There’s no question that recent world events have tested the mettle of campus communities at colleges and universities across America. WashU is no exception. The terrorist attack of October 7 and the subsequent turmoil and loss of innocent lives in the aftermath have inflamed more than just the Middle East, including in close-knit communities like ours.
Great universities like ours push the boundaries of currently accepted knowledge and understanding. So, too, do the individuals and groups who comprise them. Lively intellectual conversations are as commonplace as comments about the weather. As chancellor, it’s important that I help cultivate a campus community in which everyone has a voice, the freedom to exercise their rights and duties to speak out against injustice and inequity, and an opportunity to learn from one another without insult or intimidation.
This moment is about the talented students who’ve done the work, served their communities, run the race, crushed the obstacles, and handed it all over with hopeful hearts to Washington University.
While this past year has been painful to say the least, let’s use it as a reminder of the value of our higher education institutions and the crucial purpose we play in developing life-changing interventions and treatments, cultivating globally-minded leaders, and bringing to light the injustices happening in our communities and around the world.
This year — this unprecedented season of life — is not a resting place. While this Thanksgiving we will hopefully take time to rest, the next day we will get back up and keep on going. We will continue to chart a path forward, one with a final destination we do not yet know.
As these examples elucidate, history has proven that times of conflict and uncertainty tend to bring out both the best and worst in humanity. But in this moment — and as members of a community rooted in our mission to improve lives — I challenge each of us not to let this week bring out the worst in us. Instead, let today bring out our best.
Leading up to this election, I want to share a set of community guiding principles that I believe can help guide us toward this vision of what community can and should be — even in the midst of such political polarization. As I outline them below, I hope you’ll notice that they intentionally bring together ideas that are frequently posed as mutually exclusive — in order to remind us that we are a community capable of rising above those dichotomies.
While our current situation still disheartens me, at the same time I want you to know how hopeful I am that we will come out of this crisis even stronger than before. And, as I’ve said before, that’s because of you — the people who make this institution so unique and distinctive.
Using our mission and the health and well-being of members of our community as central guiding principles, Washington University will work hard to choose wisely the policy issues on which we decide to take a stand.
These are some of the values we hold dearly at Washington University and the values that have given us the firm foundation we have in place. And right now, these values are fueling the work we do to flatten the curve, mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and do our best to care for those who are most vulnerable in the midst of this health, humanitarian, and economic crisis.
I for one am proud of the immense progress we are making to invest in industries that align so closely with our mission, with a strong tendency to shy away from those that might serve to detract from it. And moving forward, we will continue to make even greater strides to invest in businesses with positive ESG practices. Because of the nature of our partnership with WUIMC, their long-term horizon approach to investment, as well as their engagement model, we’re confident we will continue on this path.
In summary, WUIMC is a separate entity accountable to its own board, but working in tandem with the university. Therefore, it has its own oversight and a lot of autonomy, but also a lot of rigidity in terms of the way it functions and allocates assets. Because its main purpose is to support the university’s mission in perpetuity, WUIMC’s investment decisions tend to align closely with our university’s most deeply held values.
Through this first blog post in a three-part series, I hope this gives you a bit clearer picture into what an endowment is and how we use it at Washington University. In two more future installments, I plan to outline the history of the endowment, where it comes from, how the payout is spent, how the endowment is managed, and how our investments align positively with the university’s mission — including a deeper dive into our socially responsible investment principles. Stay tuned!
I wish you the very best as you wrap up the weeks ahead. While this semester showed no signs of stopping, it will soon be time for us to take a brief respite so we can recharge and return with even greater energy and force. I hope you enjoy a restful holiday, and may you come back ready to help us move even further along our path.
This week especially, I want to touch on that last part: Gratitude. I believe gratitude is something we don’t give out enough in our current social context. To me, it’s an important starting point as we think about shifting our own personal experiences and the experiences of our communities and society writ-large. That said, I can think of several things for which I’m particularly grateful this year. One of the biggest ones being you — our Washington University community.
As almost a month has passed since inauguration, I believe now is the time to share the next steps for our path forward together. Those next steps involve a bold and transformative strategic planning process that will take place over the course of the next two calendar years.
Ultimately, what I really want to say is that you’ve all been incredibly integral in my success, the success of this day, and the success of the university in your own special way, and words cannot even begin to express my and my family’s gratitude. Thank you again, and now it’s time to increase our #WashUMomentum and “to build even more bridges!”
Over the coming months and years, I plan to continue championing these efforts. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take financial resources. It’s going to take careful attention to everything we do inside and outside of the classroom. And it’s going to take a commitment from all of us. But over time, I hope this institution will become a place that has completely removed the financial barriers that too often prevent individuals from considering WashU — a place where anyone can make their dreams of a WashU education a reality.
As your 15th Chancellor, I am deeply committed to leading with transparency, approachability, accountability, and data-driven decision making. To that end, I am sharing the entire report, in its full, unadulterated form. I feel this is important for several reasons. First, to walk-the-talk and be fully transparent. Second, to allow all of us to learn through this process. And, finally, to respect the input so many of you provided and empower continued dialogue. It is very important to me that each of you feels – and knows – that you have a seat at the table.
Indeed, distinction is clearly a term that embodies our past and permeates our present. And now, as we embark on yet another academic year—one filled with opportunity and potential—I challenge all of us to thread the needle even further as we embed distinction into the fabric of our future.
As WashU’s Chancellor, this will be one of my biggest priorities — to continue to fulfill our mission to improve lives through our excellent teaching, research, service, and patient care. This especially means being good neighbors as we exemplify the “in St. Louis” part of our name and our identity.
In light of these and other tensions as well as political rhetoric and pressure from various angles, it’s both appropriate and critically important to remember who we are and aspire to be as a Washington University community — a place where all people feel, represented, welcome, and included. Our international students, faculty, and staff are no exception. Let me be clear: students, faculty, and staff from around the globe are welcome at Washington University with open arms. And during times like these, it’s especially imperative we remind them that they are valued and celebrated as members of our thriving community.
As I have now officially begun my role as Washington University’s 15th Chancellor, I’d really like the chance to tell you exactly the kind of leader I aspire to be.