The month of March marked a seminal defeat for the Trump White House and congressional Republicans. The American Health Care Act, the long-awaited Republican answer to “Obamacare,” went down without a vote
as House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the un popular bill.
From the moment the “Obamacare” Af fordable Care Act passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by then President Barack Obama, Republicans have promised to get rid of the damn thing.
But a funny thing happened. After a disastrous roll-out, people got a taste of Obamacare. And they liked it. So for seven years, Republicans found themselves like the Grinch on Mount Krumpet, looking down on the insured Demo-Whos’ celebrating Obama carving up the roast beast.
They decided to dispense with subtleties and nominated an actual Grinch to lead their party.
“My first day in office, I am going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk getting rid of this disastrous law and replacing it with reforms that expand choice, freedom, affordability,” Donald Trump said in 2016 while running for president.
This should have been a red flag to low income Americans who find themselves on state assistance for health care, whether through Medicare or Medicaid. You know, Trump’s base. They were warned. Nevertheless, they persisted.
Trump is in office. Republicans, who grew so adept at saying “no” for a decade, realized they had to govern. They are now realizing they preferred opposing Obama. Unfortunately for Ryan, that didn’t get his poop-burger health care legislation through the House.
Trumpcare (or Ryancare if you prefer) was unpopular among Democrats and Republicans for its cuts to Medicaid and elimination of the individual mandate.The House Freedom Caucus, the Elmer Fudd-Yosemite Sam wing of the Republican Party, rejected and ultimately sealed the bill’s fate because it didn’t go far enough.
Trump lashed out at them specifically. “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!” Trump tweeted on March 26.
Democrats were celebrating, and rightfully so. “You may be a great negotiator,” Nancy Pelosi said to The Donald. “Rookie’s error for bringing this up on a day you clearly are not ready.”
Really, this error falls on Ryan. Mr. PolicyWonk had been promising a plan for “repeal and replace” for the better part of a decade. When it was shown the light of day, everyone hated it and he couldn’t even rally his majority party to pass it.
The president has a word for this. Sad.
Eddie Celaya, the Aztec Press news editor, follows politics closely.
By Eddie Celaya
Donald Trump is back at it with the spying. Kellyanne Conway is worried about your microwaves Go-Go-Gadgeting into G-men. And all the while, Vladimir Putin has done a decent job infiltrating and running the country.
Let’s recap the month. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned for lying about meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any Trump- Russia investigations because he did the exact same thing.
The two men join the list of Trump surrogates with confirmed ties to Russia, beginning with former campaign manager Paul Manafort. He’s been in the news lately due to documents released in the Ukraine revealing his dealings with Putin’s Russia.
And there’s Rex Tillerson, the nation’s reluctant secretary of state. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, hasn’t done anything wrong (yet) but is one of just a few Americans to hold the Russian Order of Friendship. Yes, that’s a real award.
Oh, and I meant reluctant. “I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” he told the Independent Journal Review in an interview. “I was supposed to retire in March, this month. I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids.”
With each layer being slowly peeled back, the American public was getting close to the center of this political Russian Matryoshka doll. Then Trump seemingly went off the deep end.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process,” Trump tweeted at 6:30 a.m. on March 4 from Mar-a-Lago, Florida. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
The tweet was a bombshell of an allegation. A sitting president accusing his predecessor of wire-tapping is indeed Nixonian.
Reactions from both sides were swift and predictable. Democrats and their allies gave the old “there you go again” head shake you give to a puppy who won’t stop pissing on the couch.
After all, Trump disobeyed the first law of high school English teachers: thou shall always cite your source.
Forget that he misspelled “tap.” Trump accolytes and apologists either took The Donald’s assertion as The Word handed down from on high, or pointed to a March 3 Breitbart article that seemed to be the genesis for Trump’s claim.
The article, which may require visiting Breitbart without being within a five-minute drive of a shower, is basically a lazy timeline linking to actual reporting done by credible news organizations.
It is easily the best piece of writing I’ve come across on Breitbart.
The most interesting link redirects to an article by former British politician Louise Mensch on her website HeatStreet.
Citing two unnamed sources, Mensch claims that on two separate occasions, the FBI requested a warrant be issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to “examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”
Note that the warrant does not focus on Trump, but “U.S. persons” within his campaign. Note also it is not technically a “wire-tap,” but instead permission to electronically track and survey activity on a server.
Of course, if you haven’t been living under a rock lately, FBI Director James Comey put all speculation of any of the U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Trump Tower to rest on March 20 during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said.
Would that stop Trump? Hell na. Here is what he live-tweeted as Comey was testifying to the existence of an FBI probe into links between Russia and the Trump 2016 campaign:
“James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!”
Clapper was the former national intelligence director under Obama.
Trump was referencing Clapper’s appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd a few months ago in which he suggests that there were no known personal contacts between Trump and the Russian government.
Not Trump associates mind you, Trump himself.
Clapper made one other important distinction. He had not seen any evidence in his time as director. However, he left his position in January. “I could not account for intelligence or evidence that may have been gathered since the inauguration on Jan. 20,” he said.
Is Trump’s tweet just a sloppy attempt to deflect attention from the Comey testimony?
Or does he really believe Obama has implemented a “deep-state shadow government” that is so entrenched in the everyday works of government that they make it impossible for Trump to govern?
Who knows anymore?
I’m beginning to doubt Trump cares if he is impeached. He acts like a kid on chemo living on borrowed time. But instead of doing Make-A-Wish and going to Disneyland, he’s decided to rob every 7-11 in town.
You almost forget that Trump should be preparing for mid-season sweeps and firing Nick Cannon, not presiding over a cabinet of creeps led by Steve Bannon. Sad.
By EDDIE CELAYA
The March 8 Pima Community College Governing Board meeting will be remembered for two reasons: its nearly intolerable length and its bombshell accusations. A scheduled vote on the college’s most important issue, tuition rates, was postponed.
The nearly five and a half hour long meeting tested the patience of the board members, who openly sniped at each other verbally. Right off the bat, the public comment portion set the tone for the adversarial (and long) evening.
ISSUES IN HUMAN RESOURCES
Frank Velasquez Jr. delivered the night’s most serious charge. Velazquez, who is the program manager for a West Campus’ STEM grant, informed the board of his impending contract termination and his frustrations in applying for another position.
“Yesterday I found out the reason why I wasn’t moved forward for the last position I was in the running for,” he said. “The feedback given to me by HR was that the campus VP was concerned about my ‘going around regulations’ based on something I said in the interview.”
Because Velasquez’s current position is tied to a federal grant, “going around regulations” would mean Velasquez misappropriated federal funds. “He has questioned my integrity, and therefore I cannot stay silent,” Velasquez said.
“There is an inherent fallacy in his allegation,” he said. “In layman’s terms, no grant project director can ever ‘go around regulations’ when it comes to redirecting federal grant money.”
At the end of Velasquez’s statement, board members Sylvia Lee and Demion Clinco asked Chancellor Lee Lambert to look into Velasquez’s allegations.
Board member Luis Gonzales made a more forceful request.
“If anyone, any department needs to follow rules and protocol, it is HR,” Gonzales said. “I would ask today for the Chancellor, to undertake a complete and thorough investigation of the HR department to determine what is going on.”
Board Chairman Mark Hanna made note to move the issue onto a future board agenda.
Coalition For Accountability, Integrity, Respect and Responsibility President Mario Gonzales kept the tone fiery.
“As chairman of C-FAIRR I urge the new board majority to recognize that Mr. Hanna and Mrs. Lee have failed in their duties and have not undertaken the task of seriously assessing the chancellor’s leadership,” Mario Gonzales said.
Gonzales statement laid out C-FAIRR’s reasoning for wanting to assess Lambert. Recent lawsuits, and the Higher Learning Commission were among the culprits.
The chancellor’s decision to send a letter and envoy on behalf of former Tucson Unified School District H.T. Sanchez representing the college was also cited.
The problem, Mario Gonzales said, was that Lambert issued the letter on official PCC letterhead and claimed to speak for the board.
“By supporting one political faction against another, he jeopardized PCC’s credibility in the community,” Mario Gonzales said. “What’s more, his actions demonstrate Mr. Lambert’s total ignorance and lack of awareness of the community.”
Board member Lee sternly addressed Mario Gonzales after his statement. “I really urge C-FAIRR, rather than bring back issues again and again that are not based on fact, in my opinion, to work with us and not sabotage the college,” Lee said.
“I challenge all of the board members to tell us what issues we have brought to the table that have not been documented publicly,” Gonzales said.
“Ok, we’re not in discussion Mr. Gonzales so you can please return to your seat” Hanna said, interrupting Gonzales.
SUMMER SCHEDULE FIGHT
The tense night continued with faculty representative David Morales’ report to the board. He focused heavily on the implementation of the upcoming Summer Session schedule.
“The past month was filled with the focus on the summer scheduling decision that has undermined our efforts to innovate and move forward,” Morales said.
For instructors, the main concern was “what is the ultimate goal of the summer scheduling decision?” Morales said.
When Morales ended his report, Lee immediately spoke. “Whenever you roll something out there’s got to be a communication plan,” she said. “It can’t be done unilaterally, which it sounds like it was.”
Board member Luis Gonzales was more blunt.
“What are we going do about this?” he said. “Do we say ‘administration, you made a little bit of an effort and it was ok, but since we already screwed it up, let’s move forward with it anyway?”
Referencing Higher Learning Commission recommendations, he addressed Lambert. “To be honest with you Mr. Chancellor, I’m not sure how the hell we passed the HLC test,” Gonzales said.
“Ok Mr. Gonzales,” Hanna said, quickly. “We need to be careful we are not in discussion.”
After remaining mostly quiet throughout the night, a defiant Lambert spoke out during the Chancellor’s Report. The letter to TUSD was first on the agenda.
“I will own that, but I will say this,” he said. “My statement was not about what was going on at TUSD, it was simply to point out that we have a great relationship, and we want that relationship to continue.”
Summer session issues came next. Lambert said PCC had seen a decline of 22 percent in summer enrollment since 2012. He added a majority of students taking classes in the summer do so online.
“How do we justify to our taxpayers that we are running six facilities at full staffing levels in the face of this fiscal reality?” Lambert said. “That’s what’s driving the need to examine what we are doing on the summer.”
Lambert then went into a timeline detailing various meetings he held with important constituencies. He claimed it highlighted how open the summer scheduling process had been.
“I just want you to know,” Lambert said. “Extensive input was sought from employees over the course of a few months.”
Luis Gonzales was unimpressed by Lamberts litany of meetings and forums.
“Yeah, you can have all kinds of meetings, but if you don’t listen and don’t take it into account, what’s the result?” he said. “What we get is this argument here.”
He chastised Lambert further. “It certainly sounds like somebody isn’t listening.”
Lambert shot back. “I just gave you an example of how we listened,” he said. “Because of the feedback I received from the employee groups, we decided not to adjust contracts for the summer.”
Human Resources will also up be up for review, Lambert said. The college will go over contracts and hiring practices in place.
The issue Velazquez testified to earlier in the meeting seemed to take the chancellor by surprise. “I didn’t know that was what he was told by HR,” Lambert said. “But I also have to give the benefit of doubt to the other person.”
TUITION DECISION DELAYED
A presentation on the college’s new (and first) diversity plan had been scheduled to last 30 minutes, but ended up lasting three times that long. That last item on the board’s agenda for the evening was a vote on finalizing tuition rates.
College Executive Vice Chancellor David Bea laid out the financial benefits and drawbacks of three scenarios. Two scenario’s called for a $3 increase and another a $7 increase.
“What we know is, unless there is a significant enrollment turnaround, we are facing a pretty significant decrease in our expenditure limit capacity,” Bea said. The expenditure limit dictates how much of the college’s funds raised through taxes it can spend in a given year.
A severe decrease in expenditure limit spending would be catastrophic, Bea said.
Lee asked Bea if there could be salary increases without an increase in tuition rates.
“No, it would be very difficult to give salary increase of any significant type,” Bea said.
In response, Luis Gonzales asked if Bea had done any studies on how no increase or a 1% increase in tuition would affect the average instructor.
Hanna reminded Luis Gonzales that the topic at hand was tuition rates. “So it’s ok to go until midnight when the topic is tuition, but we can’t go a little longer on diversity?” Gonzales said, clearly perturbed.
Hanna, in an attempt to defuse some of the tension, said he agreed with Gonzales’ position that increasing tuition to balance the college’s ledger was wrong-headed.
“Write this down Mr. Gonzales,” said Hanna. “I absolutely agree with you that to vote on a tuition increase at this point, before we know what we are going to cut is something I don’t feel comfortable about.”
Bea attempted to explain that voting on tuition rates would not be out of the normal, even before the college had set a budget. However, citing the absence of Meredith Hay, Clinco made a motion to table the decision.
Gonzales asked if Clinco wanted more information on the topic. “No, I mean I think we are missing a board member, and I think it’s important that everybody be here for this decision.”
With that, Hanna adjourned the meeting.
By EDDIE CELAYA
No one can accuse former Pima Community College journalism instructor Jenni Monet of staying on the sidelines.
Monet, a native of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo tribe, recently added a new line to her resume: misdemeanor riot charges.
The charges came while Monet was covering environmental/native-rights protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota, at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Monet has reported from inside the protesters’ camp since last September. She was arrested Feb. 1 while taking pictures and conducting interviews with protesters who were attempting to establish a new camp on private land.
“It was just another demonstration at what was known as the Last Child camp,” she said in a telephone interview. “I was with a group of water protectors to go cover their resistance campaign, like I did in all the other work that I do.
She is facing charges of criminal trespassing and engaging in a riot. Both are Class B misdemeanors and carry a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
Police accounts depict Monet as uncooperative.
“If she’s claiming she wasn’t warned, that’s absolutely not true,” North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson told the Bismarck Tribune.
Iverson told the Tribune he warned Monet, saying, “I understand you’re a journalist, but you’re on private property and need to leave.”
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department issued a statement saying, “After repeated warnings to vacate a camp being illegally set up on private property in southern Morton County, approximately 76 members of a rogue group of protesters were arrested.”
Monet asserts she readily identified herself.
“When asked to show my press credentials, I did,” she said. “When asked to step back from the police line, I did. And when asked to leave, I complied and I was still arrested.”
Authorities have previously arrested at least eight journalists at Standing Rock.
Ironically, the arrest last year of Amy Goodman first shed a national spotlight on the protests. Goodman, a well-known, white, liberal journalist, hosts the syndicated radio program “Democracy Now.”
Media outlets quickly took up Goodman’s plight, with publications such as the New York Times, Salon and Variety criticizing governmental overreach.
Monet’s struggle with local authorities has not piqued the same interest. “And we’re both charged with the same thing,” she noted.
“I think it’s indicative of how big media has handled the story out here at Standing Rock,” Monet said. “It’s on the reservation, it’s one of those stories that I think is generalized a lot.”
Stories supporting Monet have appeared in Yes! Magazine and the Columbia Journalism Review, but the mainstream press has been slow to champion her story.
When the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Monet by freelance reporter Sandy Tolan, it published a photo of Goodman.
“Showing a white women in a profile piece about me, where I am completely absent, that’s not OK,” Monet said. “It’s wrong and would be the case for any profile piece. You just don’t. It’s 101 stuff.”
Web publications such as the Center for Investigative Reporting and Native-media outlets like High Country News and Native News Online have all stepped up for Monet, making it clear they find her charges unacceptable.
For her part, Monet has not let her arrest and pending court date affect her work.
“I’ve worked very diligently to build strong relationships here at the tribal, state, county level,” she said. “I will continue to maintain these relationships to report at a very critical time.”
The tenor of the protests began shifting after Donald Trump became president, Monet said
“I think there is a small sense of defeat among the water protectors,” she said.
It changed again when authorities began the process of removing protesters from their camps.
“People are feeling a little bit of loss, but also some last-minute attempts to kind of stand ground,” Monet said.
With all the uncertainty, Monet remains focused on reporting.
“I’m hoping that the charges get dropped and I can get back to work,” she said.
Jenni Monet Bio:
Jenni Monet is a freelance journalist who specializes in covering indigenous peoples, both in the United States and internationally. Before becoming a freelancer, Monet worked as a TV news anchor for a CBS affiliate, and as a reporter for Al Jazeera. She also taught Journalism 101 and 102 at West Campus last semester.
By EDDIE CELAYA
Let me start off by saying it’s good to be back in my old Eddie-tor spot. For that, a big thanks is in order to current editor-in-chief Melina Casillas. The content of the paper will only get better under her leadership.
Thank co-photo editor Kate Roberts for the paper’s clean, hip new look. With a new streamlined flag and modern headline font, we think the physical characteristics of the paper are finally ready for the 21st century.
Ashley Muñoz is Roberts’ co-editor partner-in-crime. As crazy as they are talented, the duo will keep improving the newspaper’s artistic direction.
In the news department, yours truly is running the show. The Aztec Press will deliver indepth coverage of major issues affecting students: accreditation, administrator/faculty issues and a potential rise in tuition.
This issue alone contains multiple stories that affect the entire college community, including Brianna Hernandez’ story on PCC budget woes, Dale Villeburn Old Coyote’s piece on a STEM grant awarded to East Campus and my accreditation update.
Since I’m also overseeing our opinion section, you can expect analysis of news happening locally and nationwide.
In this issue, Erik Medina talks about the advantages of being bilingual and Elise Stahl encourages readers to challenge themselves. Meanwhile, I dive deeper into my recent interview with Chancellor Lee Lambert.
Our arts and entertainment coverage has also undergone a change, with Robyn Zelickson taking the reins from longtime editor Travis Braasch. We’ll miss his indepth band profiles but Zelickson will keep arts in the spotlight.
What would a news publication be without sports? Casey “and the sunshine band” Muse Jr. is ready for every sport. With coverage from preseason to playoffs, our sports section will be a one-stop shop.
There is bitter sweetness to this semester, however. Our faculty adviser, Cynthia Lancaster, will retire in May. She won’t ever admit it, but we’re pretty sure she’ll miss us as much as we’ll miss her. Love ya, Cynthia.
It’s up to us to ensure her legacy. The world may be a little more scary and orange, but we’ll be here in the newsroom.
Lancaster’s eternal words will continue to guide us: “Deadline is Friday at 9 a.m. Not a minute later!”
By EDDIE CELAYA
If the late-1980s smash hit “The Little Mermaid” is to be believed, “flapping your fins, you don’t get too far.”
Tell that to former Pima Community College student Emy Higdon.
Higdon holds an associate of applied science in business, with a concentration in marketing. Odette holds court over the dry rivers and lakebeds of the Sonoran Desert.
Who is Odette? That would be Higdon’s part-time alter ego, Mermaid Odette. The character came into being at an intersection of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
Higdon traces Mermaid Odette’s genesis to her childhood.
“As a kid, I was always really creative,” she said. “Super creative, really.”
She needed an outlet, and found a Tucson performance space known for being off the beaten path.
“I volunteered at Valley of the Moon, and that place sparked my imagination to a new level,” she said.
Her first visit planted the idea for adopting a mermaid alter ego.
“I got to help someone make a tail for a show,” she said. “It was just made of a simple, silvery kind of weird fabric, but it just kind of sparked from there.”
She created Mermaid Odette in 2009, and took the character public soon after. Coincidentally, her first performance happened to be at Valley of the Moon.
“It was a screening of a movie,” she said. “I had a little inflatable pool near the witches’ cauldron area and would splash my fin and get on top of the cement wall and flick my tail at the kids and they would smile at me. So after that I was like, ‘yep, I’m hooked.’”
Parties and other events soon followed.
One happy parent, Jenni Sunshine, happily recounts her 8-year-old daughter’s birthday party in an online review.
“She told interesting stories and answered their every question,” Sunshine wrote. “Perhaps even more important is that Mermaid Odette is a delightful woman who I trust to set exactly the right tone with kids.”
Though she loved doing birthday parties, Higdon felt she needed something. She changed her major from veterinary science and began to focus on business.
“A lot of different classes gave me the best foundation,” she said. “Accounting was absolutely perfect.”
Classes at Pima helped “clarify different parts of how you present yourself and what kind of business you’re looking for and your target audience,” she said.
Those lessons helped Higdon grow her business. They also helped with developing Return of the Mermaids, an annual event held in downtown Tucson and along the Fourth Avenue entertainment district.
“I was their head mermaid entertainer for years and I am super thankful for being a part of it,” she said.
The event has grown each year since its inception in 2013.
“I remember the first year, out of nowhere, just some people coming in to see me splash my tail and then going around to other places,” she said. “Every year I see more and more people and it’s so amazing to see all the different costumes.”
And while Higdon continues focusing on business while seeking a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University, Odette will continue offering performances that make people of all ages believe.
“I’ve always had a want to build some sort of character that was unique, fun, interesting,” Higdon said. “The whole point is to give the experience that will make the customer the most happy, that will be the most memorable.”
By EDDIE CELAYA
I recently had an opportunity to sit down for wide-ranging interviews with numerous Pima Community College decision makers, including Chancellor Lee Lambert. You can find portions of my interviews in our reporting throughout this issue.
A page 7 story by Brianna Hernandez focuses on college budget woes. It details three possible budget scenarios that Pima is considering.
My Higher Learning Commission story on pages 8-9 spotlights the college’s fight against accreditation sanctions.
These stories open a window into the inner workings of the bureaucracy that makes Pima run (or not run, depending on your point of view). This piece focuses on the last part of my conversation with the chancellor.
If you asked me to characterize the overall tone of our chat, I would call it educational and friendly. I allowed the chancellor wide latitude in answering questions at length, and he allowed me to interject for followups where required.
I found Lambert to be collegial, intelligent and well spoken. I also found some of his answers aloof to the concerns and views of average students.
When talk turned to Pima’s tuition rates, things got interesting. The chancellor began by referencing the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan. The SEMP acts as a guide for college enrollment priorities.
“We have also looked at, ‘How do we strengthen attracting out-of-state and international students?’” Lambert said. “Never though, and this is key, at the expense of the local students.”
Reasonable enough. Then he continued.
“Because on the international students, those students pay the actual cost of what it means to come to Pima,” he said. “They aren’t being subsidized by the taxpayer. They are paying what an individual student ought to pay.”
Perhaps the chancellor needs reminding. Most in-state students are Pima County residents. That makes them, and their families, taxpayers. You could even say they “subsidize” the chancellor’s salary.
Lambert ended his answer by asserting that concerns about the contrast in tuition rates between in state and out-of-state were “simplistic characterizations.” He continued to insist out-of-state students are “paying the true cost of the education.”
When I pushed back, asking if he could understand the frustration among students and other local constituencies in seeing their tuition rise while non-local students see theirs fall, the chancellor again was tone deaf.
“I can understand that but also, they should want to come and understand this on a much more sophisticated level,” he said.
That answer doesn’t just sound elitist. It is elitist.
To suggest the public should be “more sophisticated” elicits the worst ivory-tower stereotypes of academia. It implies not only that you’re right, but also that you’re right because everyone else is dumb.
Our conversation then turned to potential campus closings. Were campuses being considered for closure? Which ones? Would that require a reduction in instructors and staff?
No campus closures yet, Lambert said. Just a restructuring of how and where general education classes are held.
But about those staff reductions?
His reply: “There is a mythology at Pima that no one has ever been laid off, OK?”
Lambert again said he didn’t want layoffs, but “we are just running out of real estate for that.”
I’m not sure local advocacy groups like C-FAIRR (not to mention students both current and potential), don’t have “sophisticated” arguments on tuition.
And I’m not convinced that employee groups such as PCCEA and ACES are turning to supposed myths about Pima never having laid anyone off.
I am sure the chancellor first approaches problems from a financial perspective.
“I have a fiduciary responsibility to this community that we will run a financially healthy organization,” he said.
That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. However, if recent spats with the college’s employee associations are any evidence, the chancellor will need to use more honey than vinegar to effectively set his agenda.
Lambert is far from being the most out-of-touch executive in charge of an academic institution. University of Arizona president Ann Weaver Hart takes home all the awards for that.
Nevertheless, PCC needs more than a ledger-keeper to take it into the future.
It needs a leader who does more than acknowledge local constituencies. A true leader must embrace them and their specific needs.
Lambert faces three big showdowns within the next six months.
The first is with the HLC. Lambert has proven effective in dealing with the accrediting body, so credit is due there.
The other two battles, a meet-and-confer fight with employee associations and a decision on tuition, will require Lambert to leave his policy wonk comfort zone. He should attempt a hearts-and-minds campaign with the public.
His handling of these issues will do more than determine Lambert’s legacy in Tucson. It will also determine the length of his stay.
By EDDIE CELAYA
After nearly five years of sanctions, Pima Community College is waiting on its accrediting body to decide its fate. That ruling is expected when the Higher Learning Commission’s board of trustees meets Feb. 23-24.
The saga began in the summer of 2012 with numerous complaints, including allegations of sexual misconduct against then-Chancellor Roy Flores.
A team of HLC peer reviewers visited Pima in January 2013. That visit led the HLC to issue a scathing report and place the college on probation. Flores later resigned, citing ill health.
Since that time, PCC has struggled to shed the burden of sanctions. In 2015, the college escaped probation but was placed “on notice.”
Last September, another HLC peer review team visited the college. Pima officials hoped the team would recommend removing sanctions.
PCC Board of Governors Chair Mark Hanna thought the college presented its best case during the visit.
“The visit was a really positive visit,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I thought there was a moral uplift.”
AWAITING DRAFT REPORT
The wait for the team’s draft report prompted worries, with Hanna describing it as akin to “old movies where the pages keep coming off the calendar and waiting, and waiting.”
Vice Chancellor of Accreditation Bruce Moses, however, suspected the draft report simply ran behind schedule. He noted that peer review members are busy with high-level jobs at their own colleges.
“They set a timeline, but it’s just like with anything else,” he said. “These are not retired folks sitting around doing nothing, these are career folks.”
Pima officials received the peer review team’s draft report on Dec. 12. It did not yield a full elimination of sanctions.
“I would be less than honest with you if I didn’t tell you the hope was, ‘Hey, you’re off sanctions, you’re done with it,’” Hanna said. “As it turns out, there were some sticking points.”
Of the 11 areas targeted by the HLC, five were considered “fully addressed,” five were deemed “improving” and one was deemed “deficient.”
OFFICE OF ASSESSMENT
The deficiency was in “student outcome assessment,” an area that has been a persistent knock against the college.
Student outcome assessment is more than just tests, according to Chancellor Lee Lambert. It’s making sure basic skills are imparted, and making sure instructors are tracking those skills in an effective manner.
The college is “trying to assess learning relative to that discipline or subject area the student is working on,” Lambert said. “We need to do that in a systematic way, and then the systematic way isn’t just administering the assessment, it is assessing the assessment process itself.”
District 3 board representative and former PCC instructor Sylvia Lee recalled the college’s past struggles.
“Pima was ‘written up,’ that assessment was a ‘weakness’ back in the ‘90s,” she said. “And then back in the 2000s, Pima was put on warning again.”
The HLC’s focus on assessment in the recent draft report was, in fact, actually Pima’s idea.
“Back in 2013, we said to the HLC, ‘We are going to staff an office of assessment,’” Moses said. “So when reviewers showed up in 2016 and we didn’t have a staff, now they are holding our feet to the fire.”
Efforts to establish an office of assessment never got off the ground, Moses said. He blamed a myriad of factors, from the job description to the pay rate. The specter of sanctions didn’t help.
“How attractive is that job, still on probation and it’s one of the main reasons you’re still on probation?” Moses asked. “You think about the applicants, they are thinking ‘man I’m on the firing squad right off.’”
So with what part of assessment, exactly, did the peer review team find fault? Was it the systems and software put in place to track student outcomes? Was it a lack of an established human resources infrastructure? That depends on whom you ask.
Moses, who helped implement many of the assessment systems, points to the HLC’s recent findings. “The reviewers’ feedback didn’t say ‘your processes are crappy, your system is not working,’” he said.
Instead, Moses said, the criticism focused on human resources.
“One of the things we had a problem with as an institution is, we had never put the infrastructure in to actually manage and facilitate the student learning outcomes assessment process.”
New governing board member Luis Gonzales takes a different view. He points out that while only the student outcome assessment was found to be deficient, problems remain with the five areas deemed “improving” in the report.
“That one particular item is an item of focus that falls into line with the rest of the lines of focus,” Gonzales said. “Of the 11 areas of focus, six are inadequate. If you got a test with 11 questions and you fail six, it’s not a passing grade.”
The draft report also called on the college to make new hires at the administrative level.
“The college should submit an interim report by Sept. 1, 2017, documenting that the director of assessment and the research analyst have been hired and are in place,” it reads.
The position of director of assessment has been filled since the peer review team’s visit in September. Former chemistry instructor Wendy Weeks officially took that role on Jan. 3.
Moses said the research analyst position has been filled, but the college has not yet made an official announcement.
The two hires will put PCC over the sanctions edge, he said. “That’s what the reviewers want to see. They want to say ‘OK, you made a commitment to putting people in a position to manage this process.’”
Gonzales isn’t so sure.
“The spin is that the entire focus goes to assessment only and that we have made so much progress, that it all focuses on whether or not we hire two individuals to run that program,” he said. “I simply do not agree with that concept in its entirety.”
Gonzales said he was not implying Weeks “is not competent.” Rather, he is “concerned that it should be an individual who has experience and has a good foundation to make it work.”
GOALS AND ACTIVITIES
According to the draft report, the new hires should “include a description of the goals these individuals have set, and the activities they have implemented since they have assumed their position.”
That won’t be a problem, Moses said. “We’ve had goals, even before we had a position. The office of assessment had the goals, it’s built in.”
Lambert echoed those sentiments. “We already have goals identified for them, now it’s just monitoring fulfillment of these goals,” he said.
Goals and activities vary in range and scope.
The college’s strategic planning report lists broad goals for the office of assessment, including a call to “increase the rate at which students with a transfer goal successfully transfer to a four-year college/university.”
The tool used to measure progress is known as a Key Performance Indicator. In the case of the office of assessment, there are multiple KPIs.
For example, one KPI measures the effectiveness of the transfer rate from PCC to four-year colleges by tracking the distribution of former PCC students at in-state four-year institutions.
Another KPI tracks the number of students who indicate they intend to transfer and then successfully do so.
The HLC will be looking at evidence derived from data gathered in the last six months, according to Lambert.
“I think six months will show we are making pretty good progress along that continuum,” he said.
THE FINAL REPORT
The college received the HLC peer review team’s final report on Jan. 27. Pima had two weeks to review the report and send a reply either agreeing with or dissenting from the findings.
That reply will be the last correspondence between the college and its accreditor until Feb. 23, when the Commission’s board of trustees meets.
The final report could have three possible outcomes, according to HLC liaison Karen Solomon. One possibility is that the HLC will remove the college from notice.
“The board might determine that the college is no longer at risk of noncompliance with the criteria for accreditation and can be removed from notice,” she wrote in a letter accompanying the final report.
Moses sees some hope for that outcome.
“We are going to make an effort to do that,” he said. “There is no guarantee we’ll get it, but we’re going to make that plea.”
The HLC could also make a worst-case ruling. If the board of trustees determines that Pima is unable to demonstrate compliance in multiple areas, the board might determine that the college should be placed back on probation.
That scenario would require a major failure on the part of the college. “We would have to completely drop the ball on something that was already identified,” Moses said.
The most likely scenario, Moses said, is the HLC determining Pima still has work to do in the office of assessment and extending notice for another six months.
“I would accept something like a monitoring report, which is not a sanction,” he said. “It’s just ‘give us a report in six months and tell us how everything is going in this area.’”
STATE OF THE COLLEGE
The HLC’s next scheduled visit will come sometime during the Fall 2018 or Spring 2019 semester. That visit, unlike the last two peer review team visits, will be a “standard” visit.
“That’s the four-year check in,” Lambert said. “That will speak to ‘we put this thing in, is it sustained?’”
Gonzales is cautiously optimistic about Pima’s trajectory.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I am confident that we are going to get there eventually.”
Moses knows it’s up to the college to change for the better.
“We are in a really good position right now,” he said. “All we got to do is not screw this up.”
By EDDIE CELAYA
Former chemistry instructor David Katz has been awarded nearly $150,000 after a judge ruled his due process was violated by Pima Community College and high-level administrators.
A settlement agreement lays out legal guidelines for both sides to follow and constitutes the “full settlement and discharge of all claims.”
Katz, who was fired by the college in 2013, was awarded $149,815. The settlement includes $100,000 as compensation for damages suffered and $49,815 for lost wages.
Administrators named in the lawsuit included Chancellor Lee Lambert, former West Campus President Louis Albert and former department chair Mary Kay Gilliland.
The Arizona School Risk Retention Trust will pay the reward on behalf of the defendants. The ASRRT, a nonprofit located in Phoenix, provides insurance to community colleges during litigation.
Pima spokeswoman Libby Howell said the settlement was not an admission of guilt.
“Note that this agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing on Pima’s part or by any of the individuals named as defendants,” she said.
The settlement agreement uses similar language: “Nothing contained in this agreement shall be construed as an admission by defendants that they have violated any statute, law or regulation.”
Howell said both sides “often settle cases to avoid the expense and uncertainty of continued litigation.”
The settlement outlines additional stipulations. For example, each side is responsible for its own attorney’s fees.
The document also details a nondisparagement agreement that makes it difficult for either side to say much: “The parties agree that they will not make disparaging, denigrating or defamatory comments or statements to any third party.”
The agreement resembles a gag order, noting, “The parties specifically agree that they will not comment on the allegations contained in the lawsuit.”
Katz believes the ruling will positively affect current PCC instructors. To help with official discipline from the school, he offered a few suggestions:
“For any complaint procedure/meeting, bring a representative from your representative group,” he said. “If a representative is not available, reschedule the meeting.”
Katz also reminded instructors that due process is their right as a public employee.
“You have a right to be provided with a copy of the complaint,” he said. “That must be a written, detailed description of the complaint with appropriate documentation including names, time and date.”
Katz expects to remain in education.
“Currently, I’m looking for another teaching position to continue my research on integrating lecture and lab for the general chemistry course,” he said.
By EDDIE CELAYA
The Higher Learning Commission’s “focus visit” wrapped up Sept. 27 with a forum for invited community members. That meeting created little drama, unlike a more exclusive forum held between HLC reviewers and critics of the college earlier in the day.
Reviewers were present on all PCC campuses throughout Monday, Sept. 26, and Tuesday, Sept. 27. Their meetings and forums focused on a wide range of issues with varying groups of the college’s constituencies.
The two meetings at Downtown Campus could not have been more different in tone.
The first meeting focused on criticisms from the Coalition For Accountability, Integrity, Respect and Responsibility and the commission’s reviewers. The second meeting was limited to invited guests.
The scheduled meeting between accrediting reviewers and C-FAIRR representatives started off fiery, with C-FAIRR Board Chair Mario Gonzales beginning the proceedings by admonishing the reviewers from 2010.
“That team is the ones that gave a big, big pass to the college as sexual harassment issues were coming down; they discovered nothing,” he said. “For what reasons, I have no idea.”
As Gonzales continued, he was interrupted by reviewer Sherilyn Poole. “We know the history, we’ve all read that. So if there is something you want us to know, this is the time.”
Gonzales pressed on, alleging the HLC had continued to fail the college from an accreditation stand-point. “The HLC has failed to carefully and objectively vet information provided to it by Pima Community College,” he said.
C-FAIRR, according to Gonzales, is concerned about what it sees as various shortcomings at Pima. Concerns range from the recent increase in tuition for local students (and decrease for out-of-state students) to diversity among the college staff.
Carol Gorsuch, a former Pima instructor, also voiced her concerns. She brought up multiple cases of alleged abuse of executive power. Specifically, she cited the case of former chemistry instructor David Katz.
“David Katz decided to take a stand, not only for himself but for all other faculty and staff who he knew had been targeted unfairly by the college administration. In July 2016 a federal judge ruled in his favor,” Gorsuch said.
Because of his previous positions, that case and other such cases are especially damning to Chancellor Lee Lambert, according to Gorsuch. “His two previous jobs included director of affirmative action and director of HR.”
Gorsuch and Gonzales also criticized the finalized HLC focus visit schedule and the “hand-picked” nature of groups put forth by the college.
“You won’t be meeting with any focus groups composed of local residents, who no longer find Pima reaching out to them to provide once valuable educational services,” Gorsuch said.
Former Interim Chancellor and Provost Zelma Harris rounded out the C-FAIRR speakers. Her focus was on what she sees as “unprecedented” shutting out of C-FAIRR’s constituency.
“This is the first time in my 40-year history being involved in the community college movement that I have seen a community group representing a large constituency so totally disrespected, rebuffed, ignored and in fact not taken seriously,” Harris said.
There was some confusion as the meeting ended, with C-FAIRR representatives attempting to hand a packet of information to the reviewers, only to be told that was against policy.
“We can not accept any materials that have not been officially submitted,” Poole said.
For the HLC to truly help Pima, Gonzales and C-FAIRR see only one solution. “Our position is that PCC either remain on notice, or be placed again on probation.”
That notion, for the most part, was not shared at the larger community forum held later in the day. Many of PCC’s business, nonprofit and corporate partners were present and represented, letting their perspectives be known.
Many invitees praised PCC’s workforce development program and its student workers.
“The work force development team have aligned their goals with our goals, which helps align their programs and curriculum with the industry,” said Raytheon representative Patricia Brown.
Edwin Marquez of Southern Arizona Leadership Council expressed excitement “about Pima connecting with local businesses to help supply a quality workforce here in Tucson. I think the current administration is doing a great job.”
Other members, such as Arizona State University’s Kelle Masyln, praised Lambert for the positive changes in the college’s culture and programs.
“Over the last three years we have had a great working relationship with Lee Lambert,” Maslan said.
“He has really focused on many positive changes that benefit the student by aligning more with university programs. So when they go to universities, they’re prepared.”
Ted Maxwell, also of Southern Arizona Leadership Council, echoed that sentiment. “Chancellor Lambert, and the college as a whole, have given the community a great opportunity (for upward mobility).”
Dave Perry, president of the Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce, concurred.
“Chancellor Lambert has brought a new level of engagement along with the new leadership he has at the college. While doing that I think the college has stepped up its internal controls,” Perry said.
While the vast majority of speakers seemed pleased or heaped praise on PCC, the last speaker of the meeting, Luis Gonzales, was critical of the institution.
“Much of this has focused on personality. I don’t think this a problem with the chancellor,” he said.
“Transparency is still a problem, just read the newspapers. And I am very concerned myself about litigation coming down. It does not speak well of the college.”
With the conclusion of the focus visit, the HLC will now consider its findings and render a verdict on PCC’s accreditation status. A final decision will be handed down by the HLC’s governing board on Feb. 22, 2017.
A previous version of the story had identified Kelle Masyln of ASU as ‘Kellan Maslan.’ It has since been corrected. The Aztec Press regrets the error.
The editorial board of the Aztec Press highly recommends a “yes” vote on Proposition 205, the Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative.
The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8. Register to vote by Oct. 10 if you want a say in the outcome.
Arizona and four other states can join Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia in legalizing the sale, distribution and regulation of marijuana.
It’s about time.
A yes vote would allow persons age 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and grow up to six plants in their residence. It would also create a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to regulate the industry.
Proceeds from a 15 percent sales tax would go into a Marijuana Fund controlled by the DMLC. Funds would be distributed to school districts, charter schools and the Arizona Department of Health.
A fiscal analysis by Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimated Prop. 205 would generate an additional $53.4 million in government revenue in fiscal 2019 and $82 million in fiscal 2020.
The JLBC study also found that 6.2 percent of all 2014 Arizona arrests were marijuana related. In the prison population, 4.5 percent of inmates are locked up due to a marijuana-related offense.
Therefore, legalization could help relieve taxpayer burdens by decreasing arrests and incarcerations.
Just don’t tell that to opponents.
The usual suspects make up Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the main organization opposing Prop. 205.
You have a law enforcement representative in Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, a social conservative in radio host Seth Leibsohn and a grieving parent in Sally Schindel.
The group has received endorsements from big guns in Arizona Republican circles, including Gov. Doug Ducey and U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, and from police unions.
Their main argument? It’s basically a repackaging of “Reefer Madness,” i.e. the “gateway” drug theory.
The only new argument is a connection to the current opiate epidemic.
At a recent press conference, Ducey let fly this gem in reference to legal marijuana: “If we want to expand this universe of people that are addicted and abusing drugs, well you’ll have that chance in November.’’
During the same speech he touted his (weak) executive orders targeting opiate addiction by requiring doctors to more heavily regulate opioid prescriptions.
One might wonder if Ducey believes vanilla ice cream is a “gateway cream.”
While it may be tempting to laugh at ridiculous arguments from the “no” side, it’s worth remembering the message may resonate with a demographic that votes.
That’s why we think voting yes on Prop. 205 is vitally import to personal liberty. Whether or not you enjoy an occasional jazz cigarette, let’s end this nasty experiment with marijuana prohibition.
Written on behalf of the Aztec Press editorial board by Editor in Chief Eddie Celaya.
Compiled by EDDIE CELAYA
St. Patrick’s Day Festival
The Tucson St. Patrick’s Day Festival and Parade, the largest event of its kind in southern Arizona, returns for its 29th year.
The event will offer the same Irish hospitality but a new theme: “Freedom Rising” in honor of the Irish Easter Rising of 1916.
For those who enjoy running before their bangers and mash, the seventh-annual “Green Isle Mile” and 5K will take place on Aviation Bikeway.
Armory Park festivities will begin at 10 a.m. with live music and dance, a children’s play area, and food and merchant vendors.
The parade begins at 11 a.m., winding from North Stone Avenue through Downtown to Armory Park.
Festival attendance and parking are free.
Tucson Conquistadores Classic
Professional golf makes a return to the Old Pueblo for the second-annual Tucson Conquistadores Classic.
Featuring some of the best the Senior PGA Tour has to offer, the Classic will be held at the Omni Tucson National Resorts Catalina Course.
Players scheduled to appear include Fred Couples, Tom Watson and Colin Montgomerie.
A sanctioned Pro-Am on March 16-17 will be followed by a 54-hole tournament March 18-20.
Once the golf wraps up on Friday, the Classic will host a free after-party at the clubhouse.
Tickets range from $20 for general admission to more than $4,000 for ticket packages. Tickets for the main event range from $29 for single-day general admission to $12,000 for specific ticket packages.
Civil War in the Southwest
Take in scenery and history at Civil War in the Southwest at Picacho Peak State Park northwest of Tucson on Interstate 10.
Gates open at 9:30 a.m. as three separate battles are commemorated and re-enacted each day.
Visitors can attend presentations ranging from the roles of women in the west to Civil War life through the eyes of a solider. Vendors will sell period-specific merchandise and food will be available.
The daily finale will be the Battle of Picacho Pass, the westernmost battle of the Civil War and the only battle to take place in Arizona.
The park will close its entry gates to spectators at 3 p.m. and the finale re-enactment will take place at 3:30 p.m.
Park admission is $10 for a car of up to four people. Entry costs $3 for each additional person and for bicylists or walk-ins.
Compiled by EDDIE CELAYA
Percentage of pet owners who buy their animal a Valentine’s Day gift.
Number of Valentine’s Day cards exchanged each year.
The year that England’s King Henry VII officially declared Feb. 14 as St. Valentine’s Day.
Number of heart-shaped boxes sold on Valentine’s Day.
Percentage of men who buy flowers for Valentine’s Day.
Percentage of U.S. women who send themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day.
Dollar total spent on chocolate for Valentine’s Day.
Number of long-stem roses sold in the U.S. on Valentine’s Day.
Approximate percentage of Valentine’s Day gift purchases made by women.
Average number of wedding proposals in the U.S on Valentine’s Day each year.