Open Process

After criticism, Pima Community College officials promise transparency in the search for a new chancellor

After months of criticism for a lack of transparency, Pima Community College officials recently announced that the search process for a new chancellor will rely on community involvement.

According to C.J. Karamargin, vice chancellor for public information and government relations, the college is "very early in this process, and numerous details still need to be worked out. ... But the charge from the board is ... the process needs to have a high degree of public involvement, and be open and transparent."

Last year, the college faced intense criticism by some regarding a change to its open-admissions policy. Now students, including those taking remedial classes, are tested before admission. One result of the policy change was the loss of the White House Hispanic Community Action Summit, which was postponed and then moved to Sunnyside High School.

Then came a special meeting on Feb. 29, when then-Chancellor Roy Flores, dealing with heart problems, announced he'd retire at the end of 2012 and asked the board to amend his contract to allow him to stay on the college payroll in a lesser role—but with the same salary and benefits until June 2013.

He also asked the college to make Provost Suzanne Miles the interim chancellor without public input. The board agreed and effectively approved paying the salaries for two chancellors—with Miles and Flores each reportedly making more than $250,000 annually during the transition.

At the time, Miles said she would apply for the permanent position, but she recently announced she was no longer interested—quelling criticism that her interest could deter other candidates from applying.

On Thursday, April 5, Karamargin's office sent out a press release after the governing board met Tuesday, April 3, to approve the early stages of the search process, which is expected to last a year. The board approved an email address, chancellorsearch@pima.eduu, where community members can send their input, and a search website is expected to soon be online.

When asked specific questions about the process, Karamargin said it was too soon to answer them. When asked if governing-board members would serve on the advisory search committee, and whether he thought the transparency announcement would help repair the college's image, Karamargin recommended talking to board members.

Messages were left for board members Brenda Even of District 1 and E. Marty Cortez of District 5, who both served on the advisory board that selected Flores nine years ago. As of press time, the board members had not returned those calls.

Karamargin said a request for proposals from search firms will be issued soon, and that the winning firm is expected to work closely with the advisory search committee. Karamargin said he doesn't know exactly what the process will look like, but that "the board has made a commitment to have this process be as open and transparent as possible."

Karamargin recommended that anyone with concerns send them to the aforementioned email address, and that all comments will be made available to the search committee and the search firm.

"If someone thinks they would want to be on the advisory search committee, this is a good way to let us know, and to let us know what the criteria should be—the characteristics of our next chancellor. Even examples of things from previous searches that didn't work well or worked well (are welcomed)," he said.

A search firm should be hired by July 1, and the advisory committee is expected to be in place by then, Karamargin said. Applications for chancellor are expected to start arriving by midsummer. Karamargin said the current contracts of potential candidates will determine when a new chancellor can start, and that it could be as late as next summer.

Richard Fridena, a retired PCC professor and a former acting dean, credited the college's announcement about the search process to not-so-favorable news coverage and growing public concerns. "People are starting to say, 'Wait a minute. What are you doing? How come we don't know about it until after you've done it?' There's some pressure," Fridena said.

Fridena has a specific interest in the process—in February, he announced his candidacy for the PCC governing board seat currently held by Cortez.

One of the issues Fridena hopes will be discussed during the search process is how the current board decided on Flores' contract, which provided the former chancellor with a buyout of more than $500,000.

"At that time, I was president of the faculty association. We had to do a (Freedom of Information Act) request with the Arizona Education Association to get the college to release his contract," Fridena said. "It should have been public to begin with, but we were left wondering why they agreed to that contract. What kind of contract will be offered to the next chancellor?"

Fridena said he also has concerns about working with search firms, which he described as headhunters who will look for people based on "a cookie-cutter mold" the board provides. "Chances are, we are going to see someone who is going to continue the policy and the administrative style of Flores—what the board is comfortable with."

But Fridena also offered some positive feedback on the board's interest in a transparent search process. "Given the track record, it's refreshing. But we sure had to beat it out of them to get there."