SANTA FE, N.M. — Ever since the creation of Santa Fe Community College, Randy Grissom has bounced back and forth, continually coming back to the school from whatever venture drew him away.
Last week, he bounced right to the top.
And although he’s stepping in as acting president during a tense situation, with President Ana “Cha” Guzmán on paid administrative leave while she fights for her job, Grissom appeared cool and unflustered during an interview in his office on Thursday.
“It is a little hectic. There are so many things going on,” he said. “But it’s not as bad as you might think.”
Grissom was named to fill in last Monday, after the college’s governing board voted 3-2 to send Guzmán notice that she would be terminated for just cause. Guzmán requested a formal hearing in which to make her case, which is scheduled for Dec. 2.
Her tenure appears to have polarized many on the campus, with some people loving her and some detesting her. Grissom hopes he can bridge that gap.
He noted that he has served on Guzmán’s administrative team, rising in the past year from dean for economic and workforce development to vice president for academic affairs. But at the same time, he has spent many years at the campus.
“I know people throughout the campus. I hope I am looked at as a trusted person on campus,” he said.
And, while he’s keeping most initiatives moving forward, Grissom said he is applying the brakes to reorganization efforts, which have raised hackles among faculty and staffers who found themselves losing titles or facing job changes without feeling they had any voice in the matter.
“I’m just trying to keep the lights on,” Grissom said, adding that he isn’t planning any big changes in however long he is acting president. “We’re still hiring people. Until things settle in place, I’ll just keep things going.”
While he said he has no idea how long he will fill the role, Grissom said he assumes it may last through December. And, he noted, that’s a slow time on campus, as the semester wraps up and students go on break.
Grissom, who got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration with a concentration in accounting and statistics at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth in 1972 and 1973, said he was one of the first three full-time faculty members hired when SFCC was born 30 years ago.
“Within three weeks, they asked me to be division head,” a position comparable to dean, he said, noting that he was replacing someone who left unexpectedly.
One of the great things about being in on the ground floor of a new institution, Grissom noted with a grin, is that there’s no one to dampen a new idea by saying, “But we’ve always done it this way.”
That excitement of creating something new has guided him throughout his career. “I really like to get new things started,” Grissom said. “When the college opened, it was a very exciting thing. That was so much fun.”
After about a half-dozen years teaching and leading the Business and Occupations Division, Grissom created and headed the New Mexico Small Business Development Center through the college, then moved on to vice-president and president of the Industry Network Corp. in Albuquerque in 1994-99. He worked in a couple of private industry jobs before returning to SFCC in 2003-04 as chief financial officer and vice president for administrative services before again leaving to work as a consultant to colleges on various projects.
“The last time I came back (in 2008) was to help put together the sustainable technologies program,” Grissom said. “It was the perfect fit.” Students learn some of the basic trades and how to apply them in growing, green fields such as biofuels, algae production, solar technology and more.
Now students are working with Los Alamos National Laboratory in applied research with biofuels, he said.
The programs in that area, where potential students on tours can see things bubbling and growing instead of simply sitting in a static classroom, help get youths excited about education who previously might not have found much for them in academics, he said.
And that’s clearly what excites Grissom the most at SFCC. Asked what he is most proud of, he quickly answered, “Making an impact on students.” Seeing former students getting into careers or starting their own businesses in very satisfying, he said.
“I really think we (at SFCC) have made a lot of difference in people’s lives over the years,” he said, adding, “I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing how much the college has grown… When we first moved here, it was a dirt road.”
If the job he is temporarily filling came open, would he want it?
After a long pause, Grissom said, “I don’t know.
“I love this institution, and helping out in an interim way is something I’d be open to. But I don’t know if I would apply or not (to be permanent president).”