New provost Ana Mari Cauce: ‘Education was my family’s religion’

A passion for excellence in education led to a career as a UW professor and now an administrator.

Ana Mari Cauce, appointed UW Provost in January 2012, comes to the position with years of teaching, research, and administrative experience at the University of Washington—and a healthy dose of optimism that will be essential in her new role.

Since joining the UW faculty in 1986, Cauce has had ties to a broad range of departments and programs. She is Earl R. Carlson Professor of Psychology and holds a joint appointment in American ethnic studies, with secondary appointments in Latin American studies, the College of Education, and gender, women, and sexuality studies. She has chaired both the Department of American Ethnic Studies and the Department of Psychology, and has served as Executive Vice Provost and director of the UW Honors Program. Most recently, she was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college in the University. “I describe myself as an ‘accidental administrator,’” says Cauce. “It’s not something I’d thought about very much, but I really enjoy it. It’s about creating opportunities and nurturing talent.”

Teaching has provided similar satisfaction. Described by her students as energetic and generous with her time, Cauce received the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999. Nominating her for the award, one student commented, “I have never met a faculty member who was more egalitarian and concerned about the welfare of her students.” Even as dean, Cauce continued to teach every summer in the Office of Minority Affairs Summer Transition Program.

Cauce was three years old when her family escaped Cuba at the start of the Cuban Revolution. Her father had been the Minister of Education in Cuba; in Miami, where the family settled, he and Cauce’s mother worked in shoe factories. Yet, says Cauce, education remained his passion.

“The importance of education was a value that permeated every corner of my home growing up,” she recalls. “In a sense, it was my family’s religion. My parents believed there was nothing nobler than being an educator and nothing more valuable than a good education.

“I see the Provost’s office, in partnership with that of the President’s, as the University’s place of convergence, the crossroads, where the various parts of our great university meet to tackle the grand challenges of our times,” explains Cauce. “It is the place where borders are crossed—between units, schools, and colleges, between teachers and students and staff. That’s what drew me to this position.”