Faculty Profile: Steve Sloane

By John Grennan
Photography by Jeffrey Braverman

Horses for Courses

Steve Sloane.

Politics professor Steve Sloane still remembers the excitement of learning to ride a horse.

A New York City kid during the 1940s polio epidemics, Sloane went away to summer camp. This marked the beginning of a lifelong passion for riding and an appreciation that important discoveries can occur when you change course.

One such change for Sloane came when he started an academic career following 30 years in the U.S. Navy, which included tours as a Cold War pilot. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Berkeley in the 1980s and has taught at Saint Mary’s ever since.

“Steve shows the real mark of an intellectual — he never stops learning,” says colleague Patrizia Longo.

As a Naval Academy midshipman from 1953 to 1957, Sloane’s military career began during a period bracketed by the Soviet Union’s first hydrogen bomb and Sputnik launch. He next spent four years flying Navy planes that were chasing Soviet submarines.

“In the Navy, I found out very early that there’s enjoyment and a great deal of learning that results from observation,” he remembers.

His next stop was Harvard, where he earned a master’s degree in public administration before returning to teach at the Naval Academy.

“It’s a wonderful place as long as you’re not a midshipman,” he jokes.

His first teaching assignment was interrupted by Vietnam War combat duty. Stationed in the Philippines in the mid-1960s, Sloane flew missions over Vietnam several times a week. He says living outside the conflict zone meant he wasn’t “touched by the horror of the war in the same way as many others, but missions were risky and planes were shot down.”

“War is uniquely stressful,” he continues. “You don’t have a sense of political nuance when you’re shooting at someone or someone’s shooting at you.”

After Vietnam, Sloane taught at the Naval War College and UC Berkeley’s ROTC unit, which he commanded. After retiring from the Navy in 1983, he remained at Berkeley and wrote his dissertation on the Navy’s organizational culture.

He’s since researched a number of organizations, including the San Francisco Police Department (where he rode with the horse patrol in Golden Gate Park). His books include Organizations in the Movies and Gold Stripe on a Jackass, reflections on “the need for people in positions of authority to speak truth to power.”

At SMC, Sloane has been a student favorite, teaching courses on everything from war’s causes and consequences to the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

“Steve takes all his life experiences and brings them together in a way that makes him a superlative teacher,” says politics professor Suzi Weissman.

Sloane and his wife, mystery novelist Kit Sloane, own a horse ranch in Lake County, where they run a foundation that helps disabled people gain self-confidence by learning to ride. In addition to this equestrian work, Sloane intends to keep teaching at Saint Mary’s.

“I love students because they’re curious. If I can earn their trust, they will work with me to accomplish our common educational goals.”