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27 May 2008

JSU Alum Named Acting GSCC President

Acting Gadsden State Community College President Valerie A. Richardson, seen at the Joe Ford Center, said she hasn’t had a chance to decide on priorities because she has been on the job less than a week. Photo: Gadsden Times|Marc Golden

By Andy Powell
Times Staff Writer
Published May 25, 2008

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Acting GSCC President Voices Compassion

Gadsden State Community College acting President Valerie A. Richardson said she doesn’t have all the answers for the problems facing higher education, but she does have one essential characteristic needed — compassion.

Interviewed last week after her appointment to the post May 16 by Chancellor Bradley Byrne, Richardson still was unloading boxes and hanging pictures in her office on the third floor of the Joe Ford Building.

“I have the heart and compassion, I feel like I’ve been where people are at and I really have a true compassion for people,” Richardson said.

She said while she has compassion, she isn’t a pushover.

“I’m a fair person,” Richardson said. “I follow policy and procedures all day long.”

She said she hasn’t really had a chance to decide on priorities or programs she will push as acting president of the school that has an enrollment of about 5,500 students because she had literally been on the job less than a week.

“Gadsden State is a great institution is what I need to say,” Richardson said, “and this community is blessed.

“We’re just grateful to have to be in the position we are with this institution.”

Richardson, 46, is acting president, while President Renée Culverhouse is out on medical leave until Dec. 31, when she will retire. Culverhouse initially had announced she would stay on the job until Dec. 31, but later opted to go on medical leave until that time. Culverhouse has been GSCC president since 2001.

Richardson then will be named interim president while a search takes place for a new president. That search likely will begin in the spring.

Asked if she would be interested in the position permanently, Richardson jokingly said that it was only her third day in the position.

“I’m just going to have to pray on this,” Richardson said. “Right now, I just want to do a good job. I don’t want to take us backwards. I want to go forward.”

“I’ll do my best. I’ll give it my best,” Richardson said.

She said the state two-year college system is undergoing some “bumps and bruises” with corruption investigations ongoing, but that Gadsden State is “sitting in a good position.”

Byrne has said he wants to clean up the community college system.

“He can bet he has my assurance of me abiding by policy and procedure,” Richardson said.

“What I want to do is just enhance what we are doing. I want to be able to provide more services, so I’m going to have to be really creative,” she added, noting the Legislature has not approved the education budget.

“A great deal of prayer and creativity is going to go into being able to maintain the service delivery that we’ve been doing.”

“You’ve got to keep up with the times. You have to keep up with what’s going on.”

Richardson said her initial reaction was to refuse the position of acting president because she didn’t know if she could do a good job.

But after prayer and talking with her pastor and husband, she decided to take the job.

She said she wouldn’t have accepted the position if she hadn’t felt she could do a good job as president.

Richardson believes in a “team approach” to management.

“I will consult and confer with my colleagues and take their advice,” she said.

As vice president of institutional advancement and student services, Richardson saw and worked with students every day.

She said she has warned her secretary that her former clientele, including students and veterans, likely would be dropping by to see her in her new position because she had worked with them in the past.

“Students will drop in all the time to see me where I was,” Richardson said of her previous position, “because you know they’ve got to come tell me their problems and I have to help them.”

Richardson said that on her second day as president, three students came by to show her pictures but she was in a meeting and was unable to see them.

She said she will miss the interaction with students in her new position.

Richardson said she didn’t really think about being the first black person to serve as acting president and then as interim president of Gadsden State.

“I’m honored because sure it says that we’re making advances in our society,” Richardson said. “And that’s always good, that we’re always accepting persons for not the color of their skins but for their skill sets — for who they are, their abilities — so that’s always good. That always makes my heart feel good.

“I’m honored about that and I’m proud about that because I’m proud to be an African-American, and if I can be a role model for any African-American that’s out there saying, ‘No, I can’t make it. I’ll never be able to go to school,’ ... my gosh, if I can get just one of them, that will be a good thing.”

Richardson is working on her dissertation for her doctorate from the University of Alabama. She’s addressing diversity in education of faculty and administration and the impact of a lack of minorities in those positions.

Richardson grew up in Talladega Springs near Sylacauga and attended Fayetteville High School. She received her undergraduate degree from Jacksonville State University with a double major in biology and sociology and a minor in psychology. She also received her master’s degree from JSU.

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