Chancellor Wrighton must retire
Let me repeat the title in case you skipped over it: Chancellor Mark Wrighton must retire. I don’t mean retire within a few years or when the massive construction in front of Brookings Hall is completed in 2020. I mean that he must retire before the end of the calendar year.
Wrighton has been the head of Washington University since July 1, 1995, which would make his tenure a senior at his own University right now. He has seen his school grow from a regional to a national power in academics and research. Application numbers and the endowment have been on the rise, now to the point where students can say where they go to school and people will remark on how expensive it is and how difficult it is. Wrighton has led this school into the isolated, high-pressure bubble that we all call home, but his leadership has not been in the best interest of the student body, and recently it has become abundantly clear to me that his tenure as the face of the school must come to an end very soon.
Recently, the chancellor met with a student group calling for an end to the University’s investment in fossil fuel companies. As a chemist and former head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s chemistry department, you would assume he would understand the chemical reactions that occur when fossil fuels are burned and what that does to the environment. Maybe he “lost” that knowledge because he will not use his massive influence—remember, he is the chairman of the Association of American Universities—to put pressure on universities around the country to divest from fossil fuels. I get it: These companies are hugely profitable, and an endowment is only as good as its investments, but that is a coward’s excuse. If you really want to be a leader and push the conversation, you have to challenge the status quo and ask: “Why can’t we do it a different way?”
There are two more recent events that are equally as concerning that Wrighton has been suspiciously quiet about. First is the Bon Appetit workers’ effort to unionize, which is being voted on tomorrow. These fantastic people are a lifeline to thousands of students, and they simply want the right to organize to negotiate for respect in their jobs. A statement of support from the chancellor would reach the entire community, force a conversation and give this the importance it deserves. But he has stayed silent. I assume it is as to not negatively impact the University’s bottom line. There goes the coward’s defense again: Blame it on something else, say your hands are tied or simply just say nothing while you wait for another issue where you can help to eclipse your previous failure.
The second is a recent back and forth in Student Life by a certain physics professor who has the most ignorant, short-sighted, privileged opinion about diversity in the “hard” sciences. Again, a simple statement to reaffirm that the University supports diversity because it recognizes the lingering effects of racist, sexist and classist practices that have dominated our society until recently continue to make it difficult for minorities of any kind to search for a career in all academic fields. That’s it. Not a word about the professor because everyone deserves to have an opinion and not let it affect their career, and it is really what they are saying every time the University pats itself on the back about how the freshman class has the highest percentage of black students as compared with other institutions on our level. But, sadly, he has stayed quiet on this as well. Maybe it’s time for him to grow a pair, be it testicles or ovaries or vertebrae so it can resemble something of a spine.
These are just events that have happened this semester. He has been here for 40 semesters, and it will not be hard to see how Wrighton has always put the well-being of those who profit from the University over the people who make it profitable. It gets lost very easily that he works for us: We do not owe him, the administration or the board a damn thing. They answer to us, but by counting on us to become disillusioned by our short stay here, our voice has been fractured. As students, it is important to realize that we drive this University; we can speak to alumni and have them join us to cut off those precious donations. We make this school attractive to everyone we come across and inspire to be more like us. Wrighton has not forgotten this, but our needs are changing. It seems like his time should come to an end. Who should the next chancellor be? Picking a new leader will be difficult, but it is necessary, as our current one is no longer fit for the job.