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OPINION: Board members must reform or resign

OPINION: Board members must reform or resign

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By ANDREW PAXTON

When the Higher Learning Commission’s liaison spoke to Pima Community College’s governing board on May 3, her message was very clear.

“We expect our institutions to provide information and be transparent with information being provided to the student body and constituents,” Karen Solomon, a vice president with the HLC, told the board.

This is coming straight from the college’s accrediting body, the same organization that has placed Pima on probation. The HLC will also determine if Pima will be allowed to keep its accreditation after February 2015, based on how the college responds to the sanction.

However, less than a week after Solomon’s clear statement that the HLC wants more information available to students, the board decided to hold a special meeting on May 10. It barely cleared the legally required 24-hour public notice.

Notice of the meeting was not sent to the Aztec Press despite an explicit request for “press releases and any other official releases from the college.”

There was no notification sent to the student body or most constituents of the college, despite Solomon explicitly telling the college to provide information to these groups.

Instead, the information was posted on Pima’s website. The notice was not posted on the college’s homepage for easy access, but was tucked away on the governing board’s meeting calendar. The only way to know the notice was there was to search for it.

Does that sound like transparency of information?

It would not have been difficult to inform the community and students, because hundreds of them were in attendance at a May 8 board meeting.

It is difficult to imagine that the board was unaware on May 8 that they would be meeting again in 36 hours.

Board members are only allowed to discuss matters such as planning meetings during an executive session.

The board held an executive session just before the May 8 meeting, while students, faculty and members of the community rallied outside PCC’s district office and demanded resignations from the four board members who served while Roy Flores was chancellor.

Was the board afraid or unwilling to disclose their upcoming May 10 meeting when faced with hundreds of angry members of the college and the community?

Even if the decision wasn’t made until May 9 to hold the special meeting, an email could have easily been sent to all students and other interested parties to meet the HLC’s desire for information to be disseminated.

During the May 8 meeting, Brenda Even, Marty Cortez, David Longoria and Scott Stewart all offered apologies for Pima being placed on probation, but said they will not resign and will not make the same mistakes again.

The problem is, they are still making the same mistakes that got Pima placed on probation in the first place.

Solomon made it clear that the HLC expects the board to act with integrity, display ethical and responsible conduct, disclose policies, listen to internal and external groups and practice transparency.

So far, the four board members facing calls for resignation have refused to listen to internal groups such as Faculty Senate and Staff Council, as well as outside groups including Pima Open Admissions Coalition and Coalition for Accountability, Integrity, Respect and Responsibility.

Longoria has said he will not resign, no matter what the situation or circumstances. He feels he was elected to do his job, and will serve until forcibly removed or his term ends.

“I know this will be misconstrued or portrayed by many as defiant. But I would challenge anyone to think of an instance in which one’s expressed desire to carry out and perform the duties of their job was such a display,” Longoria said at the May 8 board meeting.

Challenge accepted, Mr. Longoria.

On June 25, 1876, Gen. Armstrong Custer had a strong desire to do his job, which was to round up the Lakota and drive them to a reservation. Heavily outnumbered, Custer disobeyed orders and engaged Sitting Bull’s tribe, sparking the Battle of Little Bighorn.

It is reported that shortly before being killed, Custer proclaimed “Hurrah, boys, we’ve got them!”

We all know how that turned out.

Having a strong desire to do a job isn’t enough. A true leader must know when to listen to others, when to compromise and when someone else may be more fit or better equipped for the job.

These four board members have two choices.

One choice would be to start making real, tangible reforms right now to display that they are serious about rebuilding trust, moving forward and restoring faith in the college’s leadership.

If the board members are incapable or unwilling to make genuine changes instead of hollow promises, then they must make the second choice and resign for the good of the college, students, employees and the entire Tucson community.

The ability to make a decision that is best for the college is what the HLC expects and everyone who cares about Pima demands.

Paxton is the incoming editor-in-chief for the Aztec Press and hopes everyone can work together to do what is best for Pima.

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Students, community hold rally to support Pima

Students, community hold rally to support Pima

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Demonstrators march down Broadway Boulevard in a show of support for Pima Community College. Aztec Press photo.

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.”

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Community, students strengthen pressure on embattled board

Community, students strengthen pressure on embattled board

 By ANDREW PAXTON

wPg01-BoardCivic leaders have met with Pima Community College students to discuss ways to increase pressure on the four governing board members facing calls for resignation.

The meeting, organized by PCC student leader Joseph McGrath and Tucson business owner Cort Chalfant, brought concerned students and members of the community together at West Campus on April 25 to determine how to move forward following Pima being placed on probation.

The Southern Arizona Leadership Council, which had representatives at the meeting, wants to coordinate with students to present a unified voice moving forward.

“We are here today because a lot of folks in the business community have taken an interest with what is going on with Pima,” Chalfant said.

Members of the Coalition For Accountability, Integrity, Respect and Responsibility and Pima Open Admissions Coalition, two advocacy groups that have been critical of the board and their decisions, also attended the meeting.

Chalfant recapped for the assembly the Higher Learning Commission’s decision to place Pima on probation and the calls for resignation the board members that served under former chancellor Roy Flores are now facing.

He detailed how numerous groups, including Faculty Senate, the employee groups representing most of Pima’s staff, and external organizations have all passed resolutions expressing no confidence in Marty Cortez, Brenda Even, David Longoria and Scott Stewart.

Nearly all of the groups calling for resignations also want the board to postpone the search for a new permanent chancellor.

“There’s a risk that exists for students here today that, but for the actions of this board, would not exist,” Chalfant said.

The group discussed how they felt about the situation, methods to get more students involved in the healing process and what steps everyone could take to remove board members.

“I would like to see us take action as a united front and solve our own problems,” McGrath said.

They concluded that many students don’t understand the issues PCC is facing, how serious the consequences could be if Pima does lose accreditation, or what can be done to improve the college’s situation.

“There are a lot of people in my class that have no idea about the problems we are facing,” PCC student Jesse Huggins said.

The assembly explored the possibility of starting a petition to initiate a recall election, which is the only way board members can be removed from their position before regularly scheduled elections.

“It has happened before, it’s not impossible to do,” Carol Zimmerman, co-owner of Zimmerman Public Affairs and member of the SALC, told the assembly. “In fact, it’s very possible to do.”

Added McGrath, “It’s going to take a consensus to get anything done.”

The group also decided to approach the recently announced chancellor finalists and explain why students, faculty and community members cannot support them, based on the lack of confidence in the board is facing.

The board has expressed a desire to permanently fill the chancellor position by July 1, despite numerous requests for the search to be suspended.

The collection agreed to stage a march and rally on May 8 before the next scheduled Board of Governor’s meeting. The demonstration will begin either at Rincon High School or Burns Park and proceed to the District Office, where a rally will be held.

Participants will then be encouraged to attend the meeting and express their concerns directly to the board during public comments. The board meeting starts at 7:30 p.m., and those seeking to make public comments must show up early to fill out a comment card.

“There is power in numbers,” Chalfant said.

He hopes 1,000 people or more will attend. Groups including Faculty Senate and Pima Community College Education Association have asked their members to participate.

“If there were 250 faculty members, 250 staff, 250 students and 250 community people, we could make this work,” Joe Labuda, president of Faculty Senate, said in an email to faculty senators.

“That would be a message that the board would find hard to ignore,” he wrote.

Anyone seeking more information about the rally or interested in becoming involved in any of the advocacy group’s efforts should contact Joe McGrath at jmcgrath3@mail.pima.edu or Cort Chalfant at cort@cratucson.com.

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Faculty, community call for resignations

By ANDREW PAXTON

The faculty and staff of Pima Community College have lost confidence in the governing board that is responsible for running the college, according to resolutions passed by representatives of each group.

The Faculty Senate, in a 51-1 vote with two abstentions, approved a resolution stating the instructors have lost faith in a majority of the board members. The resolution calls for the board members to resign.

“The Faculty Senate does not have confidence in the four current board members of the PCC board who were in office during the Dr. Flores administration to effectively guide the college out of its present crisis,” the resolution read.

The four board members are Marty Cortez, Brenda Even, David Longoria and Scott Stewart, who all where on the board while Roy Flores was chancellor. Sylvia Lee, the fifth member of the board, was elected in November 2012 after running on a platform of openness and change.

“Faculty Senate believes that these four board members have contributed to the present crisis by their failure to recognize and act ethically and prudently upon problems, and believes that these four board members constitute an impediment to change,” the resolution said.

While the faculty “appreciates the efforts” of the four board members, the resolution said “the greatest service that they can now perform” to rebuild trust in the college is to resign.

“We have tried to be patient, but the board has not acted,” said senate president Joe Labuda during statements before the vote.

The resolution also requested the postponement of Pima’s ongoing chancellor search until the four board members are replaced.

“We are not alone,” said Labuda, referring to others who have called for board members to step down.

The Staff Council, a group representing nonteaching staff at Pima, unanimously passed a resolution expressing comparable views. It stated “Staff Council believes the named Board members lack the integrity and ability” to support Pima and included a call for resignation.

Labuda said he personally believes the board members should announce when they plan on stepping down and stagger their resignations, because “one person can’t run the college.” But he concedes there are some faculty that “want them gone yesterday.”

The faculty and staff did not call on Lee to resign. Lee, a former Pima administrator, was one of the first to demand others on the board step down during a March 20 meeting.

“There is a way that we, on this board, can prevent probation now today, and that is for three of our longest-sitting board members who have served this college to the best of their ability over the past decade and beyond to step down and allow new community leaders to come and help us heal.

“This is our greatest hope for our Pima,” said Lee, who received applause from the audience following her comments.

Numerous other community groups have also called for members of the board to step aside, including the Coalition For Integrity, Respect and Responsibility.

“It is time for you to recognize that continuing to cling to your position no longer serves the best interests of the college and our community,” C-FAIRR wrote to the four embattled board members.

News publications, including the Aztec Press editorial board, have called for resignations as well.

Not everyone believes the board members should resign. College administrators point out that the board members are not paid, and are designated to their positions by the citizens of Tucson.

“They’re all elected officials. They have an obligation to the people who voted for them,” said administrator Jerry Haynes. “If the people who voted for them want them gone, there’s a process for it.”

The four governing board members have not responded to any of the demands for their resignation and continue to push for a new permanent chancellor by July 1, despite requests for the search to be suspended.

“The faculty has voted no-confidence in this board. They shouldn’t be hiring the new chancellor,” Labuda said.

 

Governing board

Four of Pima Community College’s five board members served under the college’s previous chancellor.

Brenda Even
12 years on board
Up for re-election in 2014

David Longoria
3 years on board
Up for re-election in 2016

Scott Stewart
14 years on board
Up for re-election in 2016

Marty Cortez
18 years on board
Up for re-election in 2018

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