By ANDREW PAXTON
Pima Community College brought in two experts to explain to students, faculty and staff exactly what probation means for the college, and what steps should be taken in the future.
The college held a series of forums May 2-3 to share insights with the community
Speakers were Karen Solomon, a vice president with the Higher Learning Commission, which is Pima’s accrediting body, and Cecilia Lopez, a retired associate chancellor for accreditation in Chicago.
The forums concluded with a governing board meeting that featured the two specialists sharing information directly with the college’s elected leaders.
The meeting began with an introduction from Mary Ann Martinez Sanchez, vice provost and accreditation liaison officer for PCC.
“This is an introduction and review for us as a college in terms of accreditation criteria, probation, timelines we are facing, and information from experts who have dealt with colleges in live circumstances,” Sanchez said.
Solomon started her presentation by introducing herself and explaining the role of the HLC and why colleges apply to be accredited members.
“This is a membership organization,” Solomon said of the HLC. “We are not a federal entity.
Our membership is the group that actually makes decisions, takes on excess policy, builds the criteria for accreditation and reviews the institutions.”
The HLC is also the organization that placed Pima on probation, following the recommendation from a review team that visited the college to investigate accusations including sexual harassment by the former chancellor, a hostile work environment, improper changes of the college’s mission statement and failings by the governing board.
After providing background information, Solomon explained the timeline Pima should follow to remove sanctions and maintain accreditation.
The college must file a monitoring report to the HLC by Aug. 1. Interim Chancellor Zelema Harris has assigned the provost’s office, led by Jerry Migler, to prepare Pima’s response to being placed on probation.
In July 2014, a self-study report is due for a comprehensive evaluation. The college must submit a report identifying how Pima meets the criteria for accreditation and provide supporting evidence.
Pima “must also submit a report identifying the issues of concern which put the college on probation, and how they have been resolved,” Solomon said.
In September of that year, the HLC will send a team to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. The team will review both the college’s monitoring report and self-study report, plus visit the different campuses and interview administrators, faculty and students to collect information.
The team will write a recommendation to be submitted to another set of reviewers, known as the Institutional Action Council, Solomon explained.
The IAC will then conduct a hearing, where representatives from Pima will have the opportunity to travel to Chicago to explain in person how the college has progressed.
The IAC hearing will be held in December 2014 or January 2015.
Solomon also explained that the college would have an opportunity to submit additional reports after each evaluation by the HLC.
“Your institution will not be done evolving in July 2014,” Solomon told the board. “Many changes will continue to take place. You have the opportunity to keep inserting those changes into the record all the way up until the time the board meets,” she said.
At the end of February 2015, the HLC board will review the recommendations from the team that visits Pima and the IAC committee and make a determination on next steps for Pima.
“In a best case scenario, (Pima) would then be removed from probation,” Solomon said. Ongoing monitoring may still be required if the HLC has lingering concerns, even if probation is lifted.
The board could also decide that PCC has made some progress, but still needs to be on some sort of sanction. The HLC could then decide to place Pima on Notice or Show-Cause.
If placed on Notice, Pima must address specific areas identified by the HLC and continue being monitored and evaluated for those explicit concerns, but would not be subject to further comprehensive review.
If the college does not make the changes needed, it may be placed on Show-Cause. Solomon explained that this is the “last step” before having accreditation withdrawn by HLC, but offers the college one last chance to show they should not have accreditation removed.
The HLC board could also decide to remove the college’s accreditation immediately following their meeting.
“There are a wide range of potential outcomes here. It depends on where (Pima) is and how it evolves between now and February 2015,” Solomon said.
Solomon detailed the criteria that directly related to Pima’s governing board, and some of the expectations of the HLC for the college’s leaders.
She then turned the presentation over to Lopez, the retired accreditation expert, who explained how important collecting evidence will be when reporting to the HLC.
Lopez related a personal experience involving diversity, and how her former college confronted the issues it was facing. Conversations were initiated in every class to get students and faculty involved in the process.
“If you expose students to what you want them to learn, they will,” Lopez said. “We have the evidence for it.”
Added Solomon, “We expect our institutions to provide information and be transparent with information being provided to the student body and constituents.”
Lopez began her final statement with a simple question to the board: “Can Pima address the issues, and will it?”
She suggested that the probation period Pima is under can be viewed as an opportunity to grow and become more effective in the future.
Lopez said that trust, respect and hope need to be reintroduced at the college.
“Such a change clearly is not going to happen overnight, and it will not happen easily, but it can happen,” she said.
She urged everyone involved with the college to “collaborate, communicate, and cooperate” with respect about their different opinions, and listen to each other to move forward.
“There are thousands of current and future students who are depending on you,” Lopez said. “I would suggest that failure simply is not an option. It is not an option for your students. It is not an option for this community.”