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A Message from Director Margaret Levi

Margaret Levi
Feb 15 2016

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Director's Messages

CASBS increasingly is becoming what its board, academic advisory committee, senior staff, and I envisioned: a place where scholars collaborate—across disciplines, methods, and theories--to identify and explore important lacunae in our thinking and research. Our aim is the advancement of knowledge and improvement of practice on socially significant questions. 

 CASBS accomplishes its goals through a variety of activities. Our flagship endeavor is the fellows program. Every year we select a multi-disciplinary and diverse set of scholars who are among the leaders in their respective fields but who will contribute to and benefit from the interactions, both planned and serendipitous, that CASBS facilitates. When I arrived as director in April 2014, the size of the class had dwindled to well below 30; it is now back up to the 40 or so that we think is an optimal class size.  We have been able to support a larger class because of significant fund-raising activity and as an important part of our efforts to build ongoing research programs at the Center.

Several of these programs are now an integral part of the Center. These include:

  • Mindset Scholars Network (MSN), which helps support one or two fellows each year and hosts major meetings at the Center under the direction of Barbara Schneider and former fellow David Yeager, now both CASBS research affiliates. Funding comes from multiple sources, including the Raikes Foundation, whose multi-million dollar grant to the MSN is administered through the Center.  
  • Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center, which supports five fellows each year and holds international workshops at CASBS on its core themes under the direction of research affiliate and former fellow Daniel Bell. Its support comes from the Berggruen Institute. 
  • CASBS Project on the Future of Work and Workers, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, holds regular meetings at CASBS and has been publishing a series of essays in partnership with Pacific Standard.

The fellows connected to these projects participate fully in the intellectual and social life of the Center. Moreover, when appropriate, fellows from the class are invited to participate in project-supported meetings and discussions.

Research projects often emanate from a small meeting underwritten by the director’s discretionary fund and approved by the newly-created academic advisory committee, composed of academics on the board and former fellows. The full workshop list is available on the CASBS web site.  CASBS is a greenhouse for possible projects that begin in our main meeting room with the seed of an idea. Some of those seeds never grow. Others require gentle tending while we form appropriate teams, identify tractable problems, and assess possibilities for external funding. The ideas and people for these projects come from multiple sources: recent and current fellows, board and advisory committee members, Stanford faculty and centers with which CASBS partners, visionary philanthropists, and friends of the Center from Silicon Valley, foundations, and other institutions.

CASBS also is holding a summer institute once again. Field-defining research and thinking on organizations have been a hallmark of CASBS for the past sixty years. Beginning in summer 2016 and continuing for five summers, CASBS will reinvigorate the study of organizations under the direction of former fellows Bob Gibbons of MIT and Woody Powell of Stanford. Funding is coming from MIT and Stanford, and we have submitted further grant applications for support. 

The expanded source of ideas for CASBS programs is but one indicator of improved outreach and visibility. Analytics on the Work and Workers essays published in Pacific Standard suggest we have reached over 345,000 viewers. A screening of Experimenter, a film about Stanley Milgram, precipitated an engaging discussion. Our partnership with the Interval at Long Now gives us an exciting venue at Fort Mason in San Francisco to highlight members of the CASBS community. Our symposium series, which features current fellows and research affiliates, attracts a lively and growing audience. The annual Behavioral and Social Science Summit, co-branded once again this year by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), brings additional scholars and public intellectuals into our discussions. (Read more about all of these activities elsewhere in this newsletter.) The 2015 Summit on Knowledge contributes to an ongoing project initiated by former fellow and board member Ken Prewitt, winner of the 2015 SAGE-CASBS prize. Our planned follow-up to the summit will enable us to consider the multiple sources and forms of knowledge production outside the university and within it; our plans for further meetings already have attracted new voices and perspectives.

New communication initiatives intensify and enrich our presence on social media. For example, we are working with Wael Ghonim, the co-founder of Parlio.com, a website devoted to encouraging dialogue and opinion-sharing among a diverse community, to make CASBS Parlio’s first dedicated channel. This site is all about enabling public intellectuals to engage with an intelligent public. We’ll have more to say about the new collaboration with Parlio in our next newsletter. 

The heart of the CASBS enterprise is and remains the fellowship program.  The current class represents all that is great about the Center. Its members combine intellectual prowess with diversity of approach and subjects.  They are lively and interactive; we see them sparking and exchanging ideas while also having a thoroughly good time. The weekly after-hours “Wet Wednesday,” which may become a CASBS institution, was an invention of their very first days together. Although they have yet to put together a volleyball game, they have organized walks, yoga, meditation, whale watching, wine tastings, and other adventures. They also requested—and we provided—opportunities to learn about trade publishing and social media, thereby furthering CASBS’s commitment to public engagement.

All this activity is possible because of a strong, supportive staff, which we continue to enhance. A program director (a newly-created position) joined CASBS in early 2015 and has been instrumental in the administration and management of our now-robust slate of workshops and research projects. Our first dedicated communications director joined the Center in the fall. We also hired a new information manager, fellowship coordinator, finance and research analyst, and part-time librarian assistant.

While adhering to the original mission of using social and behavioral science to improve human well-being, we are experimenting with a variety of means to achieve that worthy goal. The Center welcomes collaborations, partnerships and ideas as it continues to nourish the best and most exciting research and thinking on questions of great social significance. 

Sincerely,

 

Margaret Levi Signature