Dr. Nancy Grass takes on new role as Interim Dean of Student Life

Nancy Grass began teaching at Santa Monica College 14 years ago. It was then she bought her first box of paper clips. Every now and then, Grass receives documents bound by paper clips. She puts these in her original paper clip box.

“None of these paper clips in this box are probably the original paper clips,” Grass said, displaying her porcelain box of paper clips. “They’ve probably been traded out over the years. But... I’m still working off that original box.”

Grass did the math on paper clips: if 1,000 faculty members receive one box of paper clips each year, it adds up to $3000. To her, this money should go towards the students instead.

"I keep [paper clips] in this little box... right in front of me where I sit. It’s a reminder that it’s public money," Grass said. "It’s students’ money, and we have to be very careful of what we do with the students’ money.”

Grass prides herself in being responsible, ethical and cautious. As the new Interim Assistant Dean of Student Life, Nancy Grass has just one motto: “By the book.”

As a dean of Student Life, Grass advises over the Associated Students Board, the Inter-Club Council and the Cayton Center.

During her appointment, Grass looks to regain a powerful, positive reputation and solidify the campus’ trust for the AS Board.

“In the last several years... [AS] made missteps,” Grass said. “The AS took a beating in the press, and took a beating on their image on campus. One of my personal goals I want to see happen is AS regain its reputation as a powerful voice for the student body.”

Grass plans to rebuild trust between students and AS by advising with a “sense of transparency.” To her, this means operating business in a “fair and open way,” figuratively and literally.

With her open door policy, Grass faces confusion and shock from her AS Board and colleagues. When students and faculty warn Grass that she can be heard from outside her office, Grass firmly tells them the door stays open.

“Someone came in and said ‘Nancy, they can hear you out there,’” Grass said “That’s okay with me... This is the work of the public. If we can't have my door open, then we shouldn't be talking about whatever we’re talking about. If you can't stand out in the middle of the quad and say it, don't say it.”

Above all else, Grass stressed the need to properly enforce and follow rules before bending them.

During the summer, Grass spent two months reading up on education codes. Immediately after learning bylaws and rules for herself, Grass began imparting her new knowledge unto the new AS board and Student Life staff during a three day-long seminar.

“We’re kind of joking with ourselves, but we are calling ourselves ‘The Office of No Exceptions’,” Grass said. “We’re trying to get back to the zero line. Whether we like it or not, these are the policies, these are the rules, this is the constitution and bylaws.”

Taking on the interim position, Grass stepped down as the Communications Department chairperson. This is Grass’ first fall semester working outside of the classroom since she began teaching in 1996.

“I felt conflicted about not being in the class, but excited to try on a new leadership role,” Grass said. “It’s hard to walk away from teaching. [New roles] are a little bit uncomfortable, but I’m having a lot of fun too.”

Vice president Mike Tuitasi approached Grass about the interim position in June. Though this position is a new role for Grass, she pulls from her experience as the Communications Department chair and her knowledge from her PhD in Leadership and Higher Education.

“I understand the ethical responsibility of people working up here,” Grass said. “I think that’s part of the reason they hired me."

While Grass committed to the position for this academic year, no plan concerning a permanent assistant dean has been discussed yet. No matter her position next year, Grass remains a tenured faculty member.

Watch Dean Grass at work at the AS Board meeting in Cayton Center on Mondays at 3 P.M. In the meantime, Grass’ office door remains open to all in the Student Life center.

“All students are part of AS,” Grass said. “And what a crime if we are referring to our students with a rolled eye, curled lip. As educators, if they are going off the rails, we need to get them back on the rails because this can be a life changing leadership experience for students.”