John Gordon has tackled the role of the first president of the College of Santa Fe’s new incarnation as the Santa Fe University for Art and Design. He is an artist and arts administrator who has been academic dean for the Institute of American Indian Arts, provost at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, Calif., and most recently acted as interim director for the Center for Contemporary Arts.
SFR: Santa Fe wants to know%u2015how do we pronounce the new acronym for Santa Fe University of Art and Design?
It’s not a very phonetic acronym, is it? I prefer simply: “Santa Fe University” or “Santa Fe U.”
You came from a stint as executive direcor of CCA to helm the college. Convince me you're not a masochist.
Hah…some might think so. Actually the Center for Contemporary Arts and the College of Santa Fe are alike in the sense that they are both venerable Santa Fe institutions that fell on hard times and needed assistance. Both also serve as important creative hubs within our community, and both are critical to our city’s ability to retain our own youth and attract new young people to create the future of Santa Fe. Without CCA and without CSF, our city will continue down the path its on%u2015an increasingly grey-haired community whose children too often seek to leave for greener pastures elsewhere.
What's the status of accreditation? The school's website seems to imply that it's a done deal, but I thought it was still in process?
In late April, we had a very thorough and successful 3-day visit by a 5-member evaluation team from the North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission (HLC). We believe the Commission will act in August or September. If the Commission follows the recommendation of its evaluation team, we would receive a 5 year renewal of accreditation. Also, this fall we’ll begin the process of seeking an optional, specialized accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. That process is likely to take between 18 and 24 months. This country’s best art and design schools are NASAD members.
Some people think it's presumptuous to call CSF a university. What's your take?
It may sound presumptuous to some who watched the old College’s painful slide toward closure, but those folks haven’t had the opportunity to see for themselves how fast we’re breathing new life into the school. Thanks to our partnership with the City, by the time fall classes begin we will have refurbished all our student residence halls and built a beautiful new dining facility to serve both our community and guests. We’re also making important investments in our technology infrastructure and in the hardware and software available to our students. This fall our Contemporary Music program will re-open after a one-year hiatus, adding back an important breadth to our program offerings. We’ve hired more than a dozen new full-time faculty to serve our growing student body. This fall will also begin work on a number of new curricular initiatives, which will lead to the addition of new graduate programs%u2015the hallmark of most established universities.
Remember also that in many countries of the world, the word “college” is equivalent to what we know as “high school.” Since we intend to serve students from New Mexico, the US and around the world, “university” is the term that universally conveys “higher education” to everyone.
Convince me that we can build a world class art and design school here.
Great creative institutions are distinguished by their faculty and staff, by their facilities, by their library resources and their technology infrastructure, and by the quality of the students who elect to study at those institutions. We already have an exceptional core group of faculty and we continue to make world-class appointments such as theatre producer/director Jon Jory, authors Porochista Khakpour and Emily Rapp, cinematographer Harry Mathias, sculptor Susan York, and graphic designer Stephen Lee – to name only a few.
I already described to you a few of the very significant investments we’re making to the campus facilities and infrastructure. And of course our faculty, staff and students have access to outstanding resources such as the renowned Santa Fe Art Institute and The Screen.
Further we’re investing a great deal of energy and funding into attracting the very best students from New Mexico, as well from around the nation and around the globe. This fall we expect that as many as 75 international students will enrich the experience of our domestic student population.
What does it mean to Santa Fe that Bill Clinton is the honorary chancellor of Laureate Education?
I believe President Clinton’s acceptance of this honorary leadership role indicates his understanding of the quality and integrity of the Santa Fe University and our Laureate Network partners around the globe. I hope it will also mean a future Santa Fe visit by both President and Secretary Clinton to help celebrate the remarkable educational partnership that Mayor Coss,Governor Richardson and former CSF Interim President Larry Hines have built for our community.
Give me the short version on transitioning a middling liberal arts school with a history of economic and leadership problems into a nationally significant and competitive art and design program.
I think the question may be a bit unfair to the old college. After all, we are the beneficiaries of the great work the old college did in building facilities like the Greer Garson Theatre, the Fogelson Library, the Marion Center for Photographic Arts, the Garson Communications Center and Garson Studios. What we’ve done is to recognize the strengths of the old college in the arts, and aided by the support of the City we’ve focus as intently as possible on those strengths. To do that we’ve needed to recruit additional nationally-respected faculty and build a strong enrollment team to help inform prospective students about what we have to offer. Our new name also draws on the international reputation of Santa Fe as a center of traditional arts and culture as well as a center for new media and the creative forms of our time and place.
Will exchanges to other Laureate schools work for faculty as well as students?
Absolutely. We’ll be working with our faculty to introduce them to their peers at other partner schools in the US and abroad, and then we’ll encourage interested faculty to propose ways to collaborate or interact with the network faculty members who interest them the most.
What role in St. Michael's redevelopment do you envision for SFUAD?
I need to learn much more about the City’s plans to enhance St. Michael’s Drive as a “creative corridor,” but clearly Santa Fe University together with the Santa Fe Art Institute would be important building blocks of that effort.
How do you plan to win over community skeptics?
I’d like to ask everyone who is skeptical about our new University, including those who feel they were hurt in the process of the old college’s closure, to feel personally invited to visit the new Santa Fe University of Art and Design to see for themselves the exciting things that are happening on campus. We are here to serve our students and our community, and we want everyone to feel welcome.