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Steele should be a good fit at UC Berkeley

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APRIL 15, 2014

Claude Steele, the new second-ranking administrator at UC Berkeley, does not appear as if he will usher in any sweeping changes. But he seems to have the appropriate values and nuanced understanding of the campus necessary to succeed.

In an interview with The Daily Californian’s Senior Editorial Board on April 4,  Steele -— formerly the dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education — demonstrated a pragmatic understanding of some of the campus’s most pressing issues. As executive vice chancellor and provost, Steele will be in charge of the campus’s day-to-day operations and will serve as its chief academic officer.

Although he may lack the same campus experience of his predecessor, George Breslauer, Steele seems ready to learn. And his pragmatic plans for dealing with issues such as student protests, faculty compensation and corporate funding for research illustrate his appropriate vision for the office.

For example, because he is a supporter of affirmative action, Steele clearly understands the importance of diversity at a public university whose demographics could better reflect the state it serves. Moreover, as a psychologist who once wrote a book about beating stereotypes, Steele is well equipped to advocate on behalf of a more diverse campus.

He also seems empathetic and attentive to student protesters, reflecting what could be an important change from Breslauer, who has been criticized for his role in the police response to the 2011 Occupy Cal protests.

Steele took a pragmatic approach to the issue of faculty and administrator compensation.  In the interview, he admitted that salaries are an important part of what draws quality employees but that the  university’s public mission is attractive as well. Although administrators should be expected take a pay cut if they are coming from a private school, the campus should not risk its academic quality by asking them to give up too much.

As his term unfolds, Steele must more urgently seek to address shortcomings in UC Berkeley’s undergraduate academic advising to students. Those services are often ineffectual in helping students — either because the campus is understaffed or because students just don’t use them. Steele admitted that advising is a problem now, but he seemed to underestimate the urgency of the issue. He talked a lot about peer advising, which is a helpful tool for students. It is only a partial fix to what comes down to a lack of resources, however. Campus administrators need to recognize the importance of proper advising to students’ academic success and the undergraduate experience.

Steele will probably not fundamentally change the policies of UC Berkeley’s administration. Yet he does bring a considerate, fresh perspective to the office. He is a good fit for the job.

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APRIL 15, 2014