Henry “Hank” S. Webber, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration (Photo: David Kilper)

A Force for Good

By Lisa Cary

Behind the scenes at Washington University, an ardent advocate for students and others works to enhance the educational experience for all. Henry “Hank” S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration, and his staff — numbering more than 600 university employees and contractors — support students with the daily services they need to stay focused on their education.

Webber oversees the functions that underpin the university’s mission of teaching, research and service to society. He’s responsible for 2,335 acres of grounds and facilities, including academic buildings and housing; campus planning, capital projects and off-campus real-estate acquisition; dining services; energy usage and environmental safety; emergency preparedness and overall security. Together, these areas represent operating and capital budgets of more than $250 million annually.

This enormous menu of responsibilities might seem daunting, but Webber relishes the challenge. He arrived in St. Louis in March 2008, after 21 years at the University of Chicago, with the experience needed to perform these varied duties — and the determination to take them to a new level.

Webber shares Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton’s vision that Washington University can, and should, reach out even further as a powerful force for good within St. Louis, its region, the nation and around the globe.

“Hank Webber is a skilled administrator and leader — someone who understands very well the critical relationship that exists between the academic and operational enterprises of a world-class institution like Washington University,” Chancellor Wrighton says. “As a new St. Louisan, Hank has a keen appreciation for the vital role Washington University plays in the St. Louis metropolitan area, and he has worked hard to strengthen relationships between the university and other regional partners. He has quickly become a valued member of our senior leadership team.”

A career of advocacy
Webber brings to his tasks 30 years of experience advocating for Americans who are underserved and under-resourced. After earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Brown University, he spent two years co-directing the Appalachian Student Health Coalition, creating health centers and programs in 10 rural communities.

The experience inspired him to get a master’s degree in public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 1984 he became a policy and budget analyst for the Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance, co-authoring a plan to create a statewide care system for the mentally ill.

When Webber and his wife, Christine Jacobs, MD, moved to the Chicago area in 1986, he joined the University of Chicago with responsibilities in two areas. In academics, he became a senior lecturer in the School of Social Service Administration and, in administration, a deputy director of financial planning and budget. His teaching and research in public policy, community development, health care and education complemented his administrative duties as he advanced through human resources and other administrative positions. He eventually became vice president for community affairs and government.

In that role, Webber forged partnerships with nearby residents, business and political leaders, community groups and law enforcement to help revitalize the Hyde Park, North Kenwood/Oakland and Woodlawn neighborhoods. His efforts resulted in a university-civic program recognized in a national study as one of the strongest in the country.

Lured to St. Louis
“I never expected to uproot my family — especially our daughter, a high-schooler — and move away from Chicago,” Webber says. “But the opportunity to work in such a broad role for Mark Wrighton, one of the top leaders in higher education today, at a world-class university in an urban setting was just too attractive. And now we’re so glad to be here in St. Louis.”

Since his arrival at Washington University a little more than two years ago, Webber has used his boundless energy and drive to tackle big projects.

He led the Sustainable Operations Leadership Council — a working committee of representatives from the buildings, dining, energy, materials and transportation departments — to develop the university’s plan for sustainable operations.

Webber oversees the management of almost 11 million square feet of campus real estate and 1,300 units of off-campus housing. Increasing energy efficiency is a paramount concern, in both the renovation of existing buildings and in new construction. Since 2008, the university has required all building construction to meet at the minimum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver qualifications.

“This is a win-win situation,” Webber says. “Every dollar we don’t have to spend on energy costs is a dollar we can spend on education.” He also is developing a long-term strategic plan for student housing.

Advancing K-12 education in the St. Louis area is another long-term goal. To that end, Webber, along with Edward F. Lawlor, dean of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, led the initiative for the university to sponsor the KIPP Inspire Academy, a new public charter school for St. Louis 5th-graders. KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) is a national network of free public charter schools that use innovative teaching methods to help kids in under-resourced communities successfully learn and advance to college. Success depends on committed sponsor involvement, and Washington University students, faculty and administrators are answering the call with tutoring, teacher training and more.

Webber and Lawlor, also director of the Institute for Public Health, have been friends since they both taught at the University of Chicago. There, they helped develop the Urban Education Initiative, a comprehensive program that engaged the university in local public education through teacher training, professional development, research and the establishment of four K-12 charter schools.

“Hank is unique in his ability to balance academic, administrative and community concerns in his decision making,” Lawlor says. “We’ve been good friends and colleagues for almost 25 years, and I still cannot believe our good fortune that he has come to Washington University.”

And just as he had at the University of Chicago, Webber holds an academic appointment at Washington University. He is a senior lecturer in the Brown School, teaching a course on topics ranging from social welfare policy to urban and community development.

Last year, Webber also led the effort to establish Washington University’s first on-campus child-care center, scheduled to open for the fall 2010 semester.

And at the center of Webber’s world is his own family: His spouse of almost 25 years is Christine Jacobs, a physician who has a private practice and is an associate professor of family and community medicine at Saint Louis University. Their son, Robert, will be a junior at Brown University this fall, and their daughter, Hannah, will be a freshman at Wellesley College.

“I am blessed,” Webber says. “I have a great family, and we really enjoy living in St. Louis’ Central West End.”

Regarding the university family, he says: “The Washington University team is the strongest I’ve ever worked with both intellectually and technically. And they’re a team of really nice people.”

It’s another win-win.

Lisa Cary is a freelance writer based in St. Louis.