Condoleezza Rice: Academic Background

At every stage of her adult career, the rightwing-funded Hoover Institution has been Condoleezza Rice’s platform and haven. The Institution’s newsletter said in summer 1999, “Condoleezza Rice has been appointed a senior fellow at Hoover effective July 1. / Rice, who has been provost of Stanford University since 1993, left that post on July 1. In addition to her appointment at Hoover, she will serve as a professor of political science at Stanford University. She will be on leave during the upcoming academic year.”


Rice has been extensively on leave from her professorship at Stanford in recent years, as the world knows. But Stanford has provided her a generous buffer throughout her postgraduate career.


Rice and the White House have not replied to questions placed in several emails and telephone calls.


Rice graduated from the University of Denver in 1974 at the age of nineteen, with top grades, a BA in Political science, and a Phi Beta Kappa key. She then went to graduate school at Notre Dame for a year, receiving a Master’s in political science. Notre Dame, like Denver U, is a rather conservative institution (it has an extensive “Whitewater archive”). Rice’s postgrad area of emphasis was Russia and Soviet studies; Notre Dame had a well-established Soviet studies department with political connections. Professor George Brinkley was among a series of faculty members to take Rice under his wing and mentor her extensively.


With the master’s degree, she returned to Denver to pursue a doctorate in political science, working largely under the guidance of Professor Josef Korbel, who continued to work with Rice until his death in 1977.


While still a grad student, Rice took a seven-week research trip to the Soviet Union, with a stop in Poland. In 1976 or 1977, she was also an intern with the Department of State in Washington. At that time she was still a Democrat. The contact person at State says the internship was with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, although little is known about the internship because records were less well kept then. He comments, “We can tell you that she is the first nominee for Secretary of State whose experience included an internship at the State Department.”


Rice was also an intern with the Rand Corporation in 1980. Rand has not returned calls for comment. She later became a director at Rand.


In August 1981, Rice received her PhD in political science from the University of Denver. For context, The Digest of Education Statistics shows 571 doctorates awarded to black non-hispanic women in all fields, in the US, for 1980-81. Of 3,114 PhDs in the social sciences awarded in 1980-81, women earned 845.


It is a bit harder to determine how many of those 3,114 PhD graduates got university teaching jobs. There were 484 PhDs in political science and government that year, along with 1,875 master’s degrees.


In the four traditional program areas in the seventies, the college teaching market cratered first for Humanities and Fine Arts, then for Social Sciences, last for Sciences.


Academic horror stories came floating back from anyone who attended one of the giant academic job conventions during that period, like those held by the Modern Language Association or the American Psychological Association. One philosophy convention, the story went, had ten thousand applicants and two jobs. A friend who came back from an MLA convention said a guy stepped forward in a hotel elevator when the doors closed, turned around and faced the captive audience of strangers, and began, “I’d like to tell you all about my dissertation . . .”


This writer happens to know four excellent political scientists, from the same academic generation, personally; three are men and the fourth an African-American woman. All four had excellent graduate track records; none had a straight shot at an academic career. Two of the men, each with a Harvard doctorate, failed to land a tenured professorship; one went into government research, the other into postgraduate business school administration. The third achieved tenure and even an endowed chair, went into university administration and then had to relocate after being reorganized out of a job.


The woman, whom I consider excellent and brilliant, has a successful academic career but often serves the equivalent of four academic positions, a not unusual situation for women promoted in universities.


One gets the distinct impression that Rice was not among PhD grads sending out dozens or hundreds of job application letters to institutions around the country. “Rice first came to Stanford in 1981 as a fellow in the arms control and disarmament program,” according to the Hoover Institution bio. She switched from registered Democrat in 1982. For her first year, Stanford gave her a $30,000 research fellowship in its Center for International Security and Arms Control, possibly a first for a woman. The average salary for a full professor in Political Science that year, according to the Digest, was $33,437; for an Associate Professor, $25,278; for an Assistant Professor, $20,608; and for an Instructor, $16,450. Average salaries at all levels were lower for women.


During Rice’s first year, Stanford also offered her a three-year Assistant Professorship under an affirmative action program. 


Her dissertation was published as a book, The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1983: Uncertain Allegiance, in 1984 by Princeton University Press, with the help of Professor Bernard Lewis. The dissertation argues that in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the Czech military, the Soviet Union was the dominant partner, although the relationship changed in some ways over time.


When the three years were up, her position was renewed for another three years, and Rice was promoted to Associate Professor in 1987.


From 1981 on, her career was a sequence of treks back and forth from the Hoover Institution to Republican administrations. From 1985 to 1986, she held a National Fellowship from the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace. Simultaneously she also held an International Affairs Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations, from July 1985 to June 1986 according to the Membership Department at the CFR. Their contact person says courteously that they are not allowed to give out the fellowship amount.

In conjunction with the fellowships, “Rice went to Washington, D.C. to work on nuclear strategic planning at the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” according to the Hoover bio, returning to Stanford afterward. She was 30 when she went to work with the Joint Chiefs.  

The bio continues, “Rice returned to Washington in 1989 when she was director of Soviet and East European affairs with the National Security Council. She also was appointed special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for Soviet affairs at the National Security Council under President George Bush.”         

Back at Stanford, she was promoted to full professor in 1993. Rice has said that she was surprised when, a few months after her promotion, she was also named as the new provost, heading financial affairs for a university budget of about $1.5 billion.


Soon she also had the assignment of firing quite a few people: Stanford reportedly suffered a $20 million deficit. Individuals at Stanford are not eager to talk about this period on the record, but evidently the administration made the typically cynical move of assigning unpopular and draconian tasks to someone who filled two minority slots. (This managerial tactic is not unusual in academia any more than it is unusual in business or government.) Rice seems not to have been too reluctant but has been quoted subsequently as regretting that she was somewhat hardnosed.


In summary:      Rice is diligent and capable, but her career has been most consistently and strongly marked by her willingness to do what she was told. Back when she was told to practice piano and make good grades, the willingness was socially productive. Now that she has become the voice of the Bush White House in foreign affairs, it has become the reverse. Her connection with the administration’s Iraq invasion, indefinite detentions, torture of prisoners captured in combat, and refusal to let prisoners see attorneys have tainted and compromised her credibility. Her appointment at State would be a provocation that would further diminish US credibility and destabilize global affairs.


There is also a fearsome possibility, as other writers have pointed out, that Rice will be assigned the task of firing independent analysts and solid researchers in the State Department. If this assessment sounds harsh, it should be measured against her track record in academia, where Rice has been the beneficiary of primarily rightwing academic interests who have sponsored her at every turn since high school, and has always produced the performance demanded.

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