By ANDREW PAXTON
Critics have accused Pima Community College of being unreceptive to complaints and not keeping up with modern management techniques.
Citing lack of openness and inclusiveness, some community members took their concerns to the college’s accrediting body.
The Higher Learning Commission responded by putting PCC on probation a year ago, in part because it found a lack of input and collaboration.
The HLC also said college leadership was not participating in training workshops or using other professional development tools to strengthen administrative abilities.
With a return visit from the HLC scheduled for September, Pima is taking steps to change the way it interacts with the public and improve the board’s operating methods.
When Pima’s accrediting body placed the college on probation, it noted a lack of an effective complaint system and recommended PCC create a dispute management office.
Chancellor Lee Lambert recently announced creation of an Office of Dispute Resolution that will expand Pima’s current complaint system.
“We heard from students that the old system wasn’t user-friendly,” said Alec Moreno, president of student government at West Campus. “There was too many steps to go through, and you never knew if the complaint was going to have any effect.”
He said the new complaint system is needed to hold people accountable for their actions.
The new office is an independent entity that will report directly to PCC’s internal auditor.
One of Lambert’s objectives since coming to Pima last summer has been improving employee engagement and communication.
“Creating an Office of Dispute Resolution is an important step in achieving those goals,” Lambert said in an email.
The chancellor acknowledged the direct connection between the new office and Pima’s current sanctions.
“It also should be emphasized that improving how we address complaints and grievances is a necessary condition for PCC to retain accreditation,” he said.
“Students, employees and community members with a complaint or grievance about PCC should know that their concerns will be addressed consistently, objectively and fairly,” Lambert said during the April 16 governing board meeting.
Communication, implementation of feedback and cooperation were all identified as areas needing improvement in an employee survey last semester.
Pima is also taking steps to improve workplace and leadership practices for the college’s board members and employees.
All five elected members of the college’s governing board, along with Lambert and 10 other Pima employees, recently attended the HLC’s national convention.
The board members all said they learned many different things at the convention, which they hope to bring back to the college. Topics mentioned included student development and the accreditation process.
“I found the conference to be especially enlightening,” board member Brenda Even said.
She also said the board will continue to take input from board representatives and try to address any concerns brought to their attention.
The HLC cited a need for board members to receive more professional development training, and specifically mentioned a lack of sexual harassment training for board members and college employees.
Lambert conducted a sexual harassment workshop at the district office on April 15. More training sessions are planned for each of Pima’s six campuses.
The college also asked Kenneth Cloke, director of the Center for Dispute Resolution, to hold discussions regarding workplace bullying and resolving conflicts.
Many of the workshops are in response to a culture of fear, retaliation, harassment and bullying found by the HLC when representatives visited the college last year.
Pima must submit a detailed self-study to the HLC by July 31 to show the college has addressed the accrediting body’s concerns and should be removed from probation.
The HLC will send a fact-finding team to Pima on Sept. 15-17 to verify the college’s progress. The team will then submit its findings to the commission.
A decision regarding PCC’s probation status is expected in February 2015.
“I am proud of the work that has been done so far by PCC, and I look forward to the visit by the evaluation team and the chance for the college to definitely demonstrate it deserves the fullest confidence of the HLC and the public,” Lambert said.