It's an interesting time to run for a Pima Community College governing board seat with the college in the midst of working with the Higher Learning Commission to end its probation and past indiscretions of a former chancellor that still hang in the air.
There's been good news too, along with the successful hire of Chancellor Lee Lambert and DREAMer students' successful fight that convinced the five-member board to approve their demand for in-state tuition, countered by a college facing a third year of decreasing student enrollment.
Michael Duran and Mark Hanna, candidates for the PCC District 1 seat held by Brenda Evan since 2001, each have a personal and professional connection to the college and both see themselves being part of positive change that can challenge, if needed, and work with what they call the "legacy" board, to differentiate between board members who did nothing while in office when employees came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and more, and newer board member Sylvia Lee.
Hanna, recently retired after eight years working as a counselor at Tucson Unified School District's Catalina Magnet High School, had a previous career working as a general manager for Costco.
His experience at Costco, his last gig in Brooklyn, New York, should benefit his work as a PCC board member, Hanna says, with each of his locations exceeding $100 million in sales each year and working with hundreds of employees.
When he retired from that job, he went back to school. "I regretted that I never went to college and I knew I had something to give back," Hanna says.
He started at PCC, where he got involved with student leadership and then after two years transferred to the UA to the College of Education. At Catalina he worked with at-risk students.
"At Costco, I worked there for financially rewarding reasons. Working for Catalina, it was emotionally rewarding," he says, reflecting on a school with a free and reduced lunch population of 90 percent where almost 50 different languages are spoken. "Those kids can go to college and their parents want them to, but they just don't know how to help them."
It's experiences with those students that he says inspired him to run, as well as his own as a PCC student. However, the HLC and the college's continued probation, and the college's past problems, also compelled him to run for this six-year term.
While it's true that the probation period could be over by the time they take office, Hanna says it's important to make sure the college never faces probation ever again.
"Well, you know, the past is prologue, it effects what happens in the future. We need to make sure it doesn't happen again and be aware of what really did happen.," Hanna says.
"But my biggest problem are the legacy board members ... the complaints from employees about Flores, if they knew, they chose to ignore it. What's troubling is that no one has said 'We're sorry. We screwed up.'"
The other issue he says is that the college has a growing number of teaching staff who are adjunct professors—staff without benefits, only paid semester to semester. "They are treated as second class citizens," and it's a professional development issue.
On enrollment decline, Hanna says when there's an uptick in the economy that can be a factor and he thinks the bad press has a role., too. One change Lambert made that he thinks will help increase numbers is the return of outreach coordinators at area high schools. "Pima needs to become a first choice college for a person not going to university rather than all those for-profit schools out there.
Like Hanna, Duran says the reasons he's chosen to run for the PCC District 1 seat are personal—although he describes his commitment to Pima as lifetime, starting as a Barrio Hollywood kid attending Pima and playing baseball for the college. He transfered to the UA, earned a bachelor's degree and then a law degree.
In 2001, Duran worked as executive director of the college' charitable foundation and currently he works as a vice president in the Tucson Medical Center executive administration. In that capacity, Duran says he worked with Pima to create a program that helped address the hospital's workforce needs with the college's nursing school—a successful connection that addressed the needs at other medical facilities throughout the area.
"I don't know where I would be now if it wasn't for Pima and the amazing teachers and mentors I had there," Duran says. "I understand first-hand what the college means to this community and many of its students."
Next for Duran is the HLC and the school's probation. Duran agrees it could be behind the college by the time he or Hanna take office, it remains an important issue for all the board members to make sure the school remains in compliance.
"It also may be extended," Duran says. "But I do believe the chancellor and the senior leadership team are addressing the issues."
But it's important at this juncture for the community to remind itself of the board's mission—setting policy, strategic direction and holding the chancellor accountable.
"When we made mistakes the systems of checks and balances were not there because the board completely set aside its mission. It created a recipe for disaster, so while I think (Lee Lambert) is doing a good job, its incumbent of the board to hold the chancellor accountable."
So no, Duran doesn't feel like the past problems of the board and college should be put behind them or that new board members should back off—"we're here for one reason—student success."
On the college enrollment issues, like Hanna, Duran says having a stronger presence from the college to area high schools will help. Cuts to that program happened under Flores. Duran says there are enrollment declines at colleges in other parts of the country, but not in Arizona, except at Pima.
"For us, it is also reputation. When I talk to young people in the community, they feel there' really isn't a place for them at the community college anymore. That has to change," he says.
Like the other candidate, Duran says what could help change any negative perceptions that students and the community continue to hold is for the legacy board, to publicly acknowledge their negligence or malfeasance in what took place at the college the last few years.
"I'm very comfortable working with people and I make friends easily. I'm the kind of guy who can get along with anybody, but the community called for their resignations. It's clearly time for them to address what happened," Duran says, adding that he also knows that everyone can agree that getting off probation is the most important issue at the moment that they all want to see happen.
What if those same employees came to Duran with the same charges, well, he says he would hope the college had had a compliance officer in place. If so, he would have asked them to investigate. To do nothing, he says, is malfeasance. "But the college is in a much better position now than it was then."
Prior to officially running, Hanna and Duran both told the Tucson Weekly that they agreed to keep their campaign civil. Both are good guys, each says about the other, with only Hanna bringing up that Duran is a member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. "He's their candidate," Hanna says.
Duran confirms he's a SALC member, and his hope is that his presence in SALC gives them diverse perspectives the business organization needs, so describing him as SALC's candidate isn't fair, he says. "I have my own personal experiences with Pima and that's what counts."