Education on the Rocks

A 30-page report from the Higher Learning Commission results in calls for PCC board resignations and possible probation

Pima Community College's standing as an educational institution is in the balance this Saturday, April 6, as board members from Pima's accreditor, the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission (HLC), gather to discuss whether or not to place the college on probation.

If put on probation, PCC would have two years to correct problems that the HLC determined are a threat to its accreditation status, or face the loss of accreditation. During the course of the probationary period, increased monitoring by the HLC will likely be required.

Earlier this year, a team of investigators from the HLC came to PCC on a fact-finding mission. The result is a scathing 30-page report released on Friday, March 15 that said PCC administrators were cultivating a "culture of fear and intimidation," that the former chancellor Roy Flores exhibited "inappropriate, unwanted and unprofessional behavior" toward his employees, and that the members of Pima's governing board "knew about complaints regarding such behaviors as early as 2008" but failed to investigate them.

Last Friday, March 29—the day PCC submitted its response to the HLC report —Pima's faculty senate voted 51-1 in favor of a motion requesting that the board's four most senior members, Brenda Even, David Longoria, E. Marty Cortez, and Stuart Scott, resign in hopes that doing so would show the HLC a commitment by the college to correct administrative inadequacies and, in turn, help the school avoid probation.

In a recent phone interview with the Tucson Weekly, Jacquelyn Jackson, a Pima administrator from 2006 to 2007, called the atmosphere at the office under former chancellor "toxic." Jackson was one of eight women who came forward to the board last March with claims of sexual harassment against Flores.

Flores, says Jackson, had a "regular pattern" that involved invitations to coffee after work followed by phone calls after hours. Soon though, he was calling her from his bath tub and once even tried to seduce Jackson through a recitation of sexually graphic poetry, she says.

An attempt by the Weekly to reach Flores by email was not returned.

According to the HLC report, at least one board member had been made aware of anonymous complaints of harassment as early as 2008, and then again in 2010 and 2011. Board Member Scott Stuart told CBS affiliate KOLD last November, they felt that the complaints were "the kind of thing that is impossible to investigate." John Richardson, the lawyer from the law firm DeConcini McDonald Yetwin and Lacy, who advised the PCC board throughout the Flores years, agreed. The HLC did not.

After rejecting Flores' advances, Jackson says she was suddenly pushed out of her position at Pima. "We called it being sent to Siberia," she said.

Though he was not forced out per se, PCC's former Dean of Adult Education Greg Hart says Flores' leadership was a major contributing factor in his decision to leave the college in 2007, where he had worked for seven years. According to Hart, Flores "was an abusive, imperious personality" who "treated people publicly with a great deal of disdain and disrespect."

This fact, unlike the allegations of harassment, had not gone unnoticed by the board.

Sherryn "Vikki" Marshall served on Pima's governing board from 2000 to 2012. Marshall lost her bid for reelection last November to former PCC community and northwest campus president Sylvia Lee. Though Marshall admitted in an email to a friend last April that the board was not "blind-sided" by the allegations brought against Flores the month before, Marshall said in a recent phone interview with the Weekly that the board was not only unaware that Flores had been implicated before March 2012, they did not even know that the allegations of harassment against him were sexual in nature.

Marshall says she had heard "people say that he was too gruff, he was rude, he was bullying to them," but until March 2012 she, and to her knowledge, the rest of the board had no idea that he had made sexual advances toward any of his employees. Jackson said the thought that the board could have been "oblivious" was "terrifying" to her.

The board's solution to the allegations of bullying? Marshall says "... we said smile more, be nicer." The HLC report mentions that board members tried to "coach" Flores on his demeanor. It also says that no disciplinary action was taken when this "coaching" failed.

When told that the women accusing Flores had tried to alert their supervisors to what was happening, and that they felt their complaints had fallen on deaf ears, Marshall told the Weekly "That has never been told to me... no one ever told me that they had told their supervisors."

Jackson disagreed. "I know...that several of the women did go to HR and (that they) got no satisfaction at all," she said. Jackson pointed out that the HLC report named HR as one of the key departments perpetuating Pima's "culture of fear."

To the HLC, the need for supervisor training at Pima was clear. Pima did not deny this in their response Friday. According to the HLC's report, until January of this year Pima's "Harassment (including sexual harassment) policy had not been revised since 1999"—four years before Flores was named chancellor. Board members, the report also noted, had "yet to receive any training on sexual harassment" as of this January.

During the March 20 board meeting, Lee called the resignation of her fellow board members the "greatest hope for our Pima." The Weekly made multiple attempts to reach the board members for comment by email, on their personal phone numbers, and via the PCC District office, all of which were ignored.

The topic was also conveniently avoided during last Friday's emergency board meeting in lieu of a discussion of PCC's newly revised admissions policy. When asked about the call by the faculty senate for board members to resign, chairperson Brenda Even simply said that she had just learned of the request earlier that day and would need time to process it before the board would be able to comment.

During the March 20 board meeting, Cortez said, "Mistakes were made ... we take responsibility for that. ... We're willing to learn, correct, and move forward."

However, even after multiple calls to resign, Pima's response to the HLC report indicates no intention by any of the board members to do so. This may well seal Pima's probationary fate come April 6, since, as Lee points out, the last paragraph of HLC's report seems to point to the board directly.

"The (fact-finding) team recognizes," the report says, "that serious issues exist at PCCD ... and it believes that new leadership is needed to help address these issues."