Helping Make Great Things Possible

Edward S. Macias, Executive Vice Chancellor and Dean of Arts & Sciences

By James Russell

When it comes to describing Edward S. Macias, executive vice chancellor and dean of Arts & Sciences, and his impact on Washington University over the course of 30 years, his colleagues enthusiastically agree on what makes him special.

"I can hardly recount the number of meetings I attended with chairs of other political science departments at which the participants tried to out-top each other with horror stories about their deans," says Lee Epstein, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of Political Science in Arts & Sciences and professor of law, who was chair of the political science department from 1995 to 1999. "I don't think any of those chairs believed me when I told them that I couldn't imagine working with a better administrator than Ed Macias. But the simple truth of it is this: Ed Macias is the finest dean I have ever known; in fact, I would go even further and say that he is one of but a handful of truly great academic leaders in the United States today."

Epstein's praise of Macias reflects the culmination of three decades of service and leadership in which Macias has grown to understand and articulate Washington University's mission and vision with remarkable clarity.

Perhaps that clarity is no surprise when one considers Macias' roots in chemistry and research interest in the quality of the air we breathe. He joined WU in 1970 as assistant professor of chemistry, became department chair in 1984, became provost in 1988, and in 1995 took on the role of dean of Arts & Sciences and executive vice chancellor.

"The transition from department chair to provost was a pretty big one," he says. "I went from representing the faculty in an individual department to being chief academic officer for the whole university, where I worked with a much broader constituency and range of people and issues." Macias says that the breadth of the provost's role was perfect preparation for his transition to Arts & Sciences.

"Arts & Sciences really touches all other parts of the University because it teaches the basic material, the knowledge that everything else is built upon," he says. "Graduate and professional study in all areas have natural links to Arts & Sciences—that's why at the core of every great university is a strong arts and sciences. In fact, without a division of arts and sciences, a university would not exist."

As executive vice chancellor, Macias retains the role of chief academic officer for the University, and as dean, he watches over all budget and personnel matters in Arts & Sciences—the largest division on the Hilltop Campus—which includes the College, the Graduate School, and University College. Some 3,800 undergraduate students, 1,700 graduate students, 340 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, 21 departments, and 20 interdisciplinary programs are under the purview of Arts & Sciences. Yet his busy schedule includes time for creative reflection on and devising solutions to the myriad issues that face Arts & Sciences and Washington University.

He has worked to strengthen Arts & Sciences in several ways. "A number of academic departments have benefited from new leadership and new resources," Macias says. "We've recruited excellent faculty and students in Arts & Sciences, and we have fostered the development of our interdisciplinary programs."


"My role is very satisfying, but it's not an individual thing—it's working with lots of good people, from the chancellor to faculty to students to staff." Macias says.

Macias cites programs in social thought and analysis; philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology; environmental studies; American culture studies; and literature and history as "just a few" of the exceptional interdisciplinary programs that have grown from the traditional disciplines in Arts & Sciences. "We increasingly find that interesting problems aren't well-compartmentalized in traditional ways—they tend to branch out into other areas," he says. "Faculty and students want to study these, so we find that in addition to helping students learn the basics, we're also teaching things we've never taught before. The world is changing, and it is vitally important that our students be well-prepared."

Macias' leadership has also been profoundly important in the recent effort to strengthen the undergraduate Arts & Sciences curriculum. The new curriculum creates more cross-disciplinary connections, emphasizes writing and quantitative skills, and develops small seminar experiences for freshman students.

"He's been extraordinarily engaged with the curriculum redesign and very supportive of the effort," says James McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. "He realizes how important it is."

A new issue that has captured Macias' attention is the challenge of articulating a clear identity for Arts & Sciences. "We want to be able to say exactly what Arts & Sciences is, how it interacts with others, what students study, and what faculty do," he says. "I'm meeting with small groups of faculty, students, and staff to discuss this—I think that if we can speak about our identity more clearly, it will be good for all of us."

That sense of "all of us" is also essential to Macias' understanding of effective leadership. "My role is very satisfying, but it's not an individual thing—it's working with lots of good people, from the chancellor to faculty to students to staff. I think it's very exciting when I can help departments and programs, faculty and students accomplish great things. And when they do, I think I've accomplished what's important."


James Russell is a former associate editor of this magazine.



"Under Ed's leadership the best and the brightest in Arts & Sciences have been brought together to develop and implement all facets of an absolutely first-tier academic program. This is no mean organizational feat, and its realization speaks to Ed's exceptional abilities."

––Joseph J.H. Ackerman, the William Greenleaf Eliot Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry in Arts & Scicences

"Ed Macias has the capabilities one expects of great leaders: broad vision, excellent judgment, the ability to make tough decisions, all combined with personal warmth and diplomacy. It is great to work with him. He cares very deeply about Washington University and seeks excellence in every program."

––Henry L. "Roddy" Roediger, III, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology in Arts & Sciences

"Ed Macias stands firmly in the center of the teaching and research mission of this University. He knows the members of this large faculty by name, and he devotes much time and energy to the issues that concern them. He remains unfailingly supportive and encouraging whenever faculty seek his advice. He is also a really nice person."

––Gerhild S. Williams, the Barbara Schaps Thomas & David M. Thomas Professor in the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, associate vice chancellor, and the chancellor's special assistant on academic affairs

"Ed Macias is one of the most effective academic leaders in America. He draws on a rich set of experiences and accomplishments that have contributed to the remarkable advance of Arts & Sciences during the last several years. He has been extremely effective in recruiting outstanding faculty and students—in every sense Ed has had a significantly positive effect on the life of Washington University."

––Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor



"The Washington Spirit" spotlights key faculty members and administrators who advance and support our great University's teaching and learning, research, scholarship, and service for the present and future generations.