AAUP investigation of Maricopa College District finds, ‘ill-considered board actions, ‘partisan ideology and political theatre,’ ‘Chancellor, dereliction of duty’



Maricopa Community Colleges Main Office

On March 7, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a 16-page investigative report that finds that the Maricopa County Community College District (representing ten colleges) consisted of a district governing board intent on the repeal of faculty governance that was motivated by partisan political posturing, eliminating faculty participation in “institutional decision making” through the long-standing “meet and confer” and repealing the entire faculty manual, to name a few.

The report also maintains that the district Chancellor, Maria Harper-Marinick, was complicit in her duties as executive officer of the district by virtue of her lack of response to the board’s decisions. Her overall silence from beginning to end displayed a willingness to accept a majority board’s divisive decision making. (pgs. 12, 13)

Harper-Marinick is reported to have remained silent on issues that demanded a statement from the highest academic position and her refusal to publicly condemn board actions was in itself, “a statement in favor of board decisions.”

It was the view of the AAUP committee that these issues and others contained within the full report and with regard to the Chancellor’s inaction result in the “profound dereliction of her duty of chief executive officer of an educational institution,” and contend that, “it was her obligation to provide the public with her opinion on board actions.” (pgs.12,13)

The AAUP investigation also concluded that, “The most credible explanation for her (Harper-Marinick) inaction is that she feared that speaking out against the board would jeopardize her position.” (pg. 12, 13)

Northeast Valley News contacted Matt Hasson, Communications Director from the office of the Chancellor and asked for comment on behalf of the Chancellor relating to the findings of the AAUP investigation of MCCCD.  Nevalleynews.org has been instructed by Hasson to refer all questions or comments intended for the Chancellor to him directly.

Hasson sent nevalleynews.org the following response:

“As the AAUP’s press release states, the Maricopa Community Colleges’ Governing Board passed a new Resolution in January 2019 that immediately rescinded the previous Board’s actions.”

Northeast Valley News contacted John Schampel, the Faculty Association President for a response to the Hasson statement from the Chancellor’s office.

“This Chancellor and the District Administration read the entirety of the AAUP’s extensive investigative findings, and this statement represents the sum total of their public response to them? I think that speaks clearly for itself in support of the AAUP’s findings of a continued failure in administrative leadership,” Schampel said.

Schampel and other faculty are concerned with the leadership of Chancellor Harper-Marinick going forward.

“The Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by the American Association of University Professors, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, has been in place for over 50 years and represents a consensus about how boards, presidents/chancellors, and faculty should work together to advance learning. The Chancellor declined to act in defense of this fundamental principle.  Her weak gestures toward supporting shared governance demonstrate her lack of commitment toward its value,” Schampel said.

For Schampel, the single most important issue from the AAUP investigative report is “an awkward but unavoidable fact.”

“The recent assault on the Maricopa Community Colleges from its own Governing Board majority faced no resistance from the Chancellor.  Her inaction, in fact, made her complicit in much of the attack.  Section IV.C. of the AAUP report points to a leadership crisis at the top,” Schampel said.

According to AAUP findings, “In the matters under investigation at MCCCD, the administration’s silence was deafening. As a result, this committee regards the MCCCD administration as entirely complicit in the demise of academic governance at the institution. Chancellor Harper-Marinick publicly chose not to provide an opinion on a resolution that would effectively eliminate faculty governance at MCCCD. In the view of this committee, that decision was a profound dereliction of her duty as chief administrative officer of an educational institution.”

Several faculty members have talked to nevalleynews.org—before and since the Feb. 2018 vote to end Meet and Confer and RFP—on the condition of anonymity over fear of retribution, one source, familiar with individual board members said that like-minded board members were vocal in their desire to end faculty shared governance, RFP and “their union”— even before the Feb. 2018 vote took place.

Several faculty members that viewed the AAUP report are skeptical, at best, with regard to Harper-Marinick’s leadership despite the newly elected board that has committed to work with faculty and have already rescinded some of the unfavorable policy that was put into place by the former board majority.

“The Chancellor was silent, almost indifferent when faculty was pleading for some answers over the past year. We needed some direction and reassurance, some help from the top. We were put through hell as well as our families, our students were confused and our professional future was uncertain,” said the faculty source.

Several recall a year full of confusion and fear on the part of both faculty and students.

Politicizing a platform

Evidence surfaced in the AAUP report that outline several email exchanges secured under an open records request by the faculty association between former board president Hendrix and other individual board members

Through the AAUP on site investigation as well as meetings with faculty members and documents contained from open record requests, the AAUP investigation exposed the intervention of certain board members and described their actions as an “engineered performance of political theatre motivated by partisan ideology and served the political ambitions of two former Republican members of the Arizona House of Representatives.”

Several faculty members referred back to a document that surfaced in a district wide email in April 2017 titled, “Organizational Change at Maricopa Community Colleges: A Position Paper”—authored by Jeffrey Darbut, a Mesa Community College Vice President of Administrative Services.

Darbut outlines in detail in his position paper the many changes he believes that Maricopa County Community College District need to implement in order to “transform” all ten colleges.

Some faculty members contend that it was this “blueprint,” also referred to as the, “Darbut Manifesto,” in 2017 that served as one of the key motivations for individual board members who shared a certain political ideology.

The AAUP investigation found that the Darbut position paper offered many similarities of the board resolutions that were actually advanced in February 2018.

Darbut’s suggestions were referred to in a positive manner— even going as far as to promote them via email exchanges that were obtained through public record requests. (pg.5,6,7)

One reference from the Darbut report promoted the removal of RFP—an action that was ultimately implemented after the Feb. 2018 vote.

“One recommendation observes that key to the creation of a student-centric organization is the repeal of
the RFP manual and replacing it.”

The Darbut paper never detailed or explained “student- centric” or how repealing the RFP would achieve this goal, but additional recommendations include converting faculty appointments to ‘at-will’ employment contract[s] because ‘tenure is no longer in the best interests of students,’ and eliminating the ‘shared governance’ clause,’ because ‘there is no generally accepted definition [of shared governance],’ which leads to conflict.” (pgs. 5,6)

Northeast Valley News obtained information after attempting to reach Darbut on a separate ongoing nevalleynews.org investigative story that will focus on the elimination of all four football programs at Maricopa Community Colleges.

We wished to contact Darbut on several matters including questions regarding the specifics of his on the record estimation of capital expenditures that he stated were necessary to continue to retain the football program at Mesa Community College.

We were told that Darbut had been placed on paid administrative leave and that Dawn Zimmer, of Mesa Community College Media Relations/Institutional Advancement would contact us.

Zimmer sent an email message that indicated, “We do not discuss personnel actions i.e. the reason for Mr. Darbut’s administrative leave.”

No one we contacted at Mesa Community College nor the district would discuss why Darbut was placed on paid administrative leave.

Nevalleynews.org received two documents from Matt Hasson, Communications Director, Office of the Chancellor after we requested records. We received three documents on Dec. 11, 2018—the documents pertained to the Darbut administrative leave.

One of the documents dated November 9, 2018, was from Rich Haney President of Mesa Community College:

“… Mr. Jeff Darbut, Vice President for Administrative Services, has been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the conclusion of an investigative process. The proceeding itself is confidential, pursuant to District policy, and all of us as employees are requested to respect that confidentiality. The District intends to follow its process which has not yet concluded, and to conduct a fair, unbiased review of the relevant facts before reaching its final conclusion.”

According to the Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board Agenda dated March 19, 2019, Darbut’s last date of work is listed as Nov. 8, 2018—under the heading, “Employments & Separations” and the stated “action” is listed as, “retirement.”

Nevalleynews.org has repeatedly attempted to contact Jeffrey Darbut for comment but emails and calls have not been answered or returned.

Nevalleynews.org cannot verify the specific reason for Darbut’s administrative leave, nor what the investigation Haney referenced involved, or if there was any connection to the information contained in the AAUP report with regard to Darbut.  We have not been able to confirm any details of the investigation mentioned in the Haney letter despite numerous attempts from nevalleynews.org to obtain this information.

Participatory government?

Most of the faculty that we spoke with were pleased with the newly elected board—others are cautiously optimistic.

One faculty source close to the administration who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “I don’t believe for a second that individual board members who may still be sitting on the board have given up on their goal to strip faculty of all power and input.”

We asked Faculty Association President, John Schampel his impression of the phrase “participatory governance” used by the Chancellor and some board members—and what this means—exactly, for faculty moving ahead.

“Participatory governance” is not only a vague and ambiguous term, it represents an abandonment of the Statement on Government of College and Universities — the 50 plus year-old consensus statement by the foremost higher education associations in the country about cooperation between stakeholders in college and universities,” Schampel said.

“Participatory governance” is a term coined to effectively minimize the historic and necessary role of faculty as genuine partners in decision-making. While the Chancellor and some Board members have employed the term “participatory governance,” the faculty recognize it for what it is and wholly reject its use.  The appropriate term is “shared governance,” Schampel said.

The term “shared governance” is even part of the accreditation requirements of the Higher Learning Commission. The AAUP’s report is a clear rebuke of the actions taken by the previous governing board and the current chancellor.  While the new board has taken some good initial steps to reverse the damage that was done, there is more that must be done.”

“Anyone who reads the report will be taken aback by the seemingly callous, self-serving, and destructive actions taken in February 2018.  Anyone who cares about the Maricopa Community College system will likely be saddened, and perhaps angered. As citizens and taxpayers, all of us must demand accountability of those responsible, and renew our efforts to restore the reputation of our once great community college system,” Schampel said.