Questions follow some Mohave college hires
Kearns: Process not perfect, but results still satisfactory
Mohave Community College leaders often turned to their second and third choices when recruiting out-of-area professionals to fill the school's 275 full-time positions in the past.
But when top candidates were willing to look past the school's remote location and its relatively low pay (when compared to other colleges), school leaders were willing to look past résumé blemishes - perceived or otherwise - in order to make the hires.
This willingness is shown in the school's 2009 hiring of Kingman Campus Dean Fred Gilbert and Associate Vice President of Information Technology Francisco Porras. Gilbert was accused of plagiarism in the early 2000s at a school in Iowa, and Porras held a bachelor's of science from Kensington University, an unaccredited college in California shut down by court order in 1996.
Across its four campuses, MCC has about 275 full-time employees and another 350-400 part-timers. Every year, the school makes between 60 and 70 full-time hires to fill vacancies and new positions, said MCC President Michael Kearns.
After having numerous job offers rejected by first-choice candidates in the past, MCC decided to prescreen applicants for interest in the area and the salaries the school can offer. Still, potential candidates will drop out of the race when they realize what MCC can pay them, Kearns said.
When competing with city colleges for a potential employee, MCC's salary offers are often 20 percent lower that what their competition can offer, Kearns said.
The first step of the hiring process is to create a committee made up of 5-6 people with knowledge of the position in question.
The committee conducts application interviews and creates a short list of the best candidates. After another round of interviews, the list is narrowed down to two or three people. Those people are interviewed once again, and the committee submits a recommendation to Kearns.
Gilbert went through this same process, but several years before MCC hired him he made his living as the campus provost for the Des Moines Area Community College's urban campus. Kearns said Gilbert earns roughly $90,000 a year at MCC.
According to court documents, the Des Moines Area Community College accused Gilbert of plagiarism in 2004 after he filed suit against the college for allegedly discriminating against him on the basis of age, race, color and retaliation when he applied to be the college's president in 2003. The college ranked Gilbert's application 12 out of the 48 applications it received, which was good enough to get him to the second round of the hiring process but not good enough to get him the job.
Once he filed suit, college officials began investigating his application. Court documents say they found that "substantial portions of essay answers in Gilbert's application were plagiarized almost word for word from two separate textbooks."
The documents go on to say that during an interview with the college's counsel and Gilbert's counsel on Dec. 4, 2004, "Gilbert acknowledged his application contained plagiarized materials, but Gilbert denied having knowledge of or being involved in the actual act of plagiarism."
In an interview with the Miner, Gilbert said he never admitted to portions of his application containing plagiarism. He maintains merely acknowledging the application being his.
According to court documents, Gilbert said he hired a consultant to help him with the application by answering the essay answers for him, that he was unaware of the plagiarism and that the consultant must have done it.
That same month, college officials interviewed Gilbert once again. Court documents say Gilbert told them he couldn't remember the consultant's name, but that he did remember paying the consultant $1,000 in cash to help with the application. He did not have a receipt, according to court documents.
"I didn't use citations," Gilbert said, pointing to why the college accused him of plagiarism. "Nobody ever does."
Gilbert argues the school attempted to take the focus of his discrimination lawsuit and place it on him with the plagiarism accusation.
"When you're trying to discredit someone," Gilbert said, "you throw (accusations) on the wall and see if any stick."
The college never proved its plagiarism accusation, he said.
Gilbert lost the lawsuit in a summary judgment in favor of the college, as well as his subsequent appeal. As a consequence for the alleged plagiarism he was demoted to grants specialist. The Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment.
The demotion, Gilbert said, was less about the accusation and more about, "putting me in my place." Gilbert retired from the Des Moines Area Community College the following year.
MCC looked into the plagiarism accusation, but Kearns said, "We were satisfied with the information we received."
When asked which factors allowed the college to get past the circumstances surrounding the accusation, Kearns said he couldn't remember.
"He's done a great job since we hired him," Kearns said. "In hindsight, we made a good decision."
Gilbert said he did not hire a consultant to help with his MCC application.
"Everything I write now, I write myself," he said.
There's a chance Gilbert, who manages the Kingman campus, would need to deal with incidents of plagiarism at the school, but Kearns said faculty usually handles them. It's rare for an issue of plagiarism to reach the campus dean, he said.
In 2009, MCC also hired Francisco Porras as the associate vice president of information technology and gave him a salary of $130,000 a year. He no longer works for the college.
Porras received a bachelor's of science in 1989 from Kensington University in Glendale, Calif. California regulators shut Kensington down in 1996.
According to a story that appeared that year in the Los Angeles Times, California - bloated with small private colleges offering easy degrees - earned the label, "diploma mill capital of the world," in the 1980s. As a response, the state enacted tougher regulations to deal with private, unaccredited colleges in 1989 and created the Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education to enforce them.
Kensington fell under the council's jurisdiction and needed to undergo periodic reviews in order to continue operating. The school's first review occurred in 1994, and according to the Times, state regulators found numerous problems, "including routine acceptance of below-par student work, awarding inflated credit for so called 'life experience' and not having enough faculty."
The school, which opened in 1976, ran a program from a small Glendale office building that allowed students studying from home to earn bachelor's degrees and doctorates without attending a single class. State regulators argued that Kensington handed out advanced degrees that had little, if any academic value and perpetrated a "fraud on the public," according to the Times.
After the school's initial review, the council spent the next two years trying to shut it down, ultimately accomplishing its goal. But Kensington wasn't done. The school sidestepped the closure order by relocating most of its programs to Hawaii, but in 2003 Hawaiian officials closed the school for good.
Similar to other small private colleges operating at the time in California, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges never accredited Kensington. According to the Times, that's what put Kensington under the watchful eye of the Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, which has since been renamed the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education.
In an interview in July, Kearns said MCC researched Kensington's history and found that it had accreditation in 1989 - the year Porras received his degree. The college couldn't read any further into that information and had to accept it, Kearns said.
After Kearn's initial interview with the Miner, he looked into the school's records and realized that he misremembered MCC's Kensington findings.
"We researched Kensington when we were made aware that their accreditation was in question," Kearns said.
Despite knowing Kensington had been closed and that its accreditation was in question when it was opened, the school still hired Porras. Candidates with backgrounds in technology and education are hard to come by, Kearns said. Porras had experience in both fields and was highly sought after by several private organizations as well as MCC. He was a top candidate and a great hire, Kearns said.
The college's governing board has no real say in who gets hired by MCC.
The board does not micro-manage MCC's administrative hiring process, said Travis Lingenfelter, a member of the board. It does not delve into the due diligence process that is part of MCC's hiring methods.
"Community college district governing boards are corporate bodies created for the purpose of implementing state legislative policy concerning higher education and locally administering the state's system of higher education," Lingenfelter said. "By state law, the MCC governing board is delegated the power and authority to develop and approve policies, rules, and regulations to control the operation of the community college district."
In 2010, the Miner published a story regarding MCC salaries. On the Miner's online edition, one commenter brought up the validity of Porras's Kensington degree. Within a few days another commenter pointed out that Porras's degree information had been removed from MCC's website.
The college's 2011-2012 catalog lists its administration, faculty and staff. Degree information is included on each person's entry. The one person on the list with no degree information is Porras.
In MCC's 2010-2011 catalog, Porras is listed and his degree information is included.
When asked about the reasoning for the change, Kearns said he couldn't remember.
It's unclear what factors ultimately led to Porras leaving the position at MCC, but Kearns maintains, "He was not fired for having a degree from Kensington."
The Miner was unsuccessful in its attempts to contact Porras for comment.
When asked if a policy could be created to avoid hiring people with questionable backgrounds in the future, Kearns said blanket policies don't really work because each person's circumstances are different.
In both instances, Kearns maintains that the decisions made were done with the best intentions. He stands by the school's hiring practices.