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Not Always Diplomatic in Her First Major Post

Condoleezza Rice, about to become secretary of State, was a divisive figure while at Stanford.

January 16, 2005|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

STANFORD — She helped lead the nation to war and in the process became one of President Bush's closest friends and most intimate advisors.

But even before she headed the National Security Council, Condoleezza Rice held a job that required grit, skill, political savvy and a sublime degree of self-confidence: running Stanford University.

Her years as provost left a deep divide here on the elite Northern California campus, much as her polarizing performance as war counsel has defined her image nationally.

As the university's No. 2 administrator, Rice is widely credited with helping the school regain its footing during the 1990s after red ink and a financial scandal threatened to engulf it.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday January 17, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Condoleezza Rice -- An article about Condoleezza Rice in Sunday's Section A reported that a complaint against Stanford University was filed with the U.S. Labor Department in 1988. It was 1998. Also, Stanford history professor Estelle Freedman's last name was misspelled Friedman.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 20, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Condoleezza Rice -- An article about Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice in Sunday's Section A misspelled the last name of Stanford University President John Hennessy as Hennessey.

But critics 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.

"You can imagine her confronting a State Department culture that will have some similarities to what she presided over here at Stanford. A culture very traditional, very set in its ways, very consensual and consultative in manner,'' said David Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian.

"She's tremendously smart and quick on the uptake, analytically very gifted," said Kennedy, who served as Rice's first boss when she came to Stanford in 1981 to teach political science. "But I wouldn't be surprised if, despite that veneer of utter graciousness, in practice she doesn't cut against the grain of the State Department culture to some degree."

At Stanford, the provost is in charge of both the budget and curriculum. For Rice, who served nearly six years as provost until stepping down in 1999, that meant overseeing $1.5 billion a year in spending, a faculty of 1,400 members and academic programs serving 14,000 students. ("The toughest job I ever had," Rice told the New Yorker magazine in a 2002 profile.)

"When you're a university administrator, people are always upset with you for one reason or another," said Kiron Skinner, an international studies scholar whom Rice mentored. "You've got to make decisions about tenure, about funding issues. So someone is always unhappy."

Rice's role at Stanford was made all the more difficult by the climate surrounding her appointment and, many say, the expectations facing a black woman who was just 38 when President Gerhard Casper chose her as his deputy. Rice and Casper both declined to be interviewed for this article.

At first, there was "a certain condescension in some of her meetings with senior deans or senior members of the faculty," said Coit Blacker, one of Rice's best friends and the director of the Stanford Institute for International Studies. And so "she took 'em down a peg, took some very senior people down a peg, and that didn't sit well with a lot of them."

Casper had come to Stanford from the University of Chicago, arriving in the fall of 1992 after President Donald Kennedy stepped down following a scandal over Stanford's use of federal grants. (The school acknowledged billing the government for, among other things, depreciation on a school yacht and the cost of flowers, parties and furniture at Kennedy's campus home.) Rice, then a member of the faculty, was on the university's presidential search committee; Casper was so impressed he made her provost within a few months.

It was not the first -- or last -- time Rice dazzled her way to power.

In 1984, Brent Scowcroft came to a Stanford faculty dinner to talk about arms control. Rice, a 29-year-old expert on the Eastern bloc military, challenged his work. Charmed, Scowcroft became a patron; when chosen as national security advisor to the first President Bush in 1989, he hired Rice to be his Soviet expert.

After two years in Washington -- and the collapse of the Soviet Union -- Rice came back to Stanford in 1991, eager to resume her academic career and fearful she had grown "stale" in her White House job. During her first run, Rice had been highly popular with students, winning university awards for distinguished teaching. But returning as an alumna of the Bush administration, she was greeted with suspicion by many on the left-leaning Stanford campus -- sentiment that turned to open animosity when Rice, as provost, began slashing tens of millions of dollars from the school budget.

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