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Santa Monica College Executive Vice President Dies

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August 26, 2014 – Santa Monica College Executive Vice President and Chief Instructional Officer (CIO) Randal “Randy” Lawson – who was known for his sense of humor, love of music and a dedication to education that won him statewide recognition -- died unexpectedly last Tuesday. He was 66.

All who knew him remember Lawson as a friendly, outgoing former music professor and practicing classical pianist who was dedicated to making access to education his professional, as well as his personal, mission.

Randy Lawson
Trained as a pianist, Lawson worked for SMC for 35 years, starting out as a faculty member with the College's Music department. Picture provided by Santa Monica College.

“The impact that Randy had on Santa Monica College as well as the statewide system of community colleges and all of the students we serve cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Chui L. Tsang, SMC’s superintendent and president. 

“Randy Lawson was this quiet giant at Santa Monica College,” College Board member Barry Snell told the Lookout.  “His intuitional knowledge of the California Community College system and his dedication for improving the instructional delivery to our students will be greatly missed.”

Lawson earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Oklahoma City University and a later a Master of Music degree from the University of Southern California (USC).

He performed as a pianist in solo and chamber music recitals throughout Southern California and appeared as a soloist with the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra, the USC Symphony Orchestra and the SMC Orchestra.

“Randy had a great sense of humor and loved a good story—and he was a great storyteller,” Tsang said. “He loved Broadway musicals, opera, great music, movies, and television.

“Those who had the opportunity to work with him every day enjoyed the stories and music and a lot of laughter.”

 Lawson, who was appointed Executive Vice President on January 1, 2005, started his lifelong career at SMC 35 years ago as a faculty member in the Music Department, where he eventually climbed the ladder to become the Department Chair and first coordinator of the Arts Mentor Program.

He was a mentor and advisor to many members of the college community, gaining the respect and admiration of those who met him, Tsang said. 

“He was an excellent listener who always expressed care for others and the concerns that were brought to him. With his wisdom he helped individuals navigate difficult times in both their professional and personal lives.”

In 1987, Lawson was elected President of the Academic Senate, and was also a member of the Educational Policies Committee of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.

Lawson was appointed Vice President of Academic Affairs in 1998 after having served in several administrative posts, including Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, Administrative Dean of Instruction, Administrative Dean of Academic Personnel and Dean of Arts.

He also served as the College’s Chief Instructional Officer (CIO), taking a lead position in developing the curriculum for SMC’s Academy of Entertainment & Technology. 

“Randy was a great friend and mentor to many of us who dedicated our careers at Santa Monica College,” said Jeffery Shimizu, who recently retired as the college’s vice president of Academic Affairs.

“He also had a major impact and made significant contributions to the Chief Instructional organization, as well as the State Chancellor’s Office,” Shimizu said. “He was the most knowledgeable colleague I ever worked with, and I am going to deeply miss him.”

While serving as CIO, Lawson also had a hand in creating SMC’s High School Dual Enrollment Program and is credited with facilitating significant growth in the College’s general instructional program, according to officials.

He also served as Accreditation Liaison Officer, overseeing the accreditation process on the College’s side in 1998, 2004 and 2010.

A member of the Executive Board of the California Community Colleges Chief Instructional Officers (CCCCIO) organization since 2000, Lawson served as the organization’s President in 2002-03 and again in 2006-07.

“Randy left an amazing legacy across the state as a result of the many training sessions he did for the CIO group,” said SMC Dean of Academic Affairs Erica LeBlanc. “He always enjoyed training new and aspiring CIOs during their conferences in the ‘411’ sessions.”

For his commitment to the profession, Lawson received the group’s 2007-08 Carter Doran Leadership Award.  Within a year, he received his second statewide leadership award, the 2008-09 Administrative Excellence Award from the Association of California Community College Administrators.

“When I served in the CIO role, between 1997 and 2005, Randy was my trusted mentor,” said Irvine Valley College President Dr. Glenn R. Roquemore. “His charm and good humor made him a joy to serve with, in any capacity, and he was one of the most intelligent and exacting Chief Instructional Officers that I have ever met.”

He was a founding member of the System Advisory Committee on Curriculum, and served as one of its co-chairs for 2005-06, 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10.

"He will be sorely missed,” SMC Boardmember Andrew Walzer told the Lookout. “He was a vital and integral part of the college leadership, and it will be hard to fill his shoes.

“Community colleges are very complex institutions with multiple layers of state and local regulation, and Randy Lawson was a master at understanding these layers of regulation."

Lawson was also a member of the ETS (Educational Testing Service) National Community College Advisory Council.
Lawson is survived by his sister Regina Yates, brother-in-law Howard, and nephew Tyler.

Funeral services will be private, officials say. A memorial event in Lawson’s honor will be held at Santa Monica College at a date and time to be announced by the College in a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the Yates Family, c/o Santa Monica College Foundation, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405. Funds will be used to establish a scholarship in Lawson’s memory.

The family will also be contributing to the scholarship, and plans to donate Lawson’s grand piano to the SMC Music Department.

A memory book is available for messages and signatures in the SMC Office of Academic Affairs. Cards will be delivered to the family if sent to the SMC Office of Academic Affairs, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405.

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