An Open Letter from MCCD Board Member, Jerry Walker

Maricopa Community College District Board Member, Jerry Walker, issued the following response regarding the recent “chastisement” by the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission. The HLC alleged that MCCD was acting outside its role as a governing board. Acting MCCD chancellor, Rufus Glasper, apparently made the request to the outside commission to investigate and evaluate whether or not the board has been micromanaging district operations. It is unclear whether Glasper made the request on his own, at the request of the board or as a matter of district policy regarding complaints. If Glasper acted on his own accord, it would certainly appear that his request for the HLC “visit” was an attempt to undermine the authority of the board of directors. Regardless, it is an excellent reminder of who works for whom: Glasper the MCCD Board and the MCCD Board for us, the taxpayers.

Here is Jerry Walker’s Open Letter:

The recent “review” of the Maricopa Community Colleges Governing Board by a team from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is yet another example of how too few individuals fully understand the state-defined role of the five-member publicly-elected Board. Simply put, the buck stops with us, the board members, and we are the ones who are ultimately responsible for stewardship of the public monies entrusted to us.

Consider the state statutes that define what we must do. Among other things, the requirements for how the Board oversees the District include:

“…the District Board shall (under ARS 15-1444):

  • Visit each community college under its jurisdiction and examine carefully into its management, conditions and needs.
  • Appoint and employ a chancellor or chancellors, vice-chancellors, a president or presidents, vice-presidents, deans, professors, instructors, lecturers, fellows and such other officers and employees it deems necessary.
  • Determine the salaries of persons it appoints and employs.
  • Remove any officer or employee if in its judgment the interests of the education in this state require the removal”

Additionally, “… the District shall (under ARS 15-1445):

  • In conjunction with other district boards, set standards for the establishment, development, administration, operation and accreditation of community colleges in the district”.

When an anonymous letter questioning the work of the Board was sent to the Higher Learning Commission HLC, the chancellor, instead of working with the Board and legal counsel to discuss the unattributed allegations, called in a group of his peers.

I do not believe this is showing leadership, especially at a time when the District needs it. The Board has been putting the Chancellor under growing scrutiny for inadequate performance, and cannot come to his defense under the pretense of accreditation being put in jeopardy.

Further, the Chancellor appointed a former college president who allowed theft, fraud and mismanagement to occur at his campus for years, (see East Valley Tribune investigation, October 2006 and January 2007) but was never punished for it, to oversee the “information gathering” process. When this former president repeatedly asked employees to speak-up, he also warned them that whatever they said may be subject to public record laws, virtually ensuring that no one critical of the administration would come forward for fear of retaliation. What the HLC team got was one-sided Board bashing for the benefit of the Chancellor.

Yet when the Board asked the Chancellor how the HLC visit could impact accreditation, the Chancellor said the visit and the resulting “findings” would not. It’s amazing how the press missed that important point.

By law, the Board must make critical decisions about the operations and financial well-being of the District. Yet when a Board member asks staff for information, the response is often resistant or extremely delayed, sometimes by months. Further, the HLC suggests that we can’t work with staff. This is an impediment to the work of Board members, who spend countless unpaid hours per week as a public service, in our roles.

As a public official who is elected to the Maricopa Community Colleges Governing Board, the voters in my district expect me to uphold state law and to act in the best interests of our citizens seeking higher education.

Accreditation from the HLC is important for academic programs, but this voluntary review and approval of curriculum will not impose itself on the role and responsibilities voters have entrusted me and other Board members to perform.

My style may be direct, but voters in my district and throughout Maricopa County can rest assured that I will continue to work lawfully with integrity, loyalty, fairness, and consistency despite bureaucratic efforts at the District and the colleges to blame the Board for their ills. They resist accountability and change that will ultimately benefit the students and taxpayers alike.

Sincerely,

Mr. Jerry D. Walker
Governing Board- District 2, Maricopa Community Colleges

Related stories:

“Auditor: MCCCD wrong in paying 26 people,” East Valley Tribune, April 21, 2009
“Probe of MCCCD retirement deals nears end,” East Valley Tribune, August 6, 2008
“Pension Payoff: Community college deal attacked,” East Valley Tribune, June 28, 2008
“Two college presidents ousted amid probe,” East Valley Tribune, February 7, 2007


Comments

  1. AZEducator2009 says

    Mr. Walker, let us be realistic here and point out a few inaccuracies and undertones in your post.

    1. You were elected to the board under a pledge to get rid of Chancellor Glasper during a time of stress within the district. Since that time, Chancellor Glasper has worked diligently to repair the issues uncovered in the district and to restore and advance the respected name of Maricopa Community College District. All of which you ignore in your quest against the chancellor. The current efficiency study is nothing more than an extension of your animosity for the chancellor and a way to “uncover” grounds to remove Chancellor Glasper without the political fallout of firing the most prominent African American Community College Chancellor in the country.

    2. The reminder to district staff that the emails would be subject to public records law had nothing to do with the district administration, but was in place to protect employees from the vindictiveness of the board.

    3. As the HLC study team discussed during the meeting with the Board, “a Council Member” should never be requesting information from college or district staff. The request has to come from the entire Board as a public body, as individual, board members do not have any influence outside the board room.

    4. HLC accreditation is not only important for academic programs but it is the only way this district can continue to act as an institution of higher education in the state of Arizona. Without accreditation, students in the district will no longer be able to transfer between the community colleges and Universities, programs will lose certifications, and financial aid and federal education funds and grants will be cut off to the district. In essence, we will lose the ability to serve the people of Maricopa County as an institution of higher education. As an elected official this should be something you are aware of and if not you are not acting in the best interest of the people.

    5. The HLC study team, comprised of well respected college officials and college board members from around the country stressed the need for the Board members to participate in governance training as all but one board member have not done so since being elected. Education is a crucial component of any position be it elected, appointed or hired, and your outright refusal to even entertain the idea of learning how to do your elected job better is a major disservice to the people you serve.

    6. While yes, the HLC study team did not have direct impact on college accreditation, they were merely an initial step in a review process for the district. They were the warning shot that our elected governing board needs to shape up and stop micromanaging the district as governance is policy setting not operation of the individual colleges. Numerous colleges within the district are up for reaccreditation over the next couple of years and the actions of the board are putting those accreditations in jeopardy.

    I have very little hope that any of this will change your mind or even give you pause. You and other members of the board have consistently shown an unwillingness to even consider other views in opposition in the quest of your political agendas, but I believe all of this needed to be said.

  2. nightcrawler says

    The community college districts will play an ever increasing role in the economic vitality of our cities and states. In simple terms, unemployment is up, asset holdings are down and many families are taking a serious look at educating their kids for the first couple of years at community colleges versus spending 16K plus per year for in-state university tuition.

    It goes without saying that we all have a vested interest in making sure the MCCCD has no issues with accreditation. Regardless of party affiliation any board that would jeopardize this accreditation should be replaced for the sake of our community.

    I realize that board positions are thankless jobs. A lot of hours and not much recognition. It is a labor of love. Many voters simply do not take the time to properly screen the candidates as they run for such seats. The average voter looks for the “R” or the “D” and checks the box.

  3. Concerned Taxpayer in District 2 says

    What is truly amazing is how non-chalantly Mr. Walker dismisses the power and influence of the HLC. The loss of accreditation is not a shallow threat. It is a very real possibility and the visiting team gave Mr. Walker and the Board a specific example – Compton Community College in California. The loss of accreditation is not a mere annoyance, but would cost our County students and taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

    “Yet when the Board asked the Chancellor how the HLC visit could impact accreditation, the Chancellor said the visit and the resulting “findings” would not. It’s amazing how the press missed that important point.”

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