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Keohanes decide on Palo Alto sabbatical

After Nan Keohane steps down as Duke's president this summer, she and her husband Robert, a professor of political science, will head to an academic's "paradise" in the California hills to commit one year to unadulterated scholarship.

The Keohanes will become fellows at the highly regarded Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, a retreat overlooking Stanford University that offers relief from rough-and-tumble university life and provides the company of some of the world's most notable political scientists, economists, sociologists and others.

"All they want you to do is to stay around--not fly off all over the world giving speeches--and come to lunch and talk to your fellow scholars, and think," President Keohane said. "It's a wonderful place to work."

After their year at CASBS, the Keohanes' plans are not so clear. While expressing fondness for Duke, neither of the Keohanes would rule out parting ways with the University after their fellowship ends.

"We know that being at Duke teaching political science has been very attractive to us both," said Robert Keohane. "We'd like to be back here, and it would take some extraordinary opportunity that we don't know about now to let us reconsider."

President Keohane said she and her husband have asked any potential recruiters to refrain from contacting them about job offers for the next few months. "We've deliberately said to anybody who might be thinking about making us an offer that we don't even want to think about anything until certainly late fall, early winter," she said. For now, at least, the president said she is eager to get back into her work in political philosophy after serving as president of Duke and, prior to that, Wellesley College.

"I know some people say, 'How on earth can she be serious about getting back to scholarship after 23 years in administration? She's smoking something.' And if I were a geneticist, or a physicist or even a historian... it would be hard," she said. "But in my field, the primary sources are the thing."

She has already been moving toward academia in her last year as president, agreeing to teach a course on inequality in the spring with political science research professor Peter Euben. She added that at CASBS and beyond, she would contribute more of her own ideas to the field of political philosophy than she had in her previous stints as a professor at Swarthmore College, the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford.

Her opportunity to study and think will be granted at CASBS. Mark Turner, associate director of the center, described a beautiful, secluded enclave for only the best scholars. It is closed to the public, a chef prepares lunch every day and a library service brings the fellows any books they may desire.

"There's no audience, there's no one watching what these people do and they're all at the top of their field," Turner said. "They don't have to worry about distractions."

The Keohanes will be in elite company at CASBS. The selection process tends to be extraordinarily rigorous, with Turner saying it is "almost impossible" to become a fellow. Individuals must be nominated and then 1 percent of that group are selected to form a class of 40 to 50 fellows. In political science, 98 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences have been invited to the center. The Keohanes have been fellows at the center twice before.

"From a social scientist's point of view, it's a pretty ideal situation," Robert Keohane said. "The one drawback is you don't have any excuses not to get any work done. So you can't say, 'I was on so many committees. I had so many students knocking on my door, I couldn't get anything done."

The center is located on Stanford-owned land but is independent of the university. It was created by the Ford Foundation in the mid-1950s and is supported by numerous foundations and its own small endowment.

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