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The CASBS Community Welcomes Sarah Soule

The Center's 12th director assumed her duties on September 1, 2023. But the community officially welcomed her in style at a reception held on Sepember 21.

View a photo gallery of the welcome reception for Sarah Soule

Anticipation had been building throughout the community since early February 2023, when she was announced as the Center’s next director.

Sure, she made some appearances on the hill in the days and weeks after the announcement to meet current fellows and staff. And yes, her first official day on the clock was September 1 and her first day actually on site was September 5, after the Labor Day long weekend.

But the real moment of arrival for Sarah Soule occurred on Thursday, September 21. The Center hosted an official welcome reception attended by more than 100 invited guests – current and former fellows, staff and board members, and other special friends of Sarah and CASBS.

As with many days here, it was a picture-perfect postcard day. In addition, on this occasion the delicious appetizers were plentiful and the champagne for toasts was perfectly chilled.

And there were speeches. Fairly brief ones.

CASBS deputy director Sally Schroeder, serving as the master of ceremonies for the short program tucked into the middle of the festivities, first publicly thanked Woody Powell for his leadership and guidance while serving as the Center’s interim director. His portrait now shares space, in the lounge next to CASBS’s main meeting room, with portraits of the ten people who led the Center before him.

Then, pivoting to the guest of honor, Schroeder spoke of the buzz around the Stanford campus upon the announcement of Soule’s appointment in February, though previously Soule was known by few in the CASBS community.

“I heard from colleagues across the university who wanted me to know how lucky I was, and how lucky the Center is, that Sarah is coming to the Center,” she said.

Abby Smith Rumsey, chair of the Center’s board of directors, who had gotten to know Soule during the director interview process and the months since, described Soule as energetic, engaged, and engaging. She shed a bit of light on what people may have meant when they told Schroeder how lucky the Center is.

“Sarah is genuinely curious about people, astute but generous in her assessment of others,” Rumsey said. “Not a trait that’s common in the academy, but you really stand out for that. This she does with great intention. But I think it’s also an instinct with her. Sarah sees people in the round. This is a rare and invaluable quality, not just in the world, but I think in all walks of life.”

But it was Jonathan Levin who could draw upon longtime experience working with Soule, and who could affirm the sentiments expressed by Schroeder and Rumsey. Levin, a 2007-08 CASBS fellow and currently the Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), has been GSB colleagues with Soule for years. He stipulated Soule’s stellar intellectual credentials – as a scholar of social movements and organizations, an interdisciplinary collaborator, a teacher – as given. He wanted to talk about other things.

When Levin was appointed GSB dean in 2016, he asked Soule to be his first senior associate dean. He lauded Soule’s skills as an administrator, telling the gathered crowd stories about her working with faculty, negotiating new faculty contracts, expanding GSB’s online and executive education programs, and transforming GSB in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“She had a philosophy that something needed to be done, not from the top down,” said Levin. “She needed to use her theories of social movements to make it happen. She needed to enlist collaborators, she needed to get other people to do things. She had to get lots of people excited. She needed to make everyone feel like they were included…and she did just that. And it was challenging at times. But at every moment she handled it with so much grace, and so much determination, and got so much done. It was really, really masterful.”

Levin, as both a former CASBS fellow and Soule’s former boss, serves as the perfect connective tissue between Soule and the Center. His words thus carried an extra weight of authority.

“She is just going to have such an incredible impact here at CASBS,” he said. “I can’t wait to see when she brings her inspiring vision and energy and enthusiasm and positivity.”

“This is such a special place,” Levin continued. “There are almost no places like this anywhere in higher education today that create the kind of oasis for reflection and thought and scholarship. It is a jewel, and you could not have a better steward of that jewel and innovator in this role than Sarah Soule.”

Soule, for her part, expressed gratitude and excitement and acknowledged the great honor in taking on the role of CASBS director, but noted that it was also personal. Her own research interests are situated between the study of organizations and the study of social movements, and she acknowledged that the Center has an extensive history of attracting eminent thinkers in both areas. She has collaborated with a few of them.

“My own intellectual and academic trajectory has been deeply impacted by work that was generated in this incredible space,” she said.

In addition, Soule noted that she felt a special call to duty. It’s not hard to notice that the contemporary landscape is riddled with myriad problems and challenges, many showing few signs of improvement or amelioration: wars, climate crises, political polarization, pandemic, multiple societal inequalities, refugee and migrant crises, increasing gun violence and hate crimes, and more.

“It is crystal clear to me,” she said, “that interdisciplinary research and thought leadership, such as that which we specialize in here at CASBS, must be part of the solutions.”

To be sure, the complexity of the problems likely will not be solved within the traditional academic silo frameworks. It will require systems and networks of researchers and practitioners drawn from all disciplines and sectors.

“I look forward to overseeing an even higher degree of radical collaboration to help solve these and other vexing societal challenges,” Soule said.

In closing, she thanked the CASBS board and members of the Stanford Vice Provost and Dean of Research for believing in her ability to lead CASBS at such a moment in global and national affairs. She thanked the Stanford Administration and Jonathan Levin for releasing her from her Stanford day-to-day obligations to come to CASBS. She thanked the Center’s staff for their warm welcome and collaborative spirit.

“And, finally, thank you to everyone to here in attendance. It means the world to me that you have come to welcome me and to help me shepherd CASBS forward at this critical inflection point in human history. I promise you that I won’t let you down.”

The work begins.

View a photo gallery of the welcome reception for Sarah Soule