Speeches & Commentary

Welcome to the new academic year!

Dear Washington University community,

With great joy and anticipation, I welcome you to a new academic year at WashU! As I’ve walked the Danforth Campus over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of our new students, families, faculty, and staff. It’s such a pleasure to have you here. To those of you returning after a summer break, welcome home. To those of you who kept our mission moving forward this summer, thank you. I wish each of you a terrific start to the new year ahead.

I’ve always appreciated the cyclical nature of higher ed, because in our on-the-go world, I sometimes need encouragement to stop and appreciate what we’ve accomplished together in the past year, take stock of our challenges, and dream big for the year ahead. On this first day of fall, I’d like to share some of those reflections with you.

Our Accomplishments
Last October, I experienced one of the proudest moments of my career when I announced that WashU had achieved our goal of offering a need-blind undergraduate admissions model and a $1 billion investment in student financial support through Gateway to Success. This truly incredible milestone was made possible by a long history of wise financial stewardship, a worldwide network of alumni, friends, and generous supporters who share our values, and an unprecedented endowment return in the 2020-21 fiscal year. Even writing this now, I feel tremendous pride for how our community embraces the value of educational access and understands true excellence is not possible without equity, diversity, and inclusion in every aspect of our operations.

The shift to need-blind admissions has led us to another milestone well worth celebrating. In 2015, under the leadership of my predecessor Chancellor Mark Wrighton and former Provost Holden Thorp, WashU committed to admitting a first-year class that included 13% Pell Grant-eligible students by 2020. Well, the class of 2025 was 17% Pell-eligible, and our newest class of students, the class of 2026, is 20% Pell-eligible – the most racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse class in our history. How lucky we are to learn and work together with such a broad array of brilliant people. And we’re just getting started.

At Washington University School of Medicine, we have had much to celebrate as well, despite the challenges of the pandemic. The past couple years confirmed what we always have known to be true: when we are faced with difficulties, organizations that have intentionally nurtured a culture of excellence, strong leadership, and empathic teamwork can survive, and in many respects, continue to thrive.

One aspect in which WashU Medicine is thriving is our incredible momentum related to National Institutes of Health grant funding. In federal fiscal year 2021, Washington University was awarded an astonishing $575.8 million in NIH funding, surpassing institutions like Penn, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins. This represents an all-time high for WashU, and our sixth consecutive year of growth. More importantly, though, it represents an increase in our ability to discover and advance new therapies and innovations in improving patient care.

The Challenges Before Us
Just as we have much to be proud of, we have much work ahead. We are a community of problem-solvers, and there will never be a shortage of material to work with.

COVID-19 continues to challenge us all. Balancing personal choice and individual and public health is never a simple task, and the unpredictability of the virus has made it more difficult. I encourage each of you to become familiar with our current COVID protocols on the WashU Together website, and to seek medical care should you experience any symptoms. As always, please remember to approach others with respect and empathy as we continue to navigate this turbulent time.

Our community also has been challenged by the Supreme Court’s decision on reproductive rights and how to move forward in a post-Roe environment in Missouri. I want to assure you that the university leadership team is looking at this issue from all angles to ensure that we’re doing all we can to support reproductive health care for our students, faculty, staff, and patients. I’ve heard from many of you and know this continues to be a deeply troubling issue for our community. I also know we will weather this challenging time with our signature grace, fortitude, and care for each other.

We also continue monitoring and preparing for potential effects of monkeypox on our campus. You can learn about how we’re preparing on the Habif Health and Wellness website and about monkeypox in general on the CDC website.

This summer, as you likely know, St. Louis experienced several flash flooding events, and our people and our campus were not spared from the impact. Cars, homes, and pets were lost in mere moments; we are incredibly thankful no human lives were lost among our WashU community. Our North Campus facilities were badly damaged, as was our Danforth Campus daycare center among other areas, causing major disruption that is still ongoing. Restoration progress is underway, and I’ve been so impressed by our Emergency Management team under the leadership of Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration Shantay Bolton, as well as the flexibility and compassion exhibited by our community.

Dreaming Big
Despite the challenges, we continue to look ahead to a bright future for Washington University and our St. Louis community. I’m thrilled that, after many months of dedicated work led by Provost Beverly Wendland, our Board of Trustees approved a bold and brilliant strategic plan for Washington University’s next decade of excellence and impact. Together, we will implement the plan to create an inclusive and equitable community that is both nurturing and intellectually rigorous; to foster excellence and creativity in our work; to cultivate lifelong learners, ethical thinkers, and leaders in a global society; and to affect meaningful, constructive change within our home community of St. Louis. We’ll officially share the final version of the plan this fall, and I encourage each of you to read and find ways to engage with the plan. We’re all in this together, and we should all be proud of what we’re building.

I hope you’ll take some time now, as we begin a new year, to do some reflecting of your own. What have you or your teams achieved in the past year that you’re proud of? What are your most pressing challenges? And most importantly, what is your big, bold, audacious dream? Write it down, share it with a friend, and go get after it. I can’t wait to hear about the amazing things you are working on as you build your own legacy here at WashU.

Welcome again to the 2022-23 academic year!


Andrew D. Martin