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Alice Letteney: UNM-Valencia chancellor, music and art lover and world traveler

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Dr. Alice Vivian Letteney is the chancellor of The University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus, a positions she has held for 25 years under a variety of titles.

Originally from Massachusetts, she calls Rio Communities home. She has seven brothers and sisters living on the East Coast, and 13 nieces and nephews; three stepchildren, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, all living on the East Coast.

Q What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

A “Being in the car is a very relaxing time for me for the most part, and so I listen to music. I love Phil Collins and was able to see him in person last year in the Chase Center in San Francisco. He had just undergone back surgery and was seated for most of the show, but he is a great performer. I also listen to Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson, opera and show tunes from, for example, the ‘South Pacific.’”

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Dr. Alice Letteney has been the head administrator at The University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus for 25 years.

Q What’s a myth about your profession you’d like to bust?

A “When people think about college administrators, I expect that the first impression is that the person is an intellectual. In fact, the best administrators I have ever known have had common sense as one their first attributes, as well as understanding how to communicate, to have empathy and compassion, and to be able to read a budget.”

Q What were you like in high school?

A “In high school, I was very studious. I loved history and English and volunteered on the student newspaper. As the fourth of nine children, I helped take care of my younger brothers and sisters.

“I loved baseball, the Red Sox, and attended a few games at Fenway Park as a teenager, where I was thrilled to see stars like Ted Williams play. And, as many of my generation, I was an avid Beatles fan.”

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Dr. Alice Letteney and her late husband, Bob, enjoyed traveling, including to destinations such as the Taj Mahal in India.

Q What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?

A “The best piece of advice that I received was from my father, who thought I was on my way to marrying a very nice young man who later became a minister. My father doubted, however, that the young man would make a good provider, and suggested that he was not concerned about my marrying him because he was sure that I could provide for both of us. The fact that he believed in my ability to earn a good living boosted my confidence through my early career.”

Q What did you want to be when you grew up?

A “I wavered between wanting to be a psychologist and a teacher. I was fascinated by how people behaved and what motivated them, but ironically, I never ended up taking a single psychology class in college.

“I was very influenced by many teachers throughout my life, and so, after receiving my master’s degree in 1970, I taught English for nearly 20 years. During that time, I completed my Ph.D., and went into administration.”

Q Who inspires you?

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From left, The University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus Advisory Board Secretary Belinda Martinez, Chairman Paul Luna, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, Chancellor Alice Letteney and board member Roberta Scott during Torres Small’s visit to campus in 2019.

A “I am inspired by great artists — writers, composers, actors, singers, dancers. I have had the honor of meeting James Michener, Robert Penn Warren, John Updike, Seamus Heaney, Buckminster Fuller, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. I saw Pavarotti sing and Nureyev and Makarova dance. All of these artists have been inspiring.”

Q If you could work any other job for one day, what would it be and why?

A “If I could work any other job for a day, I would like to be a journalist, interviewing people who have been part of history in their lifetimes — Ethel Kennedy, James Clyburn, Orrin Hatch, Barbara Walters. Each of these individuals would have interesting perspectives on American history, and American popular culture.”

Q What do you do in your free time?

A “In my free time, I like to visit my relatives on the East and West Coasts, and travel, read mystery novels, and watch detective shows on television. My late husband and I traveled to many wonderful places. He loved India, and so we traveled there, as well as Nepal, where we had a hotel in the Himalayas. In the past several years I have traveled with my family to England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy.”

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In 2004, Dr. Alice Letteney testified before Congress at the request of the American Association of Community Colleges on a bill that would have given for-profit institutions the ability to apply for federal education grants.

Q What’s something about you most people don’t know?

A “I think that during this pandemic most people do not know how impressed I am by the hard work of our staff, faculty and students. In such a difficult time, I see faculty and students working to adapt to new modalities of learning, and staff always there to provide whatever support is needed to bring the best education we can to our students.”

Q What three books would you to take to a deserted island?

A “Because I love poetry, I would want to bring an anthology of world poetry to the island. Some of my favorite American poets are Walt Whitman, James Dickey, Robert Bly, Emily Dickinson and Constance Carrier. Since I am fascinated by the Transcendentalists, I would bring ‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau. And, loving detective fiction, I would bring an anthology of Dorothy Sayers’ novels.”

Q You find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

A “I would track down the owner of the lottery ticket and offer my congratulations.”

Q Who is your best friend and why?

A “During this pandemic, there is one creature that I spend most of my time with, and so I would have to say that she is my best friend. Her name is Blue, and she is a Corgi-Blue heeler mix. In the morning, before I start the day with emails and Zoom meetings, I take a lovely walk to the end of the street where she sniffs, and I see the beautiful mountains. At the end of the day, we have another brief walk before relaxing in the evening. She is a wonderful companion.”

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Dr. Alice Letteney, Chancellor of The University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus, takes a tour with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich during his visit to the campus in 2011.

Q What’s your favorite song to sing when you’re alone?

A “I don’t sing alone.”

Q Where is your happy place, and why?

A “I was very fortunate as a child to spend a part of each summer at the ocean. So, I have to say, that being at the ocean is my happy place since it is relaxing and puts me in a contemplative mood.

“A few years ago, when my brother and sister were traveling on the coast of Italy, we took off our shoes and waded in the ocean, remembering our childhood summers.”

Q Have you had a life-changing experience that led you to where you are today?

A “Probably the most life changing experiences I’ve had was growing up in the ’60s, a very turbulent time in our country’s history. I remember gathering in the high school auditorium as a junior in high school, to be told by our principal that President Kennedy had been shot.

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Chancellor Alice Letteney celebrating former The University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus history professor Richard Melzer’s retirement in 2019 with UNM-Valencia Dean of Instruction Dr. Laura Musselwhite and Chief Financial Officer Rick Goshorn in the campus cafeteria.

“And then, after graduating from college, learning that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. These experiences led me to want to help build a more peaceful and just society.”

Q What teacher had the greatest impact on you?

A “I have had many teachers who have had an impact on me, from grade school through graduate school. In college, I was a work-study student for a philosophy professor who made me sit through his graduate seminar on Plato after I had delivered the coffee and cookies to the class. It was a wonderful experience.”

Q What is your favorite movie scene and why?

A “My favorite movie scene is from ‘Gone with the Wind.’ It is, of course, the final scene in the movie where Rhett Butler, tired of placating a very self-indulgent Scarlett O’Hara tells her that he doesn’t care what she does with the rest of her life. ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,’ Rhett says. What a memorable scene with the great Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable.”

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Dr. Alice Letteney, the chancellor of The University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus in an undated high school yearbook photo.

Q If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be and why?

A “I would have dinner with Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of ‘The Scarlett Letter,’ among other works. I wrote my dissertation on Hawthorne’s major works and how he portrayed his female characters. Comparing them with the popular magazine fiction of the day, it was clear that he was very much influenced by the traditional beliefs about women’s place in society. I would enjoy asking him about how he created his heroines.”

Q What are you most proud of?

A “I am most proud of my advocacy for community college students. I was honored to be invited by the American Association of Community Colleges in 2004 to speak to the House Education Committee on keeping federal higher education grants from being offered to for profit colleges.

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Chancellor Alice Letteney accepting the Shirley B. Gordon Award of Distinction in 2015 from Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society of two-year colleges of which there is a chapter at The University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.

“I have been honored by the Phi Theta Kappa two-year college honor society for supporting community college honor students, and, last year I spoke at a press conference in the Capitol sponsored by minority serving college associations on the importance of supporting Hispanic higher education grants.”

Q How would you like to be remembered?

A “I would like to be remembered as a good person. And I would like to be remembered as a leader and an advocate for higher education, especially for community colleges.

“Coming from a large family of limited means, I understand the need for an affordable, accessible college education.”

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