Maricopa Community Colleges Chancellor Calling Board Meeting to Consider Delay of Tuition Hike; Lawyer Says Reversal Might Get Board Arrested; Tom Horne to Get Involved?

Griselda Nevarez
Maricopa Community Colleges' Board Members are backpedaling on their tuition hike despite General Counsel Lee Combs' fearmongering.

​The Maricopa Community Colleges Governing Board will hold a special meeting tomorrow evening, called by Chancellor Rufus Glasper, to discuss delaying the tuition increase it approved in March targeting undocumented students, New Times has learned.


It also plans to ask for an advisory opinion from Attorney General Tom Horne on the issue.


Minutewoman board member Debra Pearson wrote in an e-mail that she is "outraged that we are going to stir this up and stir people up by calling an off the schedule Board meeting [to] discuss something that is incredibly clear."

Lee Combs, general counsel for the MCC, warned in another e-mail that "reversal or delay in implementing your tuition decision would violate the law and expose you to a citizens' suit to require compliance" and "expose our employees to criminal prosecution."

The special meeting contradicts the board's earlier assertion that it would not reconsider the tuition increase for undocumented students. Its members agreed 4-1 informally over the weekend via e-mail to at least consider delaying the tuition boost, according to e-mails obtained by New Times.

Despite the possible delay, which would allow undocumented students to continue taking courses through the fall at $96 per credit (for up to six credit hours) instead of $300 per credit, this has the potential to be very bad news for undocumented youth and illegal immigrants in general.

This is because Maricopa Community Colleges plan to ask AG Horne to provide legal advice on their tuition increase and the legal interpretation of House Bill 2008 that spawned it.

As New Times has reported, the district justifies its decision to increase tuition for undocumented students based on its interpretation of House Bill 2008, a 2007 piece of legislation denying "public benefits" to unauthorized immigrants in Arizona.

At first, the Community Colleges argued that tuition costs are not a public benefit -- they're a service, paid for by individuals out of their own pocket -- but the board, led by new counsel Lee Combs, has recently changed its mind.

If the board asks Horne to provide an advisory opinion and the Attorney General decides that tuition is a public benefit, it could lead to higher costs of tuition for undocumented students at every community college in the state.

A reliable source forwarded e-mails to us over the weekend from the chancellor, general counsel, and board members, which are published below and suggest serious friction between four board members on one side of the debate and the in-house counsel and his minutewoman friend on the other.

Maricopa Community Colleges' spokesman Tom Gariepy conceded the board is reconsidering its tuition increase.

We left a message for Horne but haven't heard back. We will update you if we do.

And now, the e-mails:

From Debra Pearson, Friday afternoon at 2:31

I am outraged that we are going to stir this up and stir people up by calling an off the schedule Board meeting and discuss something that is incredibly clear! We are antagonizing the subject and it is ridiculous to do so, as well as immature and irresponsible. We took an oath to uphold all State and Federal laws. This is not up for discussion. It is clear that it is the law, like it or not, it is the law. MOVE ON! If people want to change the law, then go for it. But for now, here is the law, DONE! There is nothing to discuss. We cannot be a part of advocating to change the law as a Board. Members want to get inolved individually and do so, knock yourselves out. If we do not do what the law requires, then we can be removed as a Board.

Why atagonize the subject and the people on both sides of this issue. We did what we had to do and to politically grandstand on the frustrations of those this impacts is morally wrong. There is no other reason to discuss this further. Not appropriate to pour salt in the wound and keep stirring it up!

From Chancellor Rufus Glasper, at 3:00

I have received responses from each member as to the following: scheduling a board meeting to discuss and recommend an out of state tuition delay and obtaining an Attorney Generals opinion. I have 4 yes and 1 no as indicated with Mrs. Pearsons response. I will move forward to schedule a meeting for Tuesday at 6pm unless directed otherwise. Thank you.

From Lee Combs, sometime after Glasper but before Saturday morning:

You will see that, in my opinion, reversal or delay in implementing your tuition decision would violate the law and expose you to a citizens' suit to require compliance. Failure to implement the guidance respecting reporting of "discovered violations" of immigration law would expose our employees to criminal prosecution without the benefit of institutional policy as protection.

From board Chairman Randolph Lumm, at 7:30 a.m. Saturday:

There will be a Maricopa County Community College District Board meeting on Tuesday June 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm see attached agenda. Also attached is the link to the agenda for the board meeting on June 28, 2011. We are having an executive session before the board meeting with the district attorney. The district attorney has already sent the board a message that recommends the board not delaying the tuition increase for immigrant students. Below is part of the message to the board from the district attorney. Below also is Ms. Pearson message citing the law to make her point of view.
Randolph Lumm
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Gregory Pratt
Contact: Gregory Pratt