By John Grennan
Outgoing Provost Returns to Classroom
In more than three decades at Saint Mary’s, Sally Stampp has worn virtually every academic hat — professor, department chair, acting dean and, since 2001, provost.
In the fall, she will return to her first campus home: the classroom.
Not that Stampp envisioned working at a college as a Berkeley psychology graduate student in the 1970s.
“Both my parents were teachers, and I was convinced I would never do anything in education,” she remembers.
But in 1974, as she was completing her dissertation on cognitive decentering and children’s moral development, she applied for a one-year position in SMC’s Psychology Department. She quickly realized she enjoyed introducing psychology to “18-year-olds who were just beginning to learn who they are and why they are the way they are.”
“I absolutely fell in love with teaching. I was shocked!” she says.
She’s been with the Psychology Department ever since, including seven years as chair. One of Stampp’s early teaching specialties was persuading math-phobic students drawn to the personal counseling side of psychology to master statistical techniques necessary to understand the discipline.
“During my first year here, I asked a psychology student what his favorite class was and he said it was statistics (with Stampp),” says colleague Mary True. “I’d never heard that answer in 20 years in the field. It was all because Sally made everything so clear.”
In the early 1980s, Brother DeSales Perez persuaded Stampp to teach in the Seminar Program after years of “dodging it.” Casting aside memories of dry Classics lectures from her undergraduate days, Stampp sat down with a large volume of Greek mythology and immersed herself in The Iliad.
Exhilirated by the experience, Stampp went on to lead students in discussions of Greek Thought, Roman and Early Christian Thought, and 19th and 20th Century Thought. She praises Saint Mary’s for its commitment to liberal arts and for encouraging students and faculty to stretch themselves.
“I’m a great believer in as broad of an education as you can have. The core is most important — discussing, reasoning and analyzing.”
In line with this holistic approach to education, Stampp agreed to tackle administrative issues as the College’s first provost. As she did with psychology and Seminar courses, she threw herself into the challenges of the job — assessing academic budgets, student health concerns and curriculum reform.
“She’s been a very valuable asset to Saint Mary’s in her administrative work,” says Brother President Ronald Gallagher, who relied on Stampp’s counsel during his transition to the presidency. “She’s been a steady presence during a crucial time.”
Stampp, who lives with her partner and three dogs in Berkeley, started a travel-packed sabbatical in January with an itinerary that includes Spain, France and Eastern Europe. She’s no stranger to the road. Her childhood was spent hopping from school to school as her father, Berkeley’s renowned Civil War historian Kenneth Stampp, had fellowships at universities across the United States and in Europe.
“I went to 14 different schools as a kid,” she remembers, including a brief stint as a second-grader in 1950s North Carolina where was instructed that she couldn’t sit in her favorite part of the bus — the back — since segregation laws required her to sit up front.
Stampp says the greatest benefit of teaching again is direct interaction with Saint Mary’s students, who constantly remind her just how quickly things can change.
“Every three or four years, students’ anxieties and certainties change quite dramatically — I love listening to our students and the education I receive.”