Following His Values From Tufts to Oklahoma State

April 23, 2010

Robert J. Sternberg, a prominent psychologist who has pioneered alternative approaches to college admissions, has been named the next provost of Oklahoma State University. Sternberg spent most of his academic career at Yale University and since 2005 has been dean of arts and sciences at Tufts University. In an e-mail interview, Sternberg said that many have been surprised by his decision to move to Oklahoma State, but that he had decided he wanted to work in public higher education. (He pulled out of being the sole finalist for the position of provost of the University of Colorado at Boulder to accept the Oklahoma State job.)

Access is the key issue facing higher education today, Sternberg said, and he worries that elite private higher education -- though doing a great job in many respects -- may not be where the action is. "I think that our society has a real problem but does not recognize it -- that its obsessive preoccupation with test scores has sowed the seeds of its own destruction. We need to be concentrating on developing wise and ethical leaders -- instead we are developing people who are consummate multiple-choice test-takers who do not necessarily have the wisdom to lead," he said.

"This is not to dump on the elite schools -- they are doing the job they believe they should do," he said. "But is it the right job? Society as a whole has, I think, drifted in the wrong direction. I believe that the state schools, with their emphasis on service and 'giving back,' represent a crucial direction for this country. We need to emphasize wisdom and giving back, not just narrow academic intelligence and how to use it to take more. Oklahoma State, I found, had the same core values I do."

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