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Sociologist, former L&S dean Sandefur to leave UW-Madison after 30 years

May 5, 2014 By Tom Ziemer

Gary Sandefur

Gary Sandefur, sociologist and administrator who spent 30 years at UW–Madison, was named Monday as provost at Oklahoma State University.


Gary Sandefur, a longtime faculty member and administrator at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is headed back to his home state of Oklahoma.

The professor of sociology and former dean of the College of Letters & Science is leaving UW–Madison in June after 30 years to become provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Oklahoma State University, pending approval by the school’s board of regents.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my 30 years at UW–Madison,” Sandefur says. “The students, alumni, and my colleagues on campus have all been wonderful. I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities awaiting me at another great land-grant institution in my home state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University. Oklahoma State University touches the lives of many people in Oklahoma, many of whom have never actually been on campus. I am excited about meeting new colleagues, students, and alumni and learning from them as we work together.”

Sandefur joined the UW–Madison faculty as an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and School of Social Work in 1984, after spending six years as an assistant professor at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma.

He built a reputation as a world-renowned demographer whose research addressed profound challenges facing society, including family structure, poverty and the educational and economic hurdles faced by ethnic minority groups. His research helped cultivate an acute focus on the mechanics of the distribution of funding. In later campus leadership positions, Sandefur returned again and again to his quantitative reasoning skills to allocate scarce resources.

“I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities awaiting me at another great land-grant institution in my home state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University.”

Gary Sandefur

Sandefur served in several leadership positions across campus, including stints as director of the American Indian Studies Program (1989-92), associate vice chancellor for academic affairs (1992-96), chair of the Department of Sociology (2000), and interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs (2001).

In August 2004, he became dean of the College of Letters & Science, UW–Madison’s largest college. In nine years as L&S dean, Sandefur increased faculty retention, boosted financial support for students, tackled diversity issues, and helped raise and steward more than $240 million in gifts from alumni, friends and foundations to advance the liberal arts mission of the college.

Sandefur honed in on five areas: undergraduate education, research, diversity, climate, and advancement. He took steps to address all of them — providing substantial support to grow the First-Year Interest Groups program, backing university programs to encourage cutting-edge research, reinvigorating the L&S Equity and Diversity Committee to address department hiring processes and the student achievement gap, meeting with both the college’s Classified Staff Issues Committee and the Council on Academic Staff Issues on a monthly basis, and creating an office of advancement with strong ties to the UW Foundation and the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

“I do have a sense of satisfaction,” he says about his term as L&S dean. “I feel good about the things that we were able to do in the areas that were my priorities at a very difficult budgetary time.”

Colleagues say it is not just what Sandefur accomplished in his various roles, but how he did it that stands out. They point to his abilities to see and evaluate all sides of an issue and empower those working under him to share their voices.

He’ll now bring those qualities to Oklahoma State, an institution that sits just a couple hours north of his hometown of Madill, Okla., where he met his wife, Kathy, and grew up fishing with his father, hunting raccoons, doves and quails, and riding his horse. Sandefur, a proud member of the Chickasaw nation, remains in touch with old friends from Madill, and his mother still lives there.