VIEWPOINT – Fall 2005
   

 
Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton

Looking Back, Thinking Ahead

Having now completed 10 years as Chancellor, I begin a new academic year with more enthusiasm than ever about the prospects for Washington University and its community. Perhaps this enhanced enthusiasm stems from my improved understanding of our strength. Our people are our strength. On July 1, 1995, when my tenure as Chancellor began, I knew very few people at the University beyond those comprising the 24-person search committee charged to find me. Many of those committee members have played a key role in the success of the University during this past decade, and I am grateful to them for showing confidence in me by recommending my initial election as Chancellor. Washington University has long been fortunate to have many outstanding people in its community; it has been a privilege to work with the full range of community members, from distinguished trustees to whom I am directly accountable, to all students, faculty, alumni, and staff I serve.

Both the University and I are fortunate that my predecessor, William H. Danforth, has remained a vital contributor to the mission of Washington University. He served a term as Chairman of the Board of Trustees upon my arrival as Chancellor, and he and I worked well together and still do. He knew everyone, and I knew almost no one. He has introduced me to many people and many issues, and he has taught me much and continues to be a key mentor to me and to others. Chancellor Danforth set Washington University on its path to become a national treasure with international impact. A challenge for us in the early part of the 21st century is to build upon the momentum created as the 20th century closed.

While Washington University is regarded as a medium-sized research university, we actually have a fairly large community. We have approximately 12,000 full-time students, about the same number of full-time employees, and more than 100,000 living alumni. Considering the number of immediate family members associated with the students, faculty, staff, and alumni, the impact of the University is felt by a large population across the United States and around the world. Indeed, it is often the case that I encounter members of the University community when I travel either domestically or internationally. It is always rewarding to meet people of Washington University whether it is on the way to a plane in the Taipei airport, on the way to my room at a hotel in New York, at a university in London, at the opera in Santa Fe, or at a restaurant in St. Louis.

“Our commitment is to remain a student-focused university, and it is this resolve, I believe, that is contributing most to our remarkable rise in visibility and interest among talented prospective students.”

A core mission of the University is education. To be sure, this involves teaching our students what is known. But our educational program contributes to individual development in ways that also yield social and emotional maturation. We encourage the development of leadership, entrepreneurship, and commitment to community. The talented students we are fortunate to attract deserve our best effort to prepare them for lives of meaning and purpose to benefit society. In the last 10 years more than 20,000 degrees have been earned by students at Washington University. The alumni who hold these degrees represent a strong contribution to the world’s well-being. These alumni are a special source of pride to me, and I am anxious to learn about the contributions they are making to our world.

Our commitment is to remain a student-focused university, and it is this resolve, I believe, that is contributing most to our remarkable rise in visibility and interest among talented prospective students. No person has been more effective in underscoring this message than Associate Vice Chancellor John A. Berg, who has led our effort to build student interest in the University. We have an applicant pool of undergraduate students from around the country and the world that is truly remarkable. Our St. Louis roots remain deep, but many of the talented students of today are anxious to consider college experiences away from their hometown, and thus, as this trend has developed, we have faced the need to attract students from other parts of the country. Our work in this regard is certainly not done, but the trajectory developed is encouraging, and we must continue to strengthen our programs to attract the most talented students.

The University has the collective objective to provide the best learning environment possible for our students and to recruit and retain the most outstanding faculty. The deans of our schools are responsible for the remarkable success in recruiting their talented faculty, but trustees Sam Fox and John F. McDonnell are the acknowledged leaders of the Campaign for Washington University: A Partnership for the 21st Century, which resulted in over $1.55 billion in new commitments for the University, including the funds to endow the more than 150 new professorships that have proven to be so important in strengthening the faculty. These professorships have proven vital to attracting and retaining key faculty who lead significant academic programs.

A highly important initiative from our Campaign is the development of the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center in collaboration with Barnes-Jewish Hospital and BJC Healthcare. This focused effort in patient care, research, cancer prevention, and education has enormous value to our own region, and through education and research the work benefits the wider world. Looking ahead, our School of Medicine, in collaboration with academic departments on the Hilltop Campus, holds the potential to make a major contribution to advancing human health through our BioMed 21 initiative. Building on strength in both medical research and clinical care, we have the potential to quicken the pace of progress in managing and curing major diseases, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders.

Development of new academic programs and expansion of research and patient care have led to the need for new facilities on both the Hilltop and the Medical campuses. New and renovated buildings have energized our faculty, students, and staff. Vice Chancellor Richard A. Roloff has been a masterful steward of the resources expended to strengthen the campuses, and those who visit are attracted first by the beautiful physical environment and then by the welcoming and stimulating intellectual atmosphere for learning and discovery.

In thinking about the future, all in the Washington University community should take pride in our collective accomplishments. However, we still have many opportunities to better serve society. It is my view that we must make more rapid progress in strengthening diversity and improving gender balance among our faculty and among those in leadership roles. Our student body is gender-balanced, but the rate of progress in strengthening the faculty in this way has not kept pace with progress in other key areas. We must not be complacent in those areas where we have become acknowledged leaders, as in undergraduate student recruitment. If we want the most talented students, we must be prepared to work to recruit them. In the era ahead, we should strive to sustain our momentum at the undergraduate level, while building similar momentum in graduate and professional student recruitment.

Considering the exceptional contributions of students, faculty, and alumni that stem from the University’s mission of research and original scholarship, we have a great opportunity to make meaningful contributions to society. Major challenges of the 21st century include ones related to the environment, security, food supply, poverty, and human health. It is rewarding to me to be associated with a university capable of serving society in addressing all these challenges. Through creative works our University will continue to enhance the quality of life.

Through the efforts of our talented people and with generous resources provided by our alumni and friends, Washington University is poised for an era of achievement creating a brighter future for 21st-century society. Serving this community is a privilege I cherish.       

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