Our chancellor is more important than you think

Mathew Wallace | Staff Writer

For most Washington University students, the only times they are directly impacted by the chancellor can be counted on one hand: convocation, commencement and when an email is sent after something terrible happens. At first glance, the person occupying the position seems inconsequential to the everyday lives of the overwhelming majority of students. But by taking a deeper look into what the chancellor does for the school and the students, we can see that the importance of whoever is chosen to succeed Chancellor Mark Wrighton is of higher priority than his retirement announcement itself.

First, an overview of what the chancellor actually does. The position is the chief executive officer of the University and serves as its main representative to the world. The goal is to increase the University’s viability to compete and profit in academia. Profit? Yes, this University is a business, and in order to continue to operate, there needs to continue to be funding. Research grants, tuition, gifts, patents from research and donations are some of the major sources of funding the University relies on in order to maintain the image that is “Washington University in St. Louis.”

Image is another key facet that determines whether or not a chancellor is seen as successful. As most of us have figured out, college rankings are useless in determining which school is objectively better at one thing or another. In the beginning, school rankings were nothing more than a popularity contest, but they have now morphed into something that colleges are willing to lie about because of the effect rankings have on donations and the amount of applicants. Having a leader that can inspire more applications without resorting to unethical practices, as well as being able to attract more world-class faculty from other institutions, would give Wash. U. an edge on other competing universities. This does not only apply to undergraduate rankings: Law school rankings have this group of schools designated the “T14,” or the top 14 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Getting into one of these schools is believed to set up graduates for a much more lucrative career, while the school enjoys a much larger pool of applicants and faculty. Higher rankings means more applicants and more high tier faculty, which means more top firms investing in hiring students, which means more money in the way of donations and paying to access these world-class students. Wash. U. currently sits at No. 18 on this list (it was No. 48 in 1994), and a chancellor who can vault us over that barrier would give the University a significant advantage for years to come.

Before I delve into the best people for the chancellor job, let’s recap: A successful chancellor has to be able to raise money from outside sources; inspire more applicants to choose Wash. U. over similarly ranked schools; handle the image of the institution (this is especially difficult being in St. Louis, a predominately black city that does not have the best relationship with the notably homogenous University); be able to interact with the undergraduate, graduate and faculty populations to keep them all working toward the same goal; and be forward-thinking enough to anticipate how to keep and gain advantages for the school beyond their tenure. Below are a few candidates I believe can lead our University to being a true leader in the world of higher education for all:

Loretta Lynch

Loretta Lynch is a Harvard Law School graduate and the second African-American and the second woman to serve as the U.S. Attorney General. Her experience in the political world would bring along contacts and partnerships to Wash. U. that would greatly improve the ability of students to engage in the public service sector, while also opening up fundraising avenues previously unknown to us. Bringing in the former chief lawyer for the United States would undoubtedly give the law school an opportunity to crack that T14 barrier. And as the first African- American woman in her position, Lynch would attract more minorities to the school, which is something we desperately need.

Dean Jen Smith

Why look outside the University for a chancellor? As dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Jen Smith already has a massive leadership position at the University. In my six years here, I have yet to meet a student with anything but praise and admiration for Dean Smith and her understanding of the student experience. Having someone who understands and values the contributions of students to the University community makes students feel like they belong here.

Felicia Escobar

As special assistant to the president for immigration policy under former President Barack Obama, Felicia Escobar helped the government try to untangle the nightmare that is the U.S. immigration system. If anyone is brave enough to handle that, they deserve to lead. Wash. U. could become a leader in immigration reform and be a sanctuary to all immigrants and refugees from across the globe with her at the helm.

Condoleezza Rice

Secretary of state, faculty member at Stanford University, performer with Yo-Yo Ma and Aretha Franklin and the best name to ever grace the West Wing, Rice can help change the DNA of Wash. U. with her decades of experience.

Susan Rice

While at Stanford University, Susan Rice created a fund that withheld alumni donations until the university either stopped investments in companies doing business in South Africa, or the country ended apartheid. Fearless leadership is not something you come across easily, and having Susan Rice instill those leadership qualities—using her experience as National Security Advisor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations—within our school can only lead to good things.

Michelle Obama

Look, this is my reach, but you don’t know unless you ask, right? Besides being one of the only first ladies to have an advanced degree and one of only two with a law degree, she is one of the coolest people to ever exist—and I need an excuse to meet her, alright? Plus, by 2019, both of her kids will be in college, so she will have some free time on her hands.

So there it is, six names that could help Wash. U. continue to receive billions of dollars in donations, increase rankings, improve application numbers, increase applications of students from underrepresented populations and help create a more positive relationship between us and the St. Louis community. And in case you’re wondering: Yes, all the suggestions are women—on purpose. Creating a space that is safe, welcoming and promising for half of the human population seems like a good business practice. Plus, isn’t it about time Wash. U. got ahead on things other universities have been doing for years, instead of being woefully behind?