Richard Saller to step down as dean of School of Humanities & Sciences

After a decade of leadership at Stanford’s largest school, Richard Saller plans to leave the H&S deanship at the end of the academic year and return to full-time teaching. Provost Persis Drell will shortly appoint a search committee and begin an international search for his successor.

Dean Richard Saller teaching a class on Roman history.

A professor of classics and of history, H&S Dean Richard Saller will return to full-time teaching with the 2018-19 academic year. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Richard Saller announced today that he will step down as dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences on Sept. 1, 2018.

Saller, 64, will return to teaching full time at Stanford. Provost Persis Drell will shortly appoint a search committee and begin an international search for his successor.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve Stanford University and the faculty, students and staff of the School of Humanities and Sciences,” Saller said. “My goal as dean for the last 10 years has been to make the resources and facilities available for our faculty and students to excel in their research, teaching and learning – in general, for them to thrive and share their knowledge with the larger world. Knowing that I was able to play this role and be a part of Stanford’s history gives me great satisfaction.”

A decade of leadership

Saller, the Vernon R. & Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean in the School of Humanities and Sciences, assumed the deanship in April 2007 and has helped invigorate Stanford’s largest school. With nearly 600 faculty members and more than 4,500 students and 700 staff members, H&S encompasses the broadest range of academic fields of the seven schools: the arts and humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

“Richard Saller has been a fierce advocate for the humanities and sciences, overseeing increased support to our faculty and programs throughout the school. All of the school’s programs – sciences, humanities, arts and social sciences – have flourished under his leadership,” Drell said. “Our new arts district will be a lasting legacy to his tenacious efforts to raise the profile of the arts within Stanford and beyond, and he has been a champion of the need to incorporate humanities experiences into the curriculum and the lives of all of our students. We are immensely grateful for his service and leadership.”

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said, “In addition to his strategic oversight, what also stands out about Richard is his deep interest in the students and faculty who make up the school. He set high standards for faculty recruitment and helped to build a stellar teaching and research team. He has been attentive to mentoring them and utterly devoted to their success.”

Over the past decade, Saller’s top priorities as dean have been to recruit and retain world-class faculty, attract outstanding graduate students and grow the school’s departments and programs in order to provide students with a strong liberal arts foundation. Leading a diverse group of faculty – from anthropology and history to economics and theoretical physics – he has followed a clear and consistent philosophy to supporting H&S faculty: provide them with the resources and time they need to make significant contributions to their fields.

Currently, 254 H&S faculty hold endowed chairs – an increase of 26 percent during Saller’s tenure. “The excellence of any university depends on its faculty,” Saller said. “Endowed professorships are the highest honor H&S can bestow upon faculty who have made extraordinary contributions to research and teaching.”

Equally important for Saller has been the diversity of H&S faculty, and during his tenure the school’s total minority faculty in each academic area grew to 22 percent as of 2016, which is commensurate with the university’s overall minority faculty rate of 25 percent. The school’s percentage of underrepresented minorities in the humanities (9 percent) and social sciences (10 percent) exceeded Stanford’s overall rate (8 percent).

Under Saller’s leadership, endowed graduate fellowships, which help attract and support the most talented students, increased by 153 percent. Today, 372 H&S graduate students hold endowed fellowships. The school’s graduate scholars conduct rigorous, interdisciplinary research in a wide array of fields, investigating, for example, new models of gene therapy delivery, the moral landscape of climate change, and the psychological and behavioral aspects of American voting.

“Graduate students are the future of our ideas in the humanities, social sciences and sciences,” Saller said. “We’re investing in brilliant talent and helping them get to the launch point for their own independent careers.”

Saller also oversaw a physical expansion of the school with the construction of transformative state-of-the-art facilities. In the past six years, the arts district was built, starting with Bing Concert Hall, then the Anderson Collection at Stanford University and the McMurtry Building for the Department of Art and Art History. South of the Quad, Roble Gym, home to the Department of Theater and Performance Studies, underwent renovations and reopened in 2016.

Science education and research have also been a critical part of Saller’s vision for the school. The Sapp Center for Science Teaching and Learning opened in 2017, bringing together chemistry and biology labs for undergraduate science education under one roof. Opposite the Sapp Center, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Biology Research Building will complete a new science quad when it opens in 2018. With its proximity to the arts district, the Engineering Quad, and the School of Medicine, the science quad will help foster interdisciplinary education and research.

Preparing students for the 21st century

Working in partnership with Debra Satz, former senior associate dean for the humanities and arts, Saller spearheaded a broad campaign to increase enrollments in humanities courses, retain students already in those programs and track their success after graduation.

More than 24 programs and initiatives supporting the humanities have been implemented over the past seven years, and enrollments in the humanities have increased over the past five years – a significant accomplishment considering the national decrease in humanities enrollment. The number of humanities minors has grown, too, along with student interest in interdisciplinary programs, such as the digital humanities and symbolic systems.

“Richard had key attributes that made him such a good dean,” said Satz, the Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society. “He has a sense of fairness and a moral compass, a commitment to service – to seeing his role as one of serving the school and the faculty – and a great sense for how to manage complex processes and complex people. Plus, he can quote Thucydides!”

Saller also saw a need to strengthen and unite various university efforts that prepare students to be global citizens. In 2012, he oversaw the renaming of Stanford Global Studies (SGS) and the strengthening of its area centers. SGS promotes interdisciplinary international learning necessary for understanding today’s globalized world and fosters collaboration among faculty from a wide array of disciplines across campus.

Saller, the Kleinheinz Family Professor of European Studies, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has authored or edited seven books on ancient Roman history, focusing on patronage relations, the family and the imperial economy.

Before arriving at Stanford, Saller spent 22 years at the University of Chicago – the last five years as its provost. He also served as dean of the social sciences division and as a distinguished service professor. Saller also taught at Swarthmore College and Jesus College, Cambridge.

Saller earned bachelor’s degrees in Greek and history in 1974 from the University of Illinois, and a doctorate in 1978 from the University of Cambridge.

A faculty member in the Departments of Classics and History, Saller will continue to teach undergraduate and graduate students after he steps down. “I am going to return to full-time teaching, and I am looking forward to that because some of my most rewarding experiences have been teaching students.”