Provost Claude Steele will leave Columbia this summer to become the dean of Stanford University's School of Education, according to a University-wide email sent to students Monday afternoon.
Steele has served as Columbia's 21st Provost for two years after University President Lee Bollinger had appointed him to become the University's chief academic officer and the president's closest advisor.
"I'm really sad about this. I think Claude did a really fine job and would have been great with more time at Columbia," Bollinger said in a telephone interview with Spectator. "We have to respect the fact that people's lives, their friends and family, don't always come together the way you expect."
Steele was the first African-American to fill this post, following Allan Nevins Professor of History Alan Brinkley, who served from 2003-2009.
Provosts are typically drawn from the ranks of Columbia faculty. Since the days of John Mitchell Mason, who became Columbia’s first provost in 1811, virtually every man to hold the position has first been a Columbia professor, an advantage Steele did not have over his predecessors.
Bollinger said he expects to appoint an interim provost in the next two weeks and release details about how the next provost will be selected shortly after that.
Steele told Spectator that while he has mixed emotions about the move, he is looking forward to returning to teaching again and conducting research on education at Stanford.
"After a certain age you only have so many epochs left in a career. I'd like this final epoch to be dedicated to this," he said, referring to his research on achievement differences across groups of students. Steele's research on the "stereotype threat", a theory that people who belong to negatively-stereotyped groups operate under an anxiety that they will confirm stereotypes about their group, is well-known among educators and social scientists.
As provost, Steele was responsible for faculty appointments and tenure recommendations and overseeing financial planning and budgeting, often contentious issues at a University. However Steele said he always enjoyed the work.
"Even though people have inevitable differences about those kind of issues, the art of the provost is to steer people toward the most rational choices and compromises. That was something I immensely enjoyed doing."
At Stanford, Steele had served as the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences and director of Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He had been teaching psychology in Stanford since 1991, and worked as the department's chair from 1997 to 2000.
Steele taught at the University of Utah, the University of Washington and the University of Michigan before joining Stanford. He received his bachelors degree at Hiram College and a doctorate in psychology from Ohio State University.
He will rejoin two children and a set of grandchildren on the West Coast over the summer and begin his position at Stanford on September 1.