Stevens, the new dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, has been at the University for 12 years and she is committed to maintaining its rich intellectual life. More importantly, perhaps, Stevens really likes working here. "There really is a sense of this being a practical place," said Stevens last week. "I'm a very practical person. I like the sense of learning as an almost tactile thing that you do. Here, you're not isolated from the world." Sitting at a conference table in 116 College Hall after most of the office staff has gone home, Stevens wondered aloud why students often speak negatively about the University despite what she calls its "great learning environment." "We're not brash as some places are," Stevens said. "We don't go out and pat ourselves on the back the whole time. I think it's time, generally, to go out and blow our horn a bit about how good we really are." Described as a warm person and rigorous scholar by her students and colleagues, Stevens incorporates both those skills into her job as dean. Unlike her predecessor Hugo Sonnenschein, who came from Princeton University, Stevens has 12 years of experience on the University faculty which provides her with the personal contacts and behind-the-scenes insight that will help her maintain contact with faculty and students. Not only was she a faculty member and chairperson of the History and Sociology of Science Department, but she was given a courtesy appointment in the Engineering School and has worked with faculty in the Medical School and the School of Social Work. "I think I have a head start on the role of dean because I have been here," Stevens said. "I have a much better idea of how the University works and how the dean's office appears from the point of view of a chair and the point of view of a faculty member, and I will have to continue to remind myself of that over the next few years." Sonnenschein's departure has raised concerns among faculty that the dean's post is being used as a stepping stone for ambitious administrators. The high turnover of SAS deans has led some to call the position a "revolving door." Of the five deans since the School of Arts and Sciences was created in 1974, only one -- Vartan Gregorian -- held it for more than three years, and he left after five. All of them moved on to higher-level administrative positions. Because of her long experience at the University, many hope that Stevens will stop the revolving door in its tracks. Music Professor Lawrence Bernstein, who chaired the search committee that selected Stevens, said the committee concentrated on candidates from within the University in the hope that someone with a deep commitment to the school would be most likely to remain here. According to H&SS; Professor Nathan Sivin, a long-time colleague of Stevens, the new dean will not be lured away from her post easily because her ambitions are scholarly rather than administrative. "She is the first dean we've had since I have gotten here that I have any conviction will hold the job for five years," Sivin said last week. Stevens echoed this sentiment. She said although the dean's position has been used as a training ground for administrators in the past, she does not intend to leave the University. "I love this school. I love being part of this faculty," she said. "I see my future here." She added her next career plan is to write another book. The dean's current concerns include reaching SAS's goal of $250 million in donations as part of University's $1 billion fund drive. While Stevens said she sees many uses for the money, the expenditures she suggests are primarily reinforcements of existing priorities such as graduate fellowships, endowed professorships and increased research space. Stevens's commitment to research facilities has made her an advocate of the controversial construction of the future Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. The IAST has drawn fire from people seeking to prevent the demolition of Smith Hall, the proposed building site, and from those afraid that the IAST will conduct weapons research in return for federal Defense Department funds . As both a resident of Smith Hall, a century-old building which houses the H&SS; department, and a former member of the University Committee on Research, Stevens has personal attachments to both sides of the debate. "I think it is a great pity to change the geography, the historic sense of place, of that particular section of campus," she said. "But at the same time, we do need additional research facilities on the campus. I think it's one of those very difficult trade-off situations." The issue of weapons research hinges on the secrecy such research would require, according to Stevens, secrecy which she feels is incompatible with an academic setting and would try to avoid at the University. Stevens's own research has been in the field of health policy. She received a B.A. in English literature from Oxford and a Ph.D. in epidemiology from Yale, where she remained as a professor. Before coming to the University, she taught at Tulane University. Her most recent book, In Sickness and in Wealth, is a study of American hospitals in the 20th century. In the classroom, she has translated her philosophy of learning as a tactile experience into action. For example, last spring she took a graduate H&SS; seminar on an overnight field trip to conduct research in the Rockefeller Archives in Tarrytown, New York. Third-year H&SS; graduate student Jennifer Gunn described Stevens as a rigorously demanding academic who is also warm and accessible to her students. "I like the way she participates in the course and brings her own research into it," said Gunn. "I think that she respects her students and treats us in a very collegial fashion and is very stimulated by the research everyone else is doing." Search Committee Chairperson Bernstein said Stevens's commitment to teaching and innovative scholarship recommended her for the post. Stevens is the first woman dean of SAS. H&SS; professor Sivin said her hiring is an indication that the selection process is less sexist than it was in the past. "It means that we are picking the best dean on the basis of quality and talent, rather than on the basis of gender," he said. "I assume that any process that has put only men into the position may be biased, and I see this as moving away from gender-based choice." Stevens said the atmosphere of academia has changed significantly since she was at Oxford in the late 1950s. She studied in an all-female college there, an experience which she said bolstered her identity as a serious scholar at a time when most potential role models in the field were male. She said she, like most women in her generation, was strongly influenced by the women's movement. While most of her classmates pursued careers but took time off to raise a family, Stevens found the academic work schedule flexible enough to allow her to continue working even while her two adopted children were young. "I took two weeks out, all together," she said. "I'm not very good at doing part-time work. I love working, and I tend always to gravitate to full-time work." Another transformation Stevens has witnessed during her academic tenure is the introduction of computer technology. She said that while she did not learn to type as an undergraduate for fear of being pigeon-holed into a secretarial career, she now word processes and uses computers in her research. She is concerned with helping faculty use new technology, even if it means teaching them techniques their students have grown up with and consider basic.Comments powered by Disqus
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