Former college president: Temp job turned into 30 years

After graduating in 1952 from Portales High School, Jim Turner thought his career would come outside of eastern New Mexico.

More than half a century later, he has a 30-year career at Clovis Community College. The former college president, who graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1956, is now an inductee of UNM’s Anderson Hall of Fame.

He and two other nominees will be honored March 20 at the school.

Q: You were in the Navy for three years, and worked in Milwaukee, San Diego, San Francisco, Fort Worth, Texas, and Houston. What brought you back?
My mother and dad got sick in Portales. My assumption was I was going to come down here until they solved their problems. I took a job with Clovis Community College in 1969 (which was then a branch campus of Eastern New Mexico University).
They asked me to come down and set up an accounting system. At that time, we had Vietnam and a lot of guys in reserves. When they got their orders, they just left — they didn’t withdraw from college. They needed to set up an accounting system to check on people.
Then, the administrator here resigned within two weeks, so I was the campus director for the next two years.

Q: What positions did you hold, and how did the college grow?
I had the title of branch director, business manager, vice president of administration and then president for about a year. They asked me to stay and I already had 30 years in.
I started working with the students, and started enjoying it. That’s the reason I stayed. I enjoyed working with the kids and with the school.
The college, in 1969, we had two 600-square-foot classrooms. We had the library in one and the administrative offices in the other.
I didn’t join the job to make a career of it, but 30 years later I was still there.
Now, what we’ve accomplished in that time … in 1969, we had around 275 full-time students. Today, we’re running around 2,000.
We currently have 315,000 square feet, and that’s from virtually nothing in 1970.

Q: What do you think is the biggest reason for the growth?
The availability of education has created a greater number of students. To be able to stay in Clovis and go to school (is a big selling point). We had a different mission (as a community college) to put in vocational studies.
The public schools gave us Eugene Field (Elementary School building) in 1971.
We were able to put in carpentry, electronics, secretarial science, nursing. Without the space, we couldn’t do anything. Near the end of the 1970s, we got the funding and the space to start phase two of our current campus.
I think we have people (in Clovis) that want to go into a vocation where the pay starts off better. They’re dedicated to their trade, and that’s what it really involves.

Q: How challenging is it to keep a quality staff of vocational instructors, since people with that kind of knowledge are often sought after in their field of expertise?
It’s very difficult. There are many good jobs out there. You need dedicated teachers. We have nurses who go on to better areas. (A nursing instructor can) get a $10,000 (annual) bump to change jobs, so they’ve got to want to teach.

Q: The community is important to helping build a college, but how much does the community impact the curriculum?
It has to respond to the community. Take carpentry. If you’re building a lot of houses, kids don’t take carpentry classes because employers will pull them right off the street. Now, when building slows down, they go back into the education and builders require them to get education.
We’re working with the community right now to monitor the indoctrination of new employees. We’re working with Cummins (natural gas engines) and the (Southwest) Cheese plant. We’re looking forward to the military and the changes that are coming, and we’ll respond to that.

Q: You retired in 1999, though you’re still active as a representative of the college. Where have you seen CCC’s biggest improvements since retiring?
We’re doing a better job of informing the public about the college. We have a trustee election coming up, and I think the interest in that is by far the greatest interest we’ve had. I think it’s good that the population is taking part in the college.

— Based on an interview with CNJ Staff Writer Kevin Wilson and edited for clarity, style and space.

Fast facts
Jim Turner
Born: Jan. 28, 1934
High School: Portales High School, 1952
College: University of New Mexico, 1956, bachelor’s in finance; also studied at Eastern New Mexico University (MBA), Doctorate from Walden University.
Occupation: Retired
Jobs held at Clovis Community College: Branch director, business manager, vice president of administration, president, president emeritus
Hobbies: Working with the college. “My wife can vouch for that.”