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Condoleezza Rice
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Condoleezza Rice
(1954 - )

By Thomson Gale

CBN.comBorn in the heart of a still-segregated Dixie, Condoleezza Rice, an African American, was brought up to believe that the sky was the limit as far as her future was concerned. A professor of political science for more than two decades, her expertise on the political machinations of the former Soviet Bloc made her a much-sought-after consultant in both the public and private sectors. When George W. Bush took office in January of 2001, Rice became his National Security Advisor, the first woman of any color to occupy that position.

Rice credits her parents for instilling in her the notion that there were no real limits on what she could do with her life—if she could dream it, she could do it. Although she grew up in the segregated South, she and her siblings were taught that they could achieve anything if they believed in themselves. She told Ebony, "Our parents really did have us convinced that [even though I] couldn't have a hamburger at Woolworth's, [I] could be president of the United States."

Rice's parents, John and Angelena, both of whom were educators, made sure that Condoleezza received a well-rounded education to prepare her for whatever she chose to do in life. Her mother taught her to play the piano at an early age, she studied figure skating, and was encouraged to take the most challenging courses in school. As a girl, her first love was music, and—thanks to her mother's lessons—she was playing Bach and Beethoven even before her feet could reach the piano's pedals.

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, a city torn apart by racial tensions in the 1960s, was an important lesson for Rice. Although her parents tried their best to insulate her from some of the more virulent hatred at large in that city, even their best efforts could not shut out reality completely. Among the victims of the 1963 bombing of a black church in the city was one of Rice's kindergarten classmates. "My parents really provided a shield as much as they could against the horrors of Birmingham," she told ABC News. "At the same time I can remember my parents taking me to watch the marchers—they wanted us to know the history and to know what was happening."

Although her parents successfully shielded her from some of the uglier aspects of racism, she did not escape unscathed. She told Ebony of one eye-opening incident from her high school years. She was told by a guidance counselor that she wasn't college material, despite her consistently high grades in college preparatory courses. "I had not done very well on the preliminary SAT exam. I remember thinking that the odd thing about it was that [the counselor] had not bothered to check my record. I was a straight-A student in all advanced courses. I was excelling in Latin. I was a figure skater and a piano student. That none of that occurred to her I think was a subtle form of racism. It was the problem of low expectations [for African Americans]."

In her early teens, the family moved to Denver. A brilliant student, Rice began taking college courses while still in high school and formally entered the University of Denver at the age of 15 to study piano performance. However, before long, she had to acknowledge that she didn't possess the right combination of talents to succeed as a pianist, so she went in search of another major. The answer came in a classroom presided over by Josef Korbel, the father of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A lecture by Korbel on Josef Stalin mesmerized Rice. Fascinated by the intrigues and complexities of Soviet politics, she decided on the spot to major in political science. At the age of 19 she graduated from college magna cum laude.

At the University of Notre Dame, Rice earned her master's degree in political science, after which she returned to Denver to pursue her doctorate in international affairs. After completing her doctoral program in 1981, Rice headed to the West Coast and a job teaching political science at Stanford University. She quickly distinguished herself at Stanford, winning the coveted Water J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1984 and the 1993 School of Humanities and Sciences Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching. She continued to learn more about the Byzantine politics of the Soviet Bloc, a region that she found particularly fascinating. During the 1985-86 academic year, she was a fellow at the Hoover Institute, a well-known think tank based at Stanford. During this period she published two books that helped to bolster her growing reputation as an expert on Soviet Bloc affairs. Released in 1985 was Uncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army: 1948-1983. Published the following year was The Gorbachev Era, which she co-edited with Alexander Dallin. More recently, Rice and Philip Zelikow co-wrote Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft, released in 1995.

In 1986 her expertise on the Soviet Union earned her an advisory position with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A Council on Foreign Relations fellowship brought her to Washington to provide advice on nuclear strategic planning, during which assignment she worked directly under Admiral William Crowe. Looking back on that experience, she later told ABC News, "There were four of us in one little office, and it was great. I gained so much respect for military officers and what they do, and I think I really got an experience that few civilians have." In 1988 Rice traveled to Bulgaria at the invitation of the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union to speak to Soviet diplomats and officials on arms control policy.

Acting on the recommendation of Brent Scowcroft, his adviser on national security affairs, President George H. W. Bush in 1989 named Rice director of Soviet and East European affairs on the National Security Council. Her duties involved interpreting for Bush the international significance of events occurring within the Soviet Bloc. She briefed Bush to help him prepare for his summit meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta, Washington, D.C., Paris, and Helsinki. Rice was later promoted to senior director of Soviet and East European Affairs and named a special assistant to the president for national security affairs.

In 1991 Rice returned to her teaching position at Stanford, although she continued to serve as a consultant on the former Soviet Bloc for numerous clients in both the public and private sectors. Late that year, California Governor Pete Wilson appointed her to a bipartisan committee that had been formed to draw new state legislative and congressional districts in the state. Serving with Rice—the youngest member of the panel—were a number of retired state judges, including a former justice of the state supreme court. In announcing the makeup of the committee, Gov. Wilson said of its members in the Los Angeles Times, as quoted by Contemporary Black Biography: "All [members] have certain attributes in common. All are distinguished scholars. All are leaders in their fields, known for impartiality and devoted to the truth."

In 1993, Stanford President Gerhard Casper named Rice provost at the university, a position that for the first time presented her with the challenge of managing a budget, in this case one that exceeded $1 billion. Never one to shrink from a challenge, Rice quickly boned up on the do's and don'ts of financial management. Before long she was questioning some of the basic assumptions about budgeting and, more importantly, getting Stanford's financial house in order. Coit Blacker, deputy director of Stanford's Institute for International Studies and a longtime colleague, said of Rice's handling of the budget on Stanford University's website: "There was a sort of conventional wisdom that said it couldn't be done . . . that [the deficit] was structural, that we just had to live with it. She said, 'No, we're going to balance the budget in two years.' It involved painful decisions, but it worked and communicated to funders that Stanford could balance its own books and had the effect of generating additional sources of income for the university. . . . It was courageous."

In addition to her responsibilities at Stanford and her continuing work as a consultant on matters of Russian and Eastern European political affairs, Rice has served as a director on a number of corporate boards, including Chevron, Transamerica Corporation, and Charles Schwab Corporation. She also sits on the board of the University of Notre Dame, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the International Advisory Council of J.P. Morgan, and the San Francisco Symphony Board of Governors. Carla Hills, former special trade representative, has served with Rice on the board of Chevron, and she's clearly an admirer who feels that Rice's experience at Stanford should serve her well in the future. "I think her experience as provost in Stanford has given her an interesting window on budgeting and management that is really quite extensive," Hills told ABC News. Of Rice's management style, Hills said, "I would say she is firm, which is maybe a nicer word for tough, and that is because she does her homework and knows her position."

In mid-1999, Rice stepped down as provost at Stanford, and took up a position as senior fellow at the Hoover Institute. Before long, however, she found much of her time occupied as an adviser to Texas Governor George W. Bush, who was then mounting a campaign for the presidency. Although she'd worked for his father, she was not all that well acquainted with the Texas governor until she and his father joined him for lunch during his first legislative session. They quickly discovered that they shared a love for sports, Rice told ABC News. "We got along well right away." During a stay at the Kennebunkport, Maine, vacation home of the senior Bush in the summer of 1998, she and the governor had a lengthy discussion about foreign policy. Rice has great praise for Bush's foreign policy instincts, telling ABC News, "He is quick in a good way; he has got a very sharp intellect that goes right to the core of something. Particularly when you are dealing with areas you may not know very well, the ability to get to the essence of the problem is critical."

During the presidential race of 2000, Rice served not only as one of Bush's team of foreign policy advisers but also as a member of Bush's campaign response team. She stepped forward to defend Bush after Vice President Al Gore attacked the Texas governor's lack of expertise on foreign policy. "Where was he [Gore] when it was time to stand up and be counted in Seattle?" she asked ABC News, referring to the violent protests surrounding the December of 1999 meetings of the World Trade Organization in that city.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Rice shot into the spotlight. Since then, Rice has been featured prominently as a government official, dealing with the "war on terrorism."

Serving now as Bush's National Security Advisor, Rice has attained a lofty position of influence, one that has never before been occupied by a woman. But this is a woman who was raised to believe the sky's the limit, so it's likely we haven't heard the last of Condoleezza Rice.

Further Reading


Contemporary Authors Online, Gale Group, 2001.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 3, Gale Research, 1992.


Ebony, March 2001.
New York Times, December 3, 2002.


Source: "Condoleezza Rice." Newsmakers, Issue 1. Gale Group, 2002. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003.

Reprinted by permission of The Gale Group.

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