By Jenny Thai
After two years as Columbia University provost, renowned social psychologist Claude Steele will return to Stanford as dean of the School of Education, succeeding current Dean Deborah Stipek on September 1.
Steele served as a professor of psychology at Stanford from 1991 to 2009. He was also the director of the Center of Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and the Center of Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. His research focuses on the individual psychological experience in domains such as such as stereotype threat, a social process that can drastically affect the experiences and performances of people belonging to negatively stereotyped groups.
The Stanford Daily spoke with Steele over the phone regarding his new position.
Claude Steele (CS): In a letter I wrote to my colleagues, I state that it “was far from an easy decision–perhaps the most difficult of my career…the decision to accept the Stanford offer came down to a difficult-to-pass-up opportunity to play a role in the field of education at this critical time in our nation’s history.”
TSD: What are you looking forward to most regarding your return to the Farm?
CS: A chance to learn about and from that School, to learn about the issues of educational issues and policies [and about] translating social science and psychological research to educational issues and social problems. It’s a really rich environment, and there are really great colleagues there.
TSD: What are some of the challenges you see in the School of Education, and how do you aim to address them?
CS: Just learning about the School, that’s my first challenge. I hope to talk to the people in the search committee. Stanford has a really great faculty. They’re very interested in seeing a closer intellectual community, so I suspect that’s something that’s going to be a priority–trying to form that sense of community. There’s also an emphasis to make [the School of Education] a strong focus of strong intellectual activity on campus–a real center.
TSD: Could you talk a little about your experience as provost at Columbia? What did you take away with there?
CS: Being provost is a really amazing job. You get to manage the university. You learn how the university works financially, what are the important things in maintaining their quality, what resources you have available to ensure that quality is maintained and maximizing them. It’s a privilege of a job to have that vantage point…The School of Education at Stanford is already a very good school, so the first thing is to do no harm.
TSD: What are some of the biggest issues in education? Which are the most urgent?
CS: Education is one of the hotter topics in society right now: how to educate our population really well, to have education that makes us a competitive society. How do you have a system that delivers that kind of education to all of our students? There are various theories out there. Democratization of access to education–that’s very important.
TSD:How do you feel about your transition from pure social sciences research to a program that is more interdisciplinary and policy focused?
CS:It’s nice to worry less about basic social science and more about applying those concepts to larger societal issues. It’s a very natural thing to move from the Psychology Department to the School of Education. I’m very comfortable in interdisciplinary settings. When you spend your life in the social sciences, at some point, you want to see how those social science concepts play out in the real world, and so it’s really exciting to come back.