Members of the Washington University community, distinguished guests, and those joining us locally — good afternoon, and thank you for being with us today. Between the symposium this morning and all the other events happening on campus, it has been an incredible day as we celebrate the past, present, and future of Washington University in St. Louis.
There are a lot of people I want to thank for helping us get to where we are today. Many of you I hope to thank individually, however, I do want to especially thank members of the Chancellor’s Search Committee, the Board of Trustees, and the Inauguration Steering Committee. You have been exceptional this past year and a half as we’ve prepared for this transition and moment in the university’s history. I also want to thank our delegates for being here and for representing your institutions.
I’m incredibly honored to have been chosen to serve as WashU’s 15th Chancellor. Stephanie, Olive, and I are extremely happy to have returned to St. Louis where we consider home. This is truly a culminating moment for my family and me both personally and professionally. But I also don’t want this day to be about me — because it’s really not.
Today is about Washington University. And it’s about momentum.
In my mind, the word momentum perfectly encapsulates where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re heading.
Since I’m a “math guy,” I feel the need to add, that from a purely mathematical-physics perspective, momentum is the impetus or driving force of a moving object. To calculate momentum, you multiply an object’s mass by its velocity. The greater an object’s momentum, the more force it takes to change its motion.
Momentum also helps us continue to move forward. Given enough momentum, we can overcome significant obstacles. Unfortunately, though, we can’t really increase our momentum if we have nothing to drive on top of. Nothing to build upon. Nothing to hold us up.
That was especially true here in St. Louis in the mid-1800s when the Mississippi River served as one of the largest waterway obstacles to commercial and industrial progress in the country.
At that time, St. Louis was struggling. The river, which once provided easy passage for transporting goods cross-country, was no longer the fastest route. The railroad had taken its place, and St. Louis was losing its economic prominence. Talk about a real momentum buzzkill!
To solve for this, our local business and political leaders decided to build a bridge. As former libraries staff member Aaron Welborn writes, “There was only one problem: no one had ever built a bridge that long.”
That didn’t stop James Buchanan Eads and the eventual construction of the Eads Bridge — an engineering and architectural marvel and the largest and longest bridge built during its time. The bridge also signified hope as the city of St. Louis looked to regain its momentum.
Perhaps some of you know, but Washington University also played a role in the building and historic preservation of the Eads Bridge.
In fact, our 2nd Chancellor William Chauvenet revised and double-checked the calculations Eads made in designing the bridge, and invented a revolving mirror to measure the elastic limit of steel and iron. Faculty members often brought students to the site to study its engineering and architecture. In 1872, WashU bought the machinery that tested the bridge’s structural materials for use in our civil engineering laboratory. WashU Professor Calvin Woodward would later write the history of the Eads Bridge.
And the original drawings of the bridge’s designs have since been digitized and are housed in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections in our University Libraries.
The story of the Eads Bridge is a story about momentum. It’s also a story about how our fine city and this institution came together to achieve something incredible. It’s a story about how we engendered innovation and progress across the community and across the disciplines.
I like to think Washington University is also a lot like the Eads Bridge.
At Washington University, we are a bridge between past, present, and future. A bridge between the academy and the community. Between the liberal arts, the sciences, and the professions. Between the work on our campuses and the work of our global partners.
Not only that, but we continue to build bridges. We build bridges between faculty, staff, and students. Between doctors and patients. Between students and alumni. We intentionally build bridges across differences as we aspire to become a place that is both diverse and unapologetically committed to equity and inclusion — because we know full-well that diversity on paper is one thing, and equity and inclusion are another.
We must build these bridges because it’s at the very core of our understanding of American higher education. It’s imperative for us to continue to move forward, even despite higher education’s public-facing challenges. While the national perception wanes, we must turn those challenges — not into threats — but into opportunities.
That means, when state governments divest from their great universities, it’s time for us to open our doors even wider.
When industries decrease investment in research and development, it’s time for us to step up our research game.
When our city no longer provides a public hospital, it’s time for us, BJC Healthcare, and other partners in the region to help fill that void and ensure an even stronger safety net for anyone who needs care.
When resources are sparse in many K-12 schools, it’s time for us to step up and help address the leaky pipeline.
When tensions loom between the United States and other countries, it’s time to strengthen our position that we welcome all people to campus.
When racial tensions also loom right here in our own neighborhoods, and perhaps even within our community, it’s time for us to make it abundantly clear that we strive for equity and inclusion of all.
Simply put — we must use our firm foundation as a foothold for future momentum as we continue our mission to be a place of distinction in education, research, and patient care. As your 15th Chancellor, I’m extremely excited to see what we’ll do with that momentum.
Today I want to share just three ways I believe we can continue to honor our past and build bridges to our thriving future.
The first is by maintaining and enhancing our reputation as a place of academic distinction — a place where people come together to engage in life-changing research and education.
Over the last several decades, and under the extraordinary leadership of my predecessors Chancellors Wrighton and Danforth, we have become known throughout the world for our innovative, path-breaking teaching and research in all areas. We should be proud of all we’ve accomplished. Yet now it’s time to strengthen our resolve and build on the foundation we already have in place.
To all of my colleagues in this community: I challenge us to build on our foundation of excellent teaching by carefully assessing and improving our curriculum and pedagogy. We must do this at all levels — undergraduate, graduate, and professional — to ensure all of our students have bridges and clearer paths ahead, both personally and professionally.
Likewise, we have eminent scholars conducting transformative research across our campuses. And now it’s time for us to do even more — to engage in more humanistic and creative work, to vigorously seek out more research funding, to conduct more basic and applied research that has a significant impact, to strengthen our global partnerships, and to bring more research into the marketplace.
And finally, we are a community comprised of amazing and talented students, faculty, and staff. In fact it’s the people who make this institution what it is today. And so, we must continue to invest in them — those already here and those who we are recruiting to join us. By doing so, we can build and create even more high-quality programs of distinction.
In order to achieve all of this, it’s going to take a targeted and multi-faceted strategic effort. We’ll need to grow our faculty and invest in our environment for education and research. We’ll need to focus on the places of unique strength, or where we have the potential to develop into world-class leaders. We’ll need to carefully discern our investments, measure our outcomes, and make adjustments as needed. And we’ll need our academic leadership, faculty, and staff to continue joining together to make all of this possible. Finally and most importantly — we must take an equitable and inclusive approach to all of this work.
The second key priority is to continue to provide educational access for students regardless of their background or previous opportunities. As a leading educational institution, we must build sturdier bridges and more secure pipelines so that all talented people have the opportunity to receive a WashU education.
Here again, we have a strong foundation on which to build. Recently, we’ve doubled down on our efforts to admit higher percentages of Pell-eligible students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. I’m thrilled we’re starting to see forward momentum in these areas, with a recent increase from 6 to 15 percent over the last six years. This is a good start, but we need to do more to ensure all admitted undergraduate students with incredible talent can walk through our doors.
I am committed to securing the resources necessary to be able to practice need-blind admissions in due course.
We must also continue to meet the full demonstrated financial need of our students as well as give them the resources they need to thrive while they’re here. This is our moral responsibility — one that includes more than just tuition, room, and board. It also requires all of us in the community to look carefully at everything we do, including our curriculum, to make certain every student can flourish in their chosen area of study regardless of who they are or from where they come.
At the graduate and professional level, we already have a lot to be proud of.
Our recent $100 million commitment to give up to 50 percent of our medical students free tuition is a good start.
The work various schools on the Danforth Campus are doing to increase tuition assistance at the graduate and professional levels is another.
And the McDonnell Scholars Academy, which provides ample financial support and robust leadership preparation to exceptional international students, is still another.
These are all great starts, and I look forward to building on that foundation. However, these commitments, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, will not be inexpensive. We will need to join together to deploy our current resources more effectively, and to develop new resources to fund this noble work.
To increase our momentum, I believe now we should focus on talented students close to home.
That’s why I’m making a pledge that, beginning next fall, any admitted undergraduate student from Missouri or the southern portion of Illinois who is Pell-eligible or with a family income of less than $75,000 will be able to attend Washington University free of charge.
And for those undergraduate students already enrolled at WashU who would qualify, they, too, will benefit from this pledge beginning next fall.
We are making this “WashU Pledge” first because it’s the right thing to do. In addition, we are Washington University “in St. Louis.” That means we have a unique responsibility to provide opportunity for students in our extended region — to the four corners of Missouri and our neighbors in the Southern portion of Illinois. By doing so, we’re attracting our very best and brightest and keeping them right here, close to home.
That brings me to my third and final takeaway, which is that it’s time to double down on our role and impact in St. Louis.
As an institution founded with the very intent to provide increased educational access at the local level, we are Washington University because of St. Louis. We’re proud to be Washington University in St. Louis.
And today, I’m calling us to be Washington University for St. Louis.
I see it as our “WashU Compact” — a commitment between us and the greater St. Louis region as we look to strengthen our community partnerships and impact “In STL and For STL.”
Of course, our history informs us that we’ve long been with and for St. Louis. As former faculty member and mayor of St. Louis in the 1950s and 60s Raymond H. Tucker once said, “It is difficult for one to imagine the university without the city or the city without the university. They have made each other great. … The community and the university grow together.”
We are for St. Louis through education, with many K-12 initiatives to help more students throughout the region realize their full potential.
We are for St. Louis through research that can only be done in St. Louis, like the Living Earth Collaborative in partnership with the St. Louis Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden.
We are for St. Louis through patient care and improving the health of our community, alongside BJC Health System.
We are for St. Louis through the economic stability we provide the region as the 3rd largest employer.
We are also for St. Louis through our community impact such as our collaboration on neighborhood and real estate development, and by helping uplift the region through service-learning.
Indeed, here again we have incredible momentum; we already are for St. Louis. But today, we must commit to utilizing everything we do as an opportunity for community outreach, cooperation, growth, and well-being.
Being a good neighbor and being one of the world’s great research universities are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they amplify each other. By the same token, when all individuals have the same opportunities to thrive and flourish, all of us serve to benefit.
I want to eradicate any kind of perception that St. Louis is merely WashU’s side gig. Rather, St. Louis should become one of our primary foci as we think through the lens: “In St. Louis. For St. Louis.”
With that said, I can think of four things we must do in order to enhance our role and impact in the region.
First, we must confront the most significant social issues facing St. Louis through our research mission — significant challenges including some of the largest income disparities in the nation, health disparities that are unacceptable, high levels of crime, malnutrition, looming environmental concerns, and limited educational opportunities for far too many children.
As we continue to move forward, we must capitalize on more basic and applied research that directly affect our neighborhoods and communities.
During this last year on campus, I have come to learn about the immense talent and passion so many of our faculty, staff, and students bring to this work. I am hopeful others will join them so we can have an even greater impact.
The second thing we must do is open our educational doors to those living in St. Louis and beyond. In addition to our WashU Pledge and other financial aid, we have begun the work to enhance University College. We recently announced the decision to make University College stand-alone, to be even more nimble and flexible as we seek to offer in-demand programs at the flip of a switch. With an ambition to further expand University College, we will begin to offer courses across our entire curriculum for anyone in St. Louis who wants a WashU education.
The third thing we must do is continue to bolster our strong partnership with BJC on health access and disparity work as we continue to improve the health and well-being of those across our community. These are also issues to which many colleagues across our schools and departments are committed. We must continue to synergize that work and enhance our impact here at home.
And finally, the fourth thing we must do is think about how WashU as an employer can do even more. Let’s begin to think collectively about how our practices can do the most good for the people and communities that comprise the St. Louis region.
Our resolve to enhance our role and impact in St. Louis and for St. Louis is going to take a concerted and strategic effort — both on campus and within the community. In the coming months, I will call upon you to help us chart the course forward.
Friends — it’s clear we’re making immense strides. I view my role as your 15th Chancellor to increase our momentum and help build the bridges to our shared future — the future of this institution, the future of St. Louis, the future of this country, and the future of the world.
In order to continue this work, though, we need to do it together. It’s going to take all of us to roll up our sleeves, build bridges, and commit ourselves to the collective work ahead — all for the sake of our mission to improve lives in service of the greater good.
As Chancellor, I commit to joining alongside you, to being open and transparent about our vision, to being approachable and willing to tap into your collective wisdom, to building a culture of accountability and trust, and to helping us continue to become a place that treats all people with dignity, equity, and respect.
This is my commitment to you, and I hope you’ll make the same commitment in return as we hone in on these three key areas: academic distinction, educational access, and our role and impact in St. Louis.
Just like James Buchanan Eads took a vision and turned it into something truly spectacular — now we must do the same as we carry the spirit of the Eads Bridge, the spirit of Washington University, and the spirit of St. Louis forward. We must do this, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of all.
By doing so, my hope is that 20 years from now, we can confidently say that Washington University is:
- A place that continues to be world-renowned for cutting-edge research, transformative and values-oriented education, and compassionate patient care;
- A place that has opened its doors widely and freely to anyone with talent who wishes to receive a WashU education;
- A place that has been a leader in the continued growth and prosperity of the St. Louis region;
- And a place that helped lead — and perhaps even transformed — higher education to meet the demands of our society.
Once again, I’m extremely honored to share in this moment with all of you, and to help us move forward along the path toward distinction. Thank you again for being here to celebrate this momentous occasion, and now it is time to build even more bridges!