By ANDREW PAXTON
More than 150 students, faculty, staff and members of the community held a solidarity rally and then marched to show support for Pima Community College and a desire for change.
The rally began at 5:30 p.m. at Burns Park on May 8, the same day as a scheduled Board of Governors’ meeting.
The rally was a response to Pima being placed on probation by the Higher Learning Commission, the college’s accrediting body, after a team of investigators discovered a “culture of fear” and numerous other institutional failings during a visit in January.
Organizers detailed to the audience the findings of the HLC report, including that the board failed to act with integrity and demonstrate good leadership during the tenure of former chancellor Roy Flores, who retired amid a sexual harassment scandal involving several women.
Many groups, including organizations representing the faculty, staff and employees of Pima, as well as students and members of the media, including Aztec Press, have asked for members of the board to step down.
The four board members who served during the former chancellor’s tenure, Brenda Even, Scott Stewart, David Longoria and Marty Cortez, have also faced resolutions of no confidence from many of the same groups following the release of the HLC’s findings.
The only board member who has not faced calls for resignation or votes of no confidence is Sylvia Lee, who was elected to the board last year after retiring as a campus president from Pima. Lee was one of the first to call for resignations from other members of the board.
Speakers at the rally included student leader Joe McGrath, local businessman Cort Chalfant and Joe Labuda, president of the faculty senate.
“This board has been much more stubborn than we ever thought,” said Labuda. “I guess it has a lot to do with all the mistakes they made, they’re still counting them,” he said.
“Regardless of the board, we have a culture to change, we have policies and procedures to change, and a lot of things that are affecting a lot of people in our community that we need to change,” McGrath told the crowd.
“Pima deserves a functional Board of Governors, and the greater Tucson community demands it,” Chalfant said.
Labuda also stated there have been attempts to intimidate faculty and staff for speaking out.
“The hell with that,” Labuda said.
“We have First Amendment rights. This isn’t a political issue. This has to do with our school, and those people need to go. There is one reason why we are on probation, and it’s those four people over there,” he said, referring to the Flores-era board members.
At the conclusion of the rally, the group began marching, making their way to PCC’s district office, where a Board of Governors’ meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m.
The group chanted “One, two, three, four, time for B-O-G to go,” and “What do we want? Change. When do we want it? Now.” Many of the marchers held signs asking the board members to resign and demanding improvements for the college.
Once at the district office, many of the demonstrators proceeded inside to the meeting and prepared to address the board during public comments.
However, members of the board began the meeting by speaking directly to the audience about many of the concerns that led to hundreds attending the meeting.
“I am confident that Pima will successfully address these issues and we will get off the probationary status,” Even, governing board chairperson, told the assembly.
Even also acknowledged that many in the crowd were in attendance to see if any board members planned on resigning.
“I don’t plan to resign,” she said after apologizing for any role she may have played in the HLC placing Pima on probation.
She also expressed desire to work with everyone to rebuild trust and move forward through the probationary period together with faculty, students and the community.
Next to address the audience was Longoria, who said he felt “compelled” to speak after the issues were raised at previous board meetings.
“Let me say first, unequivocally, that I have no intention of resigning my post,” Longoria said.
“I am more resolved than ever to remain, work with the HLC, and help take the necessary and recommended measures for a corrective course of action that leads to the removal of probation.”
Cortez was the next to speak to the gathering and was the only one of the four who left open the possibility of resigning.
“At this point, I would like to continue to serve Pima,” Cortez said. “Resigning is always an option, I think, for any elected official, in any point in time.”
She went on to apologize and take responsibility for her “lack of oversight which contributed to tremendous hurt to many.” Cortez also “pledged to ensure nothing like this happens again,” on her watch.
Stewart was the last of the four embattled board members to speak, and began his dialogue much like Longoria.
“I, too, will not be resigning,” he said. He also apologized for whatever role he may have played in Pima being placed on probation.
Lee then addressed her fellow board members, and suggested that Even step down as chairperson, calling her tenure in the position a “lightening rod.” She suggested that Cortez take over as chairperson.
During public comments, many members of the audience rejected the apologies from most of the board members and reiterated their demands for resignation.
“Mr. Longoria, the tone of your message, your body language, and the message itself, from my perspective, is arrogant,” Chalfant said. “Dr. Even, your apology was one of the most hollow apologies I have ever heard, it was disingenuous, and I reject it,” he said.
However, Chalfant believed Cortez was honest and sincere during her comments.
“Ms. Cortez, I know you hurt inside. Thank you for your apology. I accept it,” Chalfant said. But he did not rescind his demand that they resign.
“Each of the four of you really do need to step down for the good of the college.”
“You do not represent us, you are not representing us, and you have not represented us,” McGrath added. “That’s why we are asking you to step down.”
McGrath told the board he has no intention of going anywhere either, and would do whatever it takes to remove them from power, including initiating a recall election. He told them about the hardships he faced growing up and put his current challenge in perspective.
“Hard for me was going to the poorest inner-city schools in Phoenix. Signing my life away for four years to the Army was hard. Going to war, not knowing if I would see my family again, that was hard. Getting back in the truck after we had been blown up, that was hard,” he said.
“Getting rid of you will not be hard,” McGrath told the board. “I promise you.”