By Andrew Cohen
Na’ilah Suad Nasir has vivid childhood memories of her mother, retiring Berkeley Law staff member Leslie Stone, “continually stressing the importance of education.” She also remembers Stone walking the walk—literally. “Mom would take us more than a mile to the library every Saturday,” she recalled. “Reading was a must, and my sisters and I were expected to always get straight As. We weren’t sure what would happen if we didn’t, and we didn’t want to find out.”
Nasir credits that upbringing for much of her academic success. She is now UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion, overseeing 150 full-time staff and an annual operating budget of $20 million, after chairing the African American Studies department.
Mother and daughter both began working on campus in 2008, Stone as a Faculty Support Unit (FSU) member at Berkeley Law and Nasir as a professor in the School of Education and the Department of African American Studies. Call it déjà vu; in the early 1990s, Nasir—and Stone—were both Berkeley undergrads.
“My mom went to community college while working and raising us, and she transferred to Cal a year before I enrolled,” Nasir said. “It was a little surreal, but also fitting that in her 30s my mom wanted to see her education through—especially at Cal.”
Indeed, Stone carried forward a long family tradition. Her parents met as Cal students—her father a Polish immigrant who majored in math, her mother an astronomy major who received her Masters at the university and eventually worked at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Stone’s oldest daughter also got her Ph.D. at Berkeley, and her granddaughter—Nasir’s daughter—earned her undergraduate degree there as well.
While Stone’s daughters excelled in the classroom growing up, she worked for law firms and legal nonprofits, mostly as a legal secretary, and in other administrative roles to help put them through college. For her last job before retiring, one option rose above all others.
“I grew up in Berkeley, I eventually went to college there, and I always thought it would be great to work there too,” she said. “I was very happy to get this position at the law school. The professors are so accomplished and brilliant, and you feel like you’re part of a team working with them.”
FSU staffers perform myriad functions in support of Berkeley Law’s renowned faculty. Stone was assigned to a dozen professors this academic year—many of whom are still adjusting to her retirement.
“I honestly don’t know how I would have managed without Leslie’s help,” Professor Daniel Farber said. “Unfortunately, my efforts to talk her out of retiring failed. The university and the law school have very complex functions, which she has navigated for me while also saving me from any number of mistakes in written documents, scheduling and accounting. And yet, she’s worked at the same time for many other people, each needing different kinds of support from her. Without smart, dedicated staff like Leslie, nothing in the law school would really function.”
Nasir has won two teaching awards, written a well-received book, and published more than 30 articles in scholarly journals. But it’s her mom’s insights as a Berkeley Law staff member that gave her a fuller perspective—both as a department chair and now as a vice chancellor.
“The faculty world and the staff world are very different,” Nasir said. “You don’t automatically have a sense of what the other is experiencing. Staff members bring intelligence, skill, planning, and other key qualities. They really form the engine of this university.”
Stone freely admits that eight years of working on campus at the same time as her daughter has created some lively conversations. “We agree on some things and have different viewpoints on others,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s been great to hear the other’s perspective, especially with her on the faculty overseeing staff and me on the staff working with faculty.”