UC Berkeley press release

NEWS RELEASE, 10/23/97

UC Berkeley professor of psychology, Christina Maslach, is chosen to be U.S. Professor of the Year by CASE

by Pat McBroom


BERKELEY--An outstanding teacher and pioneering social psychologist from the University of California at Berkeley has been chosen as U.S. Professor of the Year for 1997 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Christina Maslach, professor of psychology, was chosen from a field of 196 distinguished professors from doctoral granting universities throughout the country.

She will be honored today (Oct. 23) at a reception sponsored by USA Today in Washington D.C., one of several events during the year that will recognize Maslach's unique contributions to undergraduate education.

Three other professors were also chosen to represent four levels of undergraduate education from community colleges to the large research universities. Maslach is the 1997 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Outstanding Research and Doctoral Universities Professor of the Year.

Few members of the faculty have made a more humane impact on UC Berkeley's student environment than Christina Maslach.

She has served for three years as the campus's top administrator on the status of women. Before that, she headed a major campuswide study of student responses to a changing student body. She currently serves as vice chairman of the psychology department, in which capacity she has innovated a curriculum aimed at teaching new PhDs how to teach.

Her own courses in gender and psychology draw hundreds of enthusiastic students each year who learn to see their own lives as laboratories for understanding the impact of social influence. She won UC Berkeley's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1987.

At the same time, Maslach has published extensively on the phenomenon of workplace "burnout." Her current book, "The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It," is slated for publication in November by Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

She was honored in 1991 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science with a citation for "groundbreaking work on the applications of social psychology to contemporary problems."

People close to her say Maslach does not need much sleep. She has been known to feel lucky that she could start writing on her book at midnight.

The daughter of a UC Berkeley professor who was dean of the College of Engineering and a university provost , George J. Maslach, Christina Maslach was born in 1946 into a non-traditional home. Led to believe she could do whatever she wanted without restrictions because of gender, Maslach combined her well-educated mother's interest in psychology with her father's profession. The result has been an unusual ability to bring research alive in the daily experiences of the people she teaches.

Like a talk show host, Maslach moves through a 400-student lecture class with a cordless microphone, urging her audience to raise questions about stories reported in the press. "What do you need to know to believe this?" she asks, holding up a newspaper article with the statement, "Scientists say..." "What questions do you need answered?" she presses.

With a clip from the television show, Candid Camera, Maslach causes students to reflect on the social behavior they see on the screen and then to turn the spotlight on their own feelings and behaviors.

"I want to make students active rather than passive," she said. "I want to use real problems, real examples, to engage their own lives in the business of analysis. Even if they never become researchers, they will be better consumers of information."

One of her graduate students, Nnamdi Pole, calls Maslach a "wonder woman." Not only does she juggle multiple roles with grace and polish, he said, but she is loved by undergraduates.

"She cares. I mean she really cares about each and every one of them .... I consider her my

personal role model and hero. She has set standards that I will spend the rest of my career trying to meet," said Pole.

One particular class that Maslach taught some 20 years ago is still remembered. It was shortly after the mass suicide of some 400 people at Jonestown in Guyana. Deeply affected but committed to staying with the real world, no matter how horrible it might be, Maslach scrapped her lecture and spoke from the heart about how the class could use what it had learned to make sense of the tragedy.

"I said to myself, 'I can't act as if the world is normal here,'" said Maslach. "My face must have looked green. I know my voice was quavering. The reaction of the students was amazing. Years later, they would say, 'I was in that class when you gave that lecture.' It's moments like this when something happens in teaching that makes it so special."

That was not the first time that Maslach had made sense of horrendous social behavior. Her first lecture at UC Berkeley, soon after she was appointed to the faculty in 1971, was on the psychology of evil -- not the evil of isolated, pathological individuals, but the evil of so-called normal people in social situations.

"People do not realize how powerful social circumstances can be. They say, 'I can't believe I would ever do that!' Yet they do. By small steps, they are led to do atrocious things.

"We underestimate the power of social influence and pressure, and that makes us naive about social issues and our own work lives," said Maslach.

In her new book on burnout, Maslach pursues this theme to an important new critique of the American social working environment. With co-author Michael P. Leiter, professor of psychology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Maslach argues that burnout in individual workers "says more about the conditions of their job than it does about them.

"Contrary to popular opinon," write the authors, "It's not the individual but the organization that needs to change, especially in the present work environment."

Their analysis of burnout is based on thousands of people in hundreds of studies in more than a dozen countries around the world who have taken the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), which Maslach first published in 1981.

"We have the material for a thousand Dilbert cartoons," said Maslach.

Copyright for all items on this server held by The Regents of the University of California. Thanks for your interest in UC Berkeley.
More Press Releases | More Campus News and Events | UC Berkeley Home Page


Send comments to: comments@pa.urel.berkeley.edu