witnessed Maricopa Community College’s still offering federal financial aid to students in Developmental Education classes.  PCC says that it is barred from doing so by federal financial aid regulations, the same regulations that govern Maricopa Community College.

Chancellor Lambert has bemoaned repeatedly that “the relationship with the entire area K-12 districts was at an all-time low”.  Polling area K-12 districts, we have found no improvement in PCC’s relationship with this local school district.  Indeed, we are informed that most of the local area school districts are unaware of any programs linking their schools with PCC.

Chancellor Lambert has indicated that “Dual enrollment opportunities were limited”.  Little has been done to correct this situation.  Opportunities are still limited according to representatives from TUSD.  From those whom we’ve talked with there has been no visible progress in this area. TUSD representatives report that they are unaware of dual enrollment programs in their district.  Student government officers in TUSD are equally unaware of such programs.

The Chancellor’s stated goals for development of the “Strategic Enrollment Management Plan,” the “Facilities and Educational Master Plans,” and the Department Chair Reorganization included the claim that all were  supposed to be done with faculty input and through collegiality.  Once again, the Chancellor failed.  While it is true that input was solicited from the faculty including PCCEA, its faculty association, NONE OF THEIR INPUT WAS INCORPORATED AND THE SO-CALLED DEPARTMENT CHAIR REORGANIZATION ENDED UP TAKING PLACE DURING FINAL EXAMS — JUST AS SCHOOL WAS ENDING AND FACULTY WERE LEAVING FOR THE SUMMER.  SUCH A TACTIC DID NOT COMPORT WITH THE STATED GOAL OF COLLEGIALITY, OPENNESS AND SOUND GOVERNANCE; RATHER IT APPEARED TO BE DESIGNED TO PREVENT FACULTY PROTESTING A BETRAYAL OF THEIR TRUST AND UNDERSTANDING WITH THE ADMINISTRATION.

Another goal was “The development of scenarios for future years, up to 2021, to counter “Expenditure Limitation threat”.  However, NO MEMBER OF THE TEAM WAS ABLE TO EXPLAIN WHAT THE PLANS WERE BASED UPON—-that is, how they planned to grow future student enrollments and, as a result, how much funding was actually necessary.  No contingency plans were presented in the event enrollments continued to decline.  This is not sound fiduciary responsibility in light of the College asking the Board to spend funds to build and equip new facilities. No evidence was provided from the College’s current Strategic Enrollment Management Plan to demonstrate that a turnaround in the decline of enrollments has occurred after 4 years under Chancellor Lambert’s administration.  This is false vision based on a quick-sand foundation!

Under goal 5, “Continue to strengthen, enhance, and increase diversity, inclusion, and global education,” the entire College has failed.  LITTLE TO NO EFFORT HAS BEEN TO OUTREACH TO OUR HOME-GROWN, PIMA COUNTY GROUPS LIKE THE TRIBES THAT MAKE UP SO MUCH OF OUR AREA!  Instead, Latinos, Blacks, poor Whites, and the Tribes were all given a slap in the face with the increase in tuition over the past two years by the administration and BOG, while favoring foreign students!  Furthermore, a great deal of effort and money have been expended on the “global education project” while PCC can’t seem to afford to give instructors and staff a permanent raise (of which they have been deprived for more than 8 years!).  Perhaps equally important, PCC has failed to hire a sufficient number of well-trained faculty for its already existing programs!

Other areas that the Chancellor cites as his accomplishments for the year 2016-2017 include sending a Facilities Master Plan to the BOG; the 3500 students who graduated in May, 2017; awarding degrees and certificates to graduating students; Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Scholarships; summer scheduling; grants; a diversity forum; “Workforce Development & Employer Relations”, to name only a few.  If one were to take a careful look at the categories on which the Chancellor prides himself, he or she would have to shake his or her head.  Presenting a Facilities Master Plan to the BOG is part of the normal duties of any administration. We would argue that the Chancellor had little to do with the plan itself and that it was constructed by those involved in overseeing PCC facilities.

We are thrilled that 3500 students graduated in May and that Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society saw fit to award so many of them scholarships.  But what role did the Chancellor play in all of this.  C-FAIRR congratulates the faculty on its excellence and meeting its goals of educating students!

C-FAIRR argues that if, in fact, the “Workforce Development & Employer Relations” group was established, it, too, has failed.  Based on reports C-FAIRR has received from current and former employees, we know for a fact that PCC’s work environment is riddled with practices that are discriminatory and toxic and that cause fear of retribution among its employees.  It is more virulent than ever!  It is public knowledge that the Chancellor has been found personally liable, by 3 separate federal judges, of violating the due process rights (civil rights) of at least 3 college employees.  There have been numerous cases of unfair hiring and/or promotional opportunities of employees.  The psychological abuse and torment hurled by the administration upon the Student Services Staff, i.e., that the HLC required BA degrees when it wasn’t a requirement, was despicable.  To date, the wrong has not been corrected.  Indeed, it has been left unresolved with no one held accountable.  The purging of long-time International Program staff was questionable, at best.  College staff has reported that they feel muzzled and are afraid to speak out.  Employees (individually and as organizational representatives) are not permitted to speak to BOG members unless the Chancellor is present.  The culture of fear and intimidation continues to exist, thereby causing employees to fear for their jobs.

The truth is that C-FAIRR, as a community organization, recognizes the importance of PCC to our entire community (residents, future students, workers, companies, entrepreneurs).  We strive to see PCC achieve success as a well-rounded institution.  It is already successful with the few students that the College still attracts thanks to its outstanding faculty and staff support.  We simply would like to see greater access and success: a high quality educational environment where students and staff are representative of the community in which the College resides; a happy/content workforce environment free of fear and intimidation; a Governing Board that values its constituents and involves itself in issues of both the College and the community NOT as an attempt to criticize but to be aware enough to be constructive and perform the job for which its members were elected; and a Chancellor who involves himself in our community and who cares more for PCC’s achievements than celebrating his own.

PCC BOARD EVALUATION BY C-FAIRR  JUNE, 2017

C-FAIRR understands that members of the Pima Community College District Board serve without compensation.  Through their own volition, they choose to run for their respective seats to represent the unique needs of their constituents.  Each member is duly elected by qualified voters in their respective districts.  Therefore, in theory, they are the fiduciary caretakers of the taxpayers of Pima County.  If elected at a regularly scheduled election, each Board member serves for a term of six (6) years.

One of our biggest issues of concern with previous PCC Boards and the current Board is that, once the election is over, we do not believe that members truly understand their roles as public stewards of the taxpayers’ monies and to whom they are ultimately accountable—their constituents.  One of the PCC’s Board Priority for 2016-2017 speaks directly to our concern:  STRATEGIC DIRECTION 8:  IMPROVE BOARD PERFORMANCE.  All three Action Items address the interactions between the Board and the Chancellor.  None speaks to the Board’s role relative to their constituents or the Arizona Revised Statutes.  Specific examples are illustrated in various sections of this evaluation.

Some members also do not seem to understand that as public officials, they will receive public criticism.  For instance, Dr. Sylvia Lee is the only sitting PCC Board member who actively participated in and whole-heartedly endorsed the hiring of Chancellor Lee Lambert four (4) years ago.  Dr. Lee retired from Pima Community College after having served as campus president.  But she views any public criticisms of the current Chancellor as personal attacks and dismisses them out of hand without further review or investigation.  Yet prior to running for and being elected to the PCC Board, Dr. Lee was instrumental in supplying confidential information to C-FAIRR and other community and media organizations and utilized behind-the-scenes tactics which directly led to both former Chancellor Dr. Roy Flores and interim Chancellor Dr. Suzanne Miles being ousted from PCC.  Now, that Dr. Lee sits on the Board, she chastises other community members who employ similar tactics and characterizes them as being out to destroy the College.  PCC’s Board members do not seem to understand, realize or appreciate that public criticism is both part of the American tradition of monitoring our government agencies and serves to maintain an informed constituency.

Another major concern of C-FAIRR is that the Board’s majority lacks the experience and/or adequate training in how to run Board meetings in a professional manner.  They, moreover, do not appear to understand basic procedures outlined in Roberts Rules of Order.  What training Board members receive is provided by the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), which places the Board in a subordinate role to the Chancellor.  C-FAIRR holds (as does Arizona statute) that the Board’s role is as the boss or the direct supervisor of the Chancellor because its members have been elected by their constituents.  PCC’s Board sees itself as supporting, without question, the Chancellor and believes that its role is to deal only at the policy level.  Yet Arizona State statutes clearly indicate that the Board must exercise its duties to oversee the management of the campuses, including the Chancellor and his/her executive team.  This hands-off approach by the PCC Board has caused most of the College’s problems since 2003 resulting in the College’s being placed on probation for a symbiotic relationship it developed between the Chancellor and itself.  The PCC Board protects the reputation of its Chancellor at the expense of its mission, enrollments, students, taxpayers, and economic development of the County.  In fact, one could say that the Board
provides this protection at the expense of its own integrity.  Yet, the PCC Board listed accountability as one of its priorities in STRATEGIC DIRECTION 6: DEVELOP A CULTURE OF ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING, EMPLOYEE ACCOUNTABILITY, AND EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT.   If the Board is unwilling or unable to hold its chief executive officer accountable, then, the employees view its actions as a clear double-standard.

Moreover, it is even clearer to C-CAIRR that the Board’s actions merely serve to demonstrate its lack of understanding of its own responsibilities—witness the Board’s extending the Chancellor’s contract even though he was held personally liable by three (3) different, independent, federal judges for denying at least three (3) PCC employees of their civil rights to due process.  We see that behavior as willful ignorance by Board members who are content to serve without accepting their statutory responsibilities to hold their chief executive officer accountable by issuing a letter of concern or reprimand.

To be more specific, one of the Board’s stated goals and objectives is “TO IMPROVE STUDENT ACCESS AND SUCCESS”.  While laudatory, this goal has not been met.  Indeed, PCC continues its spiraling decline in student enrollment and there has been NO ATTEMPT to enhance access to our home-grown populations of poor Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and members of the Native American tribes who are integral to the Tucson community.  One example is the Board’s vote to increase tuition for Tucson residents.  That surely is not a commitment to increase student/community access.  As for student success, kudos go to PCC’s exemplary faculty!

Another strategic direction cited by the Board is “TO STRENGTHEN THE COLLEGE’S FINANCIAL POSITION” and “INCREASE DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND GLOBAL EDUCATION”.  The Board has again failed.  Its recent vote to increase property owners’ taxes has been done in a most opaque manner.  What’s more, the Board’s agreement to endow the Global Education project with $750,000 in order to recruit 1,000 foreign students with F1 Visas to offset lost revenues is short-sighted.  It has only resulted in misspent funds because the recruitment of this category of foreign students has not provided a “windfall” to PCC’s coffers.  In fact, the College hides the low number of F1 Visa students by only reporting the total number of all categories of foreign students enrolled at the College, both full time and part-time. As for increasing diversity and inclusion, all of that has gone to the recruitment of foreign students rather than to an effort to recruit members of the various Native American tribes, Latinos, Blacks, and poor Whites who are all integral to our community.

On another note that, perhaps, is equally germane to this goal is that NO ATTEMPT HAS BEEN MADE TO INCREASE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION OF PCC STAFF AND FACULTY.  Research over the years has clearly indicated that students of color need to encounter role models among the faculty during their college careers to encourage access, retention, and persistence to graduation.  Further, we have observed through testimony to C-FAIRR that internal promotions of QUALIFIED, COMPETENT, AND ABLE STAFF HAS BEEN DENIED THEREBY MAKING IT OBVIOUS THAT PCC MANAGEMENT DOES NOT WANT INTERNAL DIVERSITY AT MOST LEVELS OF THE ORGANIZATION!

In its goal 8, the BOG wants “TO IMPROVE BOARD PERFORMANCE”.  The Board has perpetuated the Chancellor’s demand that its members cannot meet with any staff, faculty or students without his being present.  That is NOT IMPROVING BOARD PERFORMANCE.  The Board has locked itself into isolation where it cannot possibly know what is occurring in the College because it is all filtered through the Chancellor.

Moreover, Board members have not merely isolated themselves but also insulated themselves from the realities of their community.  Most members of the Board have little to no idea of their constituents’ needs let along their demands.  Most members do not meet regularly with constituents or members of the community at large through State mandated Town Hall meetings because the Chancellor wants to control all meetings, EVEN THOUGH STATE STATUTE MANDATES UNFETTERED MEETINGS OF THE BOARD WITH THEIR CONSTITUENTS AND OTHER MEMBERS OF BOTH THE COLLEGE COMMUNITY AND THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE.

C-FAIRR has other concerns as well and there are examples that illustrate areas in which the Board could improve:

  • Board members appear to be more interested in conducting shorter meetings than allowing sufficient time for the public to hear questions raised by Board members on important agenda topics.  The lack of questions from Board members implies that they have not done their homework (reading materials before the meetings) or that they previously reached agreements on major issues even before the meetings—a possible violation of the open meeting law!  More often than not, the Board seems to act as a rubber stamp on agenda items with no questions asked.  For example, the Board, (as noted earlier), recently increased both student tuition and property taxes without knowledge of whether these increases were necessary.  Such actions do not support the Board’s 2016-2017 strategic direction to Improve Board Performance.  Board members had not been provided with a specific budget outlining a year’s worth of planned expenditures by departments (a complete line item by line item budget).   Board members also approved costly Master Educational and Facilities plans based on an enrollment figure of 17,000 FTSE.  Yet administrative staff was unable to explain how the College would achieve this enrollment growth in the face of six (6) years of declining enrollments.  No mention was made of the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan and any of its successful activities/objectives to turn around these catastrophic declines in enrollments to 1978 levels.  These actions do not support the Board’s Priority on STRATEGIC DIRECTION 3:  Strengthen the College’s financial position.
  • Board members fail to hold the administration responsible/accountable in a public forum on issues requiring clarification and/or actions for improvement or on embarrassing problems to the College.  For example, (as we mentioned before), three federal judges found the Chancellor personally liable for violating employees’ civil rights.  To date, no public statements have been made by PCC’s Board about these issues to reassure College employees and the community that changes in administrative procedures and the role of legal counsel are underway.  Employees have brought complaints (employment and otherwise) to the Board, but the administration is never held responsible or accountable to report back on these issues even though Board members direct the Chancellor to provide them with a report.  Like the Flores Board, the current Board fails to listen to their internal and external constituents.  Ironically, Board members themselves are prohibited from talking to employees (personally or through College organizations) unless the Chancellor is present.  Another written code calls for Board members to first notify the Chancellor if a member plans to visit a college site (campus, etc.). This policy contradicts the expectations for a duly-elected public board member of a community college district as outlined in the Arizona Revised Statutes. The current PCC Board fails to understand the clear difference between micro-managing and important knowledge-gathering sessions by individual Board members.  Their actions fail to support the Board’s Priorities for 2016-2017, including STRATEGIC DIRECTION 6: DEVELOP A CULTURE OF ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING, EMPLOYEE ACCOUNTABILITY, AND EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT, STRATEGIC DIRECTION 7: STRENGTHENING ORGANIZATIONAL FUNCTIONING, AND STRATEGIC DIRECTION 8: IMPROVE BOARD PERFORMANCE.  C-FAIRR calls for PCC’s Board to remove all barriers that impede the free flow of information and communication—a sign of a healthy work place environment.
  •  PCC’s Board, furthermore, fails to understand and act upon the importance of maintaining a professional separation between the Board and administrators.  Too often Board members cross the line and become personal friends of the Chancellor.  Then they unconditionally protect their CEO’s to the point where these relationships are so blurred that there is no longer the separation of supervisor and employee.  For example, Dr. Sylvia Lee, as Board Chair, called a special meeting to publicly chastise and intimidate faculty members because a faculty-driven survey included a question of whether a vote of confidence on the Chancellor should have been included in the survey.  During the same meeting, Dr. Lee proceeded to call out by name and disrespect a member of the public. The Board members, as a whole, tacitly allowed this behavior to continue because they never seemed to be aware of what behavior was appropriate.  More recently at a Board meeting, Dr.  Lee publicly disparaged C-FAIRR and its chairperson for comments made during Citizen’s interim.  At the same meeting, Mr. Hanna, Board Chair, very rudely ordered C-FAIRR’s chairperson to leave the podium—all the while Dr. Lee continued to direct her disparaging remarks at him.  Board members must first and foremost be models of politesse and decorum. Second they must understand that they are merely representatives of and accountable to their constituents.  Their positions are not sinecures. Board members do not own the College—indeed they even fail to manage it!  These examples directly address the Board’s failure to accomplish its priority outlined in STRATEGIC DIRECTION 8:  Improve Board Performance.
  •  The Board must stop muzzling themselves and others.  Board members must read and understand the open meeting laws. In turn, they must apply them per their intent and stop using the laws to gag themselves and employees, which curbs sound governance in a higher education institution such as Pima Community College.
  • Finally, there is talk about implementing a VIABILITY PROGRAM STUDY to determine which programs not only transfer to other colleges and universities but also meet student needs and ultimately produce what they promise.  It is unclear if this program relates to the College’s Program Review Process, already designed by PCC faculty and reviewed by the Higher Learning Commission, or if it is designed to replace the Program Review Process.  Regardless, this study should entail concise and measurable/verifiable goals and objectives through which each program will be evaluated.  The Board could play a major role in overseeing the project by making it clear that it wants to see that not only goals and objectives are met but that the programs have viability in terms of student enrollment.  In this time of short monies, it is up to the Board to guarantee that these programs run with full enrollment—not as some have been known to have only 8 or 10 students thereby allowed to be carried by the administration on the backs of highly viable and vibrant transfer programs.
  • No evidence is provided to demonstrate that the PCC Board has publicly met with business and industry leaders to become more knowledgeable about economic development and programmatic needs within our community and no public reviews of occupational education programs were held to evaluate and confirm that occupational programs were meeting the needs of businesses and industries in southwestern Arizona.  Thus, the PCC’s Board Priority for Direction 4:  Improve responsiveness to the needs of business and industry and economic development opportunities must be listed as a failure.
  • While no evidence is presented by the Board regarding its STRATEGIC DIRECTION 1:  Reaffirm HLC accreditation and fully commit to the HLC guiding values, it is clear that the College was removed from On Notice by the Higher Learning Commission.  C-FAIRR must note, however, that the site visit was manipulated by the College’s administration to keep the general public from communicating with the HLC Site Visit Team.  C-FAIRR was initially not on the list of community advocacy groups to address the HLC team; it was only through our aggressive communications with HLC headquarters and those of a local reporter that we obtained a twenty-minute audience with the site visit team.  The Community Forum was also not for the general community; rather, it was a structured forum by invitation only to the business community and to those who would speak only favorably about the College.  Therefore, C-FAIRR rates this priority as a failure for the Board’s unwillingness to be inclusive and accept constructive criticism from its constituents relevant to honoring HLC values.

Thus, for C-FAIRR, the Board has failed not merely in its fiduciary responsibilities but in its Arizona statute-mandated responsibility to meet with the entire College community, their constituents and the Pima County community at large which includes all businesses and employers.  There is time for the Board to improve, but College and Pima County community patience is wearing thin.

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