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Apr 15, 2013 9:49 PM by Nathan O'Neal

New PCC interim chancellor starts work as college faces possible probation

TUCSON - Pima Community College's new interim chancellor officially started work Monday, emboldened to help the college overcome the troubles it faces including possible probation.

Zelema Harris, a retired chancellor from St. Louis Community College inherits the reigns of leadership just one day before the Higher Learning Commission will make its decision on whether or not to place PCC on probation for the next two years.

The scathing report issued by the HLC fires off accusations of sexual miscounduct and a culture of fear amongst employees as some of the problemed areas within the college.

"You methodically look at every area where they feel you need to improve and you address it and you develop a plan and you address it," Harris said of how she will embrace fixing some of the issues. Seeing this as more of an opportunity, Harris is excited to help maneuver the college out of the hot seat.

"That's my role. That's why I'm here," Harris told News 4 Tucson.

The HLC recommended the college be put on probation. Harris, who has had experience working on the commission said she's never seen a recommendation overturned.

"Normally it's upheld because a lot of work has gone into that recommendation," Harris said.

However, Harris is eager to go further than that.

"They want to look at the future of Pima beyond what needs fixing," Harris said, adding that it is vital to do so collaboratively.

However, that's a tall order for the PCC faculty, having already demanded the resignations of four of the five sitting board members for the college.

Faculty Senate President Joe Labuda said the reluctance of the board to resign is nothing more than a hurdle-- something he said makes it impossible to effectively govern.

"I think you have such a severe split and it not only goes through the staff and the faculty but you kind of have that tension in the administration area too," Labuda said.

So far, none of the board members have handed in their resignations. Labuda said that's holding the college back.

"They've become such an issue in themselves that I think it's be best if they left," Labuda said.

As for Harris, she's hoping to bridge those trouble waters.

"I'm very optimistic... There's a lot of work to be done. I'm not naive ... Believe me because i've been here before... But I'm quite optimistic because it's a great institution," Harris said.

The Higher Learning Commission will decide the fate of the college in a board meeting on Tuesday.

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