Where in the world is Lee Lambert?

Chancellor goes intercontinental to advance Pima’s interests. 

By AMARIS ENCINAS

Ricardo Castro-Salazar

In his efforts to promote Pima Community College, Chancellor Lee Lambert has traveled far and wide — even taking his travels to other continents.

But there’s a cost to these excursions. So far, Lambert has spent about $55,000 this year in airfare, food, conference fees and lodging during 29 trips, which have included forays to Asia and Australia. It’s a cost that seems high to some when faculty layoffs and budget cuts are en force.

Lambert maintains that these are necessary expenses. As the face of the college, Lambert’s duties include disseminating information about Pima and its programs and building partnerships that can aid in enrollment.

“Pima is starting to become recognized as a leader in the education training space around Industry 4.0 and global education,” Lambert said during a recent phone interview. 

“Global education, why that part is important is companies want people who can work in and with diversity in diverse settings in a culturally rich environment.”

Industry 4.0, in Lambert’s words, is “all of this convergence of different areas that might have been seen as silos before, the technology is starting to drive an intersection between, among all these different sectors that we have never seen before at this particular scale.”

While there is no question that Lambert has raised awareness about Pima and cultivated partnerships since his arrival in May 2013, concerns have been raised as to why Pima funds are being used for these far-flung trips when academic and athletic programs are being cut and an estimated 23 faculty positions will be eliminated once the faculty members finish their contracts in the spring.                                                                                                                                               Jim Mielke, former Pima athletic director, believes Lambert has been given too free a rein without any checks and balances.

“Lambert doesn’t understand,” said Mielke during a recent Sports Forum that took place at Desert Vista Campus. “He doesn’t have the background. He comes from a small school, and the guy is spending money like a drunken sailor in a lot of areas.”

Lee Lambert

Mielke attributed the problem as the governing board, which has given him the right to make those decisions. 

“We’ve lost our balance with the terrible leadership we have,” he said. “Now we’ve got a guy that’s not an educator, he is a lawyer leading this college. He doesn’t really understand what’s happening with the faculty, the coaches and the students.”

According to Pima’s Chief Financial Officer David Bea, Lambert does not need approval to take trips for Pima. 

And Lambert believes the importance of these trips outweighs the cost.

“Just living in the community it pays off to have a cultural fluency in the community independent of what your career is, so cultural fluency is actually broader than the career piece,” he said. “It has civil component; it has a social component, so the more culturally fluent you are, the more adaptable/flexible you’re gonna be, whether it’s at work or it’s at home. 

“And so the other important thing to know is that it’s not a one-time thing. … You gotta nurture these things and you’ve gotta nurture the relationships and the care … And it’s the same thing when you expand it out on this international scale.

“You also can’t be so short-sighted into thinking I can only focus on that and miss out on the reality of opportunities that are happening all around you, that if you don’t begin to cultivate them you’ll miss the window to seize those opportunities.”

Some Pima students believe the administration should focus on other, more pressing issues.

“I think we should be focusing more on the school and security issues as a whole,” said Pima nursing student Gabriella Acosta. “There are so many other issues to be addressed as Pima moves toward a critical transitional period based on the current budget crisis. It is up to the college to protect its current students and faculty, as well as potential students.”

According to CFO Bea, this year’s annual budget is about $300.6 million. The allotment for travel, which includes administrators, faculty and students, is $3.7 million, or about 1 percent. According to Pima’s website, Lambert makes $298,700 yearly, including a $30,000 annuity and a $850 monthly car allowance. 

Lambert maintains a busy travel schedule. His most recent international trip took him to Australia for 10 days in October, when he and vice president of the international department,  Ricardo Castro-Salazar, attended a four-day conference in Melbourne to pick up the Award of Excellence at the World Congress for Pima. The pair also flew to Sydney for several days.                                                                                                                                           

For this trip to Australia, Lambert flew “flexible economy,” which allowed him to have a fully refundable fare, should an emergency arise, according to Pima spokeswoman Libby Howell. She said he paid the difference between that and regular economy out of his own pocket. 

This mirrors what Lambert did with his trip to Asia, which took place in June.

“I am not able to ascertain what class his ticket was to China, but we are able to see that he did pay for a good portion of the ticket price out of his own pocket once again,” Howell said. 

In Australia, Lambert and Castro-Salazar presented a plenary session on “How Industry 4.0 and Global Education will Shape the Future of Work: A Case Study from Arizona.” Lambert also was a panelist at the “Tertiary Education International Policy Forum.”                                                                                                                                          The World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics held its World Congress and awarded its third Awards of Excellence to Pima Community College on Oct. 9 in Melbourne. 

The WFCP is an international network of colleges and associations of colleges.The congress was attended by more than 600 delegates from over 50 countries and six continents, according the WFCP website.

“It’s no longer gonna be OK that I only know people of my own background, in my own community,” Lambert said. “I’ve gotta know people and their culture, and I have to hire cultural fluency that spans borders if I wanna have a strong, effective career for the long term. … The more culturally fluent you are, the more adaptable, flexible you’re gonna be, whether it’s at work or its at home or wherever you might be.”

PCC was the only college from the United States to be recognized for the Award of Excellence. The college received the Award of Excellence for the access and opportunity and its long-standing commitment to providing students with educational and professional careers across the Mexico-U.S. border.

According to a Pima press release: “The college has strengthened partnerships with the Institute for Mexicans abroad and other Mexico institutions, which have offered over 340 scholarships to Mexican-origin and Latino students that provide financial and entrepreneurship education to the Mexican community in the United States and provided faculty training programs, conversation partners and peer mentoring programs.”

For Castro-Salazar, the time for action on the global sphere is imperative to the future of colleges and universities alike.

“Pima is being increasingly recognized in the global arena,” Salazar said. “Thus, we are putting PCC in the world map. This is important because world interdependence and interconnectivity is a reality that community colleges must adapt to, and we have to do it fast. … By 2030, 1 in 3 U.S. workers will need to learn new skills and find work in new occupations. Many of these new occupations will require that we understand our interconnected world, global diversity, intercultural communication, adaptability and other skills that students can learn through international education.”                                                                                                                                      Salazar said Lambert and he made many connections while in Australia.

“While in Australia, the chancellor and I met with representatives from colleges in Pakistan, Brazil, Chile, Jamaica and China,” he said. “In this case, we were with a delegation of the American Association of Community Colleges, so we also interacted with other U.S. college leaders.”                                                                                                                       

The total cost of the Australia trip for both totaled $14,760.52, which included airfare, registration fees and $155 daily foreign per diem for each.

Another intercontinental trip took Lambert to China from June 18 to 23. The chancellor was invited to visit Guangdong College of Hotel Management to discuss the chance of a collaboration/partnership. He also visited the Vocational College of Technology in Changzhou and the Vocational Institute of Mechatronic Technology in Shanghai. 

The total cost of the trip was $8,661.81. Though round-trip fares from Tucson to Shanghai run about $1,000 to $1,500, the college paid $6,374 for a flexible economy ticket in case Lambert needed to cancel or reschedule.

The chancellor paid an additional $2,709 out of his own pocket so he could fly business class, said Howell in a recent email.

“I think it is a good idea to go out and travel with the intention of expanding our relationships abroad, but it is a community college with the emphasis on ‘community’ and it is not a university to where that should be our main focus,” said Arely Castro, a public health major. 

“We should be focusing on our own community and how we can better the college as a whole considering all of the Arizona students that are looking into Pima as a potential choice for their educational career.”

Lambert’s other trips this semester have included Sun Corridor Benchmarking in Columbus, Ohio, which took place Nov. 11-14; Title IV Presidential Summit in Atlanta from Nov. 26 to 28; and the Arizona Community College Coordinating Council in Tempe on Nov. 29.                                                                                                                                   

Some believe the trips aren’t a good look for a college who’s slashing its budget by $5 million a year for the next three years.

To give more context in terms of the budget, in 2014 the budget fluctuated from $266.2 million to $247.8 million in 2016. Bea said that Pima’s travel budget has remained the same 1 percent, taking into consideration the Proposed Budget Expenditure throughout the years.

The $3.7 million that is provided annually to the administration for travel does not roll over for the next academic year, Bea said. Instead, the college transfers the rollover money to the college’s “bank account,” which can be used to finance other projects or can be saved.

Another important piece to take into consideration is that the Administrative Procedure for college travel was adopted June 14, 2017, and it must be modified every three years. Section 1.4 specifies regulations in terms of international travel and states:

“International travel, as defined in the travel procedures, requires written justification for the purpose of the trip, verification of the country’s status with the State Department, and the prior approval of the Chancellor or designee. Additional documentation and a risk management assessment may be required.”

Except for the chancellor, the CFO and a chancellor-appointed designee creates regulations for college travel. Pima administrators, faculty, staff, Governing Board members, students and candidates for employment are eligible to travel if it is justifiable and approved by the appropriate supervisor.

Governing Board Policy for College travel first was adopted May 26, 1993. It is scheduled for review annually and has been revised five times. It states that:

“The Governing Board delegates authority to the Chancellor or designee to establish procedures for individuals traveling for a District purpose.

“The procedures will define the method by which individuals are authorized to travel and the process for authorization and payment of travel-related expenses.”                                                                                                                      

During a recent phone interview, Lambert stressed the importance of fusing Pima with the rapid movement that Industry 4.0 has become.

“One way to think about it is it’s not an either/or proposition,” Lambert said. “We always must be thinking about being as efficient and as effective with our resources that’s year-in and year-out and if programs are not attracting students or services are not working optimally, we have to address that. Whether we have dollars coming in or not.” 

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