New board member has ‘strong opinions’ on college needs


Before the 2012 election, Pima Community College’s governing board hadn’t seen competition for any seat in 12 years. This year, both seats on the ballot were contested.

Sylvia Lee is the only new member of the board.

“That’s too bad,” Lee said.

Lee ousted District 3 incumbent Sherryn Marshall with about 60 percent of the vote. In District 5, Marty Cortez kept the seat she has held since 1995.

When her six-year term begins in January, Lee hopes to work collaboratively with fellow board members. That doesn’t mean she plans to join quietly.

“I have very strong opinions on things that I think need to happen at the college,” Lee said. “I believe every individual can have an impact. I believe I will have a big impact.”

Community ties

Lee is no stranger to the community. Lee’s mother emigrated from the Philippines and raised her as a single mother in Tucson.

In the ‘70s, after graduating from Catalina High School, Lee started college at the University of Arizona. It wasn’t a smooth semester.

“I kind of bombed out,” Lee said with a smile. “I thought that I wasn’t college material, that I’d have to go to work.”

A cousin told Lee about PCC, which opened in 1969. She enrolled, and earned her associate degree two years later.

“I was treated exceptionally well,” she said. “The faculty were excellent and I felt like I fit in.”

Lee went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in counseling and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies.

She also married, had a daughter and moved to Minnesota.

After she divorced and started life as a single mother, she knew it was time to move back to Tucson and be close to her family.

Lee was hired at PCC in 1996 and worked at each of the six campuses over 15 years. She was a part-time instructor, and served as a dean of student development, dean of instruction and campus president. She retired in June 2011.

She now serves on the executive boards for Literacy Connects and Goodwill of Southern Arizona. She was appointed to the UA president’s Asian American Advisory Board and is a member of DM50, a group that supports the Davis-Monthan community.

Open admissions

Lee cites last year’s admissions changes as one of the reasons she decided to run for the board.

Pima’s current policy bars students from enrolling in credit classes if they test below seventh-grade level on their entrance exams.

Students who test poorly are referred to the college’s Prep Academy, which allows students to brush up on skills before enrolling in credit classes.

Lee wants a more extensive study of students who test into developmental programs.

She thinks there are lots of benefits to having a program like the Prep Academy, but says it shouldn’t be the only available path.

“What is missing is, it isn’t for everybody,” Lee said. “I’m not saying, ‘let’s do it like it was,’ I’m saying, ‘let’s do it better.’”

Tough times for the college

Pima has endured controversies over the last year, most recently when a community group contacted the Higher Learning Commission, the group that accredits the college.

The group, C-FAIRR, asked the commission to conduct a review of the college or even suspend its accreditation.

Lee thinks that could be avoided with a little help from the community.

“The college would serve the community well if they agreed to an external commission coming in — not the Higher Learning Commission — but an external commission of community members who are experts in certain areas such as human resources and finance,” Lee said.

The group would “look at processes and practices to make sure those processes are working well,” she said.

New board member Sylvia Lee.     Aztec Press photo by Chelo Grubb.


Lee said things will get better for PCC.

“I will use my facts,” she said. “I will be asking lots of questions, asking for reports, research studies. I also want to be open to the employees and understand some of the issues they’re going through.”

Lee said her goal is to be there for the community.

“I’m only one of five votes, but I’ll do everything I can do make things better.”

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