Stanford drama professor named undergrad dean

Harry J. Elam Jr., scholar and brother of hip-hop star, takes over July 1

A 54-year-old Stanford University drama professor has been named to oversee programs for the university's 6,500 undergraduates, including general education and overseas studies.

Harry J. Elam Jr., who in 20 years on the Stanford faculty has won six teaching awards, will become Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education July 1.

Elam also co-chairs an 18-member task force working to revamp undergraduate education at Stanford, the first comprehensive review since 1994. That group is expected to take up to a year and a half to recommend goals for -- and changes to -- the Stanford undergraduate experience.

Elam is the older brother of hip-hop star Keith Elam -- known as Guru and a member of Gang Starr -- who died of complications related to cancer in April.

In a remembrance published in the Boston Globe, Harry Elam said he thought his brother was making a "grave mistake" when he dropped out of graduate school to pursue a career in rap, but later came to admire his accomplishments and take pride in "how he made his dreams reality."

Elam wrote of attending one of his brother's performances on the Stanford campus in 1993, when he was a young professor: "As I walked into the auditorium that night, the assembled audience of students looked at me with a new awareness, 'that's the Guru's brother,' not that's Professor Elam, but the Guru's brother.

"And I was, and am, the Guru's brother. I admired and loved him deeply, my little brother."

Elam's scholarly work focuses on contemporary American drama, particularly African-American and Chicano theater, according to a biography on the Stanford website.

Elam also has directed theater for more than 18 years, including August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," "Two Trains Running" and "Fences," which won eight Bay Area "Choice" Awards.

Among other publications, he is the author of "Taking it to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka," and "The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson," which won the 2005 Errol Hill Award from the American Society of Theatre Research.

As dean of undergraduate life, Elam will have broad influence over the experience of Stanford students, overseeing a variety of programs including introductory studies, undergraduate advising, undergraduate research, diversity outreach and the required program in writing and rhetoric.

As co-chair of the task force reviewing Stanford's undergraduate program, he will examine how globalization changes the way education should be offered.

"The growing social, political, economic and ecological interconnectedness of the world certainly challenges us to look more broadly at what it means to be an educated citizen," said a document distributed to the Faculty Senate in February.

"How do these changes affect what today's student needs from an undergraduate education? What do we want our students to gain from their time on the Farm? How do we best prepare them for local, national and global citizenship?"

The committee is expected to submit its recommendations to the Faculty Senate in September 2011.

Elam said he looks forward to having his new office "become the locus for a vibrant and exciting re-examination of undergraduate education at Stanford.

"I am eager to explore how we can make a liberal education even more central to our mission as we continue to create an undergraduate experience that is distinctive to Stanford."

Stanford Provost John Etchemendy said, "Harry Elam is an inspirational leader who has a vision for undergraduate education. I'm confident he can take Stanford's undergraduate program to the next level of excellence."

Among many awards, Elam earned the Humanities and Sciences Dean's Distinguished Teaching Award and the Bing Teaching Fellowship for Undergraduate Education.

He succeeds John Bravman, who is leaving Stanford to become president of Bucknell University.

Elam received a BA in social studies from Harvard College and a PhD in dramatic arts from the University of California at Berkeley. Before coming to Stanford as a visiting professor in 1990 he was an associate professor at the University of Maryland.

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Like this comment
Posted by lifelonglearner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 19, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Harry Elam is a superb choice for Stanford's next Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education. A teacher, mentor, and far-seeing thinker -- he will bring both detailed and global experience to the challenges the next VPUE will face. Congratulations to Harry and to Stanford.

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