The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, January 16, 2005  

Reviews of Rice’s Provostship Decidedly Mixed

Funny, I don’t remember hearing about this four years ago. Maybe I missed it, but it seems more important now in any event.

The Los Angeles Times today reports, in “Not Always Diplomatic in Her First Major Post,” by Mark Z. Barabak, that Condoleezza “Mushroom Cloud” Rice’s tenure as provost at Stanford University was marked by decidedly mixed reviews:

[C]ritics say Rice was harsh, even ruthless, during her administration, the one time in her gilded career she has overseen a large institution. Improbably, the youngest provost in Stanford history and the first black and woman to hold the post helped prompt a Labor Department probe into the treatment of women and minorities.

As she prepares to become the nation’s chief diplomat, even some campus admirers foresee upheaval at the Department of State, a far more unwieldy institution than the Bush White House. Her confirmation hearing as secretary of State is to begin Tuesday on Capitol Hill. […]

[D]etractors say Rice’s moves were made more brutal by the imperious way she carried them out. “She was extremely autocratic in her style,” said Albert H. Hastorf, a psychology professor and former Stanford provost. “She didn’t brook anyone disagreeing with her.”

Ron Rebholz, a Shakespearean scholar, agreed. While suggesting Stanford “had to get our budget down,” Rice showed “no respect for the faculty” in making her decisions, he said.

Rice made little secret of her impatience with sclerotic bureaucracy, or the acadedmic expectation of a spirited give-and-take. Members of the Faculty Senate remember her declaring over and over, “I don’t do committees.” She told the Financial Times in a 1995 interview, “I am direct. . . . Sometimes someone has to draw a line between informing, consulting and deciding.”

Many assert Rice was more than just decisive, however, saying she actively stifled dissent. […]

The biggest controversy of Rice’s tenure involved the treatment of women and minorities. […]

Some who believed that Rice would emerge as a champion of blacks and women were disappointed. […]

The most serious complaints alleged that Rice and other Stanford administrators thwarted the advancement of women and minorities.

As provost, Rice took a nuanced position on affirmative action, saying she supported special treatment at the time of hiring but not when it came to granting tenure, with its promise of prestige, higher pay and guaranteed job security. Race was a factor to weigh in creating campus diversity, she suggested, but not evaluating job performance.

“I am myself a beneficiary of a Stanford strategy that took affirmative action seriously, that took a risk in taking a young Ph[.]D[.] from the University of Denver,” Rice said during a contentious May 1998 meeting of the Faculty Senate, referring to her initial hiring.

Asked at that time why she was departing from the practice of applying affirmative action to tenure decisions, Rice responded, “I’m the chief academic officer now” and firmly restated her position.

Rice’s straddling failed to appease critics. In 1988, 15 professors and Stanford researchers filed a 400-page complaint against the university with the U.S. Labor Department, alleging unfair treatment of women and minorities. Some have settled their claims for cash payments from the university, but the case is still open, according to the Labor Department.

Meanwhile, President Legacy Admission plans to send the very same Rice “on a public diplomacy campaign that ‘explains our motives and explains our intentions.’”

Sounds like a mission of instruction rather than one of consultation.

It appears Rice is just the right person for the job.

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