Steele was chosen in a nationwide search to become the next executive vice chancellor and provost at UC Berkeley, replacing George Breslauer.
The appointment is expected to receive confirmation from the Board of Regents at their next meeting.
Under Berkeley's shared governance model, he will work closely with the Faculty Senate and will have "leadership responsibility for all academic programs, faculty recruitment and retention and undergraduate and graduate education," the Berkeley announcement said.
Steele is widely known for his identification of "stereotype threat," showing that an individual's ability is not fixed but can vary depending on the racial or gender stereotypes associated with the person in a given situation.
Steele's research shows "how negative perceptions about a particular group's academic abilities can undermine the group members' academic performance, whether it involves women taking science exams or African Americans in college coursework," according to a Stanford University news release announcing his departure.
In his research and experiments, he found, for example, that black students performed comparably with whites on tests when the test instructions included no potential triggers of stereotypes but that their performance dropped when such cues were included.
"In his landmark study," reported Times Higher Education, "he showed that the performance of black students taking an IQ test was reduced by the simple belief in the stereotype that black people are not as intelligent as white people."
His work "established Steele as a national leader in efforts to improve minorities' and women's entry to and success in higher education," Stanford said.
Much of his research is summarized in his most recent book, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, published in 2010.
Before assuming the post of graduate education dean at Stanford in 2011, he served as provost at Columbia University. His departure from Columbia was followed by controversy after another high-ranking African American administrator resigned shortly afterward in an acrimonious departure.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who left his post at Columbia to take Cal's top job in June, welcomed Steele in a statement:
"Claude is a world-class scholar, an extraordinarily gifted administrator, and a visionary leader with a deep commitment to teaching, innovation and collaboration. He is uniquely qualified to help sustain and expand our public mission and ethos, maintain our academic excellence and access and advance on our commitment to diversity in every sense of the word."
Steele, asked in a recent interview with the Berkeley campus news staff what appeals to him about Berkeley, said:
"Berkeley is a great university. And it’s achieved that eminence while maintaining a public mission and a deep commitment to broad access and to being an instrument of upward mobility in society. So it is, when you think about it, an incredibly important cultural and societal achievement. Berkeley is a jewel in the crown of one of the greatest systems of higher education ever created."
He was asked also if anticipates "any culture clash in moving from Stanford to Berkeley."
He joked that not having lived or worked in Berkeley before, he would fall back on the stereotypes about the two schools, and then added:
"I suspect that many of these alleged campus differences can be greatly exaggerated. I think both these institutions wouldn’t be as strong as they are if they didn’t share a profound commitment to excellence, and to the best of academic life. So I expect that the similarities between these institutions are going to be far greater than what the stereotypes would lead people to expect."
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