Jeffery the referee: Talking to SMC's new President

For Dr. Kathryn Jeffery, the hardest part about getting used to the Southern California is how we measure distance. “One of the other things I'm learning about is that you [Southern Californians] judge distances in terms of time, not miles,” said Jeffery about the types of adjustments she’s experiencing during her transition from Sacramento, where she had been President of Sacramento City College, to Santa Monica for her new role as Superintendent President of SMC.

Officially taking office a mere five weeks ago — with a brief sojourn in January to attend a Board of Trustees meeting — Jeffery has been quietly busy all over the SMC campus and its satellites. She has been traveling from place to place, attending meetings, meeting new people and performing a handful of ceremonial duties but not yet making concrete decisions about what she wants to do with her new leadership role.

“It’s hard for me to know what to do with the college yet,” said Jeffery.

The touring is all to help her get a better idea about her currently developing plan for SMC. Meeting faculty, students, administration, union “Classified” staff members as well as the heads of local colleges and VIPs from the surrounding community recommended to her by a transition team that she described as “very supportive,” Jeffery has been learning the lay of the land. Sometimes, quite literally.

“I have a hard time just knowing when I'm still in Santa Monica or if I've crossed into Venice,” said Jeffery, laughing softly about the common confusions of traveling around the west side for the first time.

Coming from the state capitol, Jeffery expressed admiration for the unique nature of Santa Monica and how different it is from her prior perceptions of the Los Angeles County area, especially in terms of size. “Santa Monicans don't see themselves as an extension of LA and they're not. It's a unique place in and of itself. Santa Monica is Santa Monica.”

“It's a small community in a way. At eight square miles [Santa Monica is] literally small,” said Jeffery about the close-knit community of both Santa Monica and SMC. “But in that type of setting, that means you have very close connections. Close ties. People know each other well. So they can be very instrumental in helping to connect me as the president of the college to others within the community I should know."

Talking to Jeffery reveals a woman aligned with this low-key philosophy of observing carefully and intently rather than acting rashly. One on one, she’s a quiet, dignified woman with an obviously strong reserve of experience and wisdom. A person who carefully chooses her words, and patiently makes her choices. Someone who wouldn’t offer a flip remark without reason, and is all the more respected for her praise.

And it’s this praise that she has recently been offering to both students and guests. At the March 7 AS Meeting, Jeffery was on hand to observe how the student government conducts their affairs. She gave a short speech toward the end of the meeting saying, “Your way of going through your reports is impressive. I've seen a number of different student body groups do business and I think the way you're doing things here sounds like you take your role very seriously. So thank you for that."

She went on throughout the week to preside over a luncheon offering Anita Sarkeesian the Alumni of the Year award and then give a welcome to the faculty on the recent Professional Development “Flex Day” on Tuesday, March 15.

But while she is hesitant to act on major directional changes for SMC, she has been getting to know the various issues that are pertinent to the student body. In response to AS President Jesse Randel’s current push to lower the unit minimum requirements for AS members which he said drew some resistance from the Administration, Jeffery said, “I know that Jesse has his opinion on it. Other members of the AS do too. And our Board of Trustees obviously have their way of looking at it, obviously from an administration perspective. I can see both points of view."

She sees the potential of SMC’s new offer of a Bachelor’s degree in Interaction Design too. “It puts us in the arena where we will be the only one, or one of a very few, higher education institutions offering that kind of training. Certainly on the west coast," said Jeffery.

But for Jeffery, the best part about her transition has been the warm welcome delivered to her by the students of SMC. She beamed with pride at a recent encounter with a student who recognized her as she relaxed at her current favorite part of the quad — in front of the Main Stage near the Coffee Spot. Said Jeffery with a wide smile, “I sat there a couple weeks ago and one of the students who had seen me at the [public] interview saw me and wanted to take a picture with me. We took this, as he called it, 'cool' selfie."

She still hasn't tweeted it yet. She’s waiting to get the express permission from the student. It’s the kind of careful approach that Jeffery’s presidency seems will likely be defined by.

That, and her appreciation for students and their success. "Honestly,” said Jeffery, “I feel like everybody at the school is connected to me in some way. You know, I love what I do."