Dr. Linda Thor, a member of the Maricopa Community College District Governing Board since 2017, has decided to run again this year for her position on the board. She had my support during her campaign in 2016 due to her 20-year span as president of Rio Salado College where she developed the dual-enrollment program, making it possible for high school students to receive credits for college-level classes.
As a Maricopa board member, myself at the time of her initial campaign, I felt Thor’s experience would become an asset to not only our board but also the chancellor, the presidents of our ten colleges, and the students. To my dismay, instead, while president of the board, she has exhibited fiscally irresponsible tendencies, reversed the efforts of four board members to hold college professors accountable, and forced the resignation of Chancellor Maria Harper-Marinick, who helped lead the Maricopa college district to national prominence during her 28-year career with the district.
The Maricopa community colleges enjoy a $1.4 billion budget paid for partially through student tuition but mostly through residents’ property taxes. The board has the authority to increase the tax and to buy or sell buildings without concern for the cost – as happened last November when the board decided to sell a Rio Salado building for $3 million less than its original price of $8 million – an amount Dr. Thor had approved as Rio’s president several years ago.
Dr. Thor has mentioned at several board meeting that she wants to improve teacher pay although the teachers’ salaries are competitive. The average base pay of residential instructors is at least $83,000 (according to 2018 data). Instructors may earn more through additional assignments and/or part-time jobs in colleges outside of the Maricopa system. Three opposing board members question Dr. Thor’s motivation because the beneficiaries of a pay increase would include her two adult children, both Maricopa college instructors.
In 2018, the Maricopa board voted 4-3 in favor of abolishing Meet and Confer, a system commonly set up by unions that replaces a meaningful teacher evaluation system with lifetime job security. Through committees, the teachers, not the college administrators, decide whom to hire and pretty much everything that happens at the college. Consequently, complaints by students, concerned parents, and even fellow teachers go unresolved because the instructors have the right to do whatever they want in their classrooms as long as it is not illegal. Three college presidents told me that they could provide more meaningful instruction if they did not have to contend with the limitations imposed upon them due to regulations resulting from Meet and Confer.
Unfortunately, as soon as Dr. Thor was elected president in 2019, and I was no longer on the board, she had the votes to bring back Meet and Confer. She did exactly that – probably to please her grown children. This guarantee of employment for life was quite a gift!
Soon after that, Dr. Thor forced Chancellor Maria Harper-Marinick to resign, as punishment for not supporting Meet and Confer. Dr. Harper-Marinick’s dedication to excellence for every student is well-known. She had given raises to teachers without increasing property taxes. Her success in bringing frugality to the entire college system had become legendary and appreciated by the citizens of Maricopa. The Arizona Legislature, Governor Ducey, and the Arizona Tax Research Association were grateful that her concerns were not only for the students, but also for the taxpayers!
With Dr. Thor leading the effort, the board will likely continue down a path of excessive spending, academic permissiveness, and declining enrollment – caused in part because of the district’s inability to compete with Grand Canyon and state universities that are not hindered by Meet and Confer restraints.
It is time to vote Dr. Linda Thor off the Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board.
Johanna Haver was the District 3 representative on the Maricopa County Community College District in Arizona from 2015 to 2018.