Representatives from Pima Community College's accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission, are in town this week to assess whether the school should keep its accreditation. It is a visit PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert has been preparing for since taking the helm at Pima July of last year.
“We’re excited to be able to make our case to our peers," he said. "That we deserve their respect and to be removed off of probation and to be able to move forward as an institution that does not have that stain on its record."
Pima officials are trying to show that they’ve rectified the endemic problems that led the HLC to place Pima on probation in the first place: from allegations of sexual misconduct by former chancellor Roy Flores, to irregularities in financial reporting, complaints about collusion between the governing board and the former administration, as well as a pervasive culture of fear and intimidation.
When asked if the climate of intimidation has been eradicated, Lambert responded, "Whether that has changed for each and every individual I can’t speak to that. But I think people feel a more positive sense of the institution. I think people are starting to feel a little more comfortable speaking up. I think we’ve made good progress to changing that culture."
While he’s proud of the progress that’s been made, Lambert said Pima still has significant work to do.
In the midst of dealing with its accreditation crisis, Pima took another painful blow in March when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs temporarily banned the school from enrolling new student veterans, citing a number of shortcomings including poor record keeping.
Lambert said the college mobilized to improve its compliance with federal and state rules, but he conceded that more troubles may arise.
"I know on any given day there may be another surprise," he said "So I expect the unexpected. The key is, whatever it is, that you respond quickly. That you go about it in a way that you’re thinking about key principles like openness and fairness and transparency and accountability in help guide the thinking of how to be responsive to those kinds of surprises."
This week though there’s really one question on most people’s minds: will Pima keep it's accreditation?
"I expect that we will come off of probation," Lambert said. "And I say that because first and foremost this college has responded to the seriousness of the matter."
And Lambert said the college will continue taking these matters seriously into the future.
"So this doesn’t stop when we’re taken off probation. It continues," he said. "We should always be very vigilant about governance. We should be very vigilant about how we treat our employees. We should be very vigilant to address issues of bullying, abrasive conduct, sexual harassment. For me, this is just the floor. My hope for Pima is that we become the premier community college in America."
Lambert will travel to Chicago in December to plead Pima’s case one last time in front of the HLC. A final decision is expected by the end of February.