By KEVIN HARTUNG
Pima Community College Chancellor Lee Lambert’s contract extension received a narrow favorable vote in October.
In 2013, Lambert arrived at a college that was struggling, a college on probationary status and a chancellor who left in disgrace. He took charge and set goals to turn the college around.
The PCC Board of Governors voted Oct. 10 to extend Lambert’s contract for one year in an affirmative 3:2 vote.
Pima is governed by a five-member board representing the county’s electoral districts. Members are elected to serve a six-year term, and they determine the mission and set goals for the college.
This was not just a board decision. Three of the five board members replied to an email inquiry from this reporter regarding their voting decisions. After sending two more emails, there was no reply from two members, Meredith Hay and Luis Gonzales.
In his reply, Demion Clinco, presiding board president at the time, provided background on his favorable vote.
“The extension of the Chancellor Lambert’s rolling contract was based on performance and the 2020-2021 Chancellor Evaluation which was conducted as a two-part assessment process that included: 1) an evaluation tool administered by the Association of Community College Trustees specifically to evaluate the board-approved Chancellor’s goals, performance, and leadership; and 2) an in-person interview, evaluation and discussion between the Board and the Chancellor to review the accomplishment of his goals, review his performance in key functional areas, and discuss board-chancellor working relationship,” Clinco responded via email.
Current Board President Catherine Ripley’s immediate and favorable response recognized Lambert’s leadership.
“I voted to continue Chancellor Lambert’s contract based on his outstanding leadership over the past two years. His response to the COVID crisis was swift and seamless,” said Ripley in an email. “He quickly established a pathway that would ensure students, employees and the community were protected on all levels. He immediately took charge of a multitude of moving parts to ensure the college would not only survive but thrive throughout the pandemic and the accompanying drop in enrollment which occurred nationwide.”
Not all board members agreed. One of the dissenting votes was from Maria Garcia. Garcia said in her email reply that in her opinion she could not support continuing Lambert’s contract.
“Enrollment has continued to decline since the chancellor took office,” Garcia said. “The chancellor focused on international enrollment, traveling to China, Mexico, Australia and Switzerland. I’m not sure that the taxpayers of this community would support this.”
A major concern for Garcia was “that he hasn’t been transparent with me and Luis (fellow board member Luis Gonzales).”
The board was also divided over an increase to Lambert’s salary. A 2% increase to his base was approved, taking him from $342,093–in a prior five-year contract running from 2020-2025– to a base salary of $348,935 with the approval of the current contract extension.
As reported in an article by Kathryn Palmer, at Tucson.com: “Under the terms of the extended contract, Lambert will also receive a one-time $1,000 payment for fiscal year 2022, a $2,000 monthly car allowance, $1,150 a month for business expenses and a $60,000 tax-sheltered annuity allowance.”
In her email response, Ripley supported this increase saying. “We did not increase his salary other than the 2% increase that all employees received at the same time.”
The community decides for itself what success should look like at the college. Many point to Lambert’s vision and funding success in establishing the Centers of Excellence which have received kudos from Tucson business organizations. They recognized early a need in the workforce for better skills-building programs and degrees and found a partner in Lambert.
Clinco underscored these sentiments in his email response as he points to the board’s continued support of “Lambert’s vision and his initiatives to improve student success” and the college’s willingness to “undergo transformation under Lambert’s leadership toward becoming a premier community college.”
Coming up is the Higher Learning Commission Mid-Cycle Review. Prior to that review, the Board of Governors completed a self-evaluation, which was completed in April. A summary of results for the Institutional Self-evaluation Report that will be submitted to the Higher Learning Commission included the following:
“This year’s Self-Assessment indicates that the Board feels it is strongest in the areas of Board Leadership, Standards for College Operations, Community College and Student Relations, Board Education and Policy Role & Direction. Areas of needed improvement again included the categories of Advocating for the College, Community Relations. Overall category ratings decreased from 4.01 last year to a 3.15 this year.”
The Board of Governors decided on Sept. 8, 2020, to accept and submit the self-evaluation in a 3:2 vote.
The board’s voting signifies that there are members who feel continuing Lambert’s contract is necessary. Ripley’s email response included the following remarks.
“His (Lambert’s) vision and work are not yet complete, as we still have the Health Care and Arts Centers next in line,” she said. “Having a new leader at the helm would set us back both in timing and funding as Chancellor Lambert’s personal partnerships with local leaders and donors across the board is what launched these centers into a reality. … One should not switch up strong proven leadership in the middle of a crisis.”