Filling the shoes of a campus mainstay
The announced retirement of Provost Ed Macias provides the University an opportunity to reflect on recent academic advancements and goals for the future. Macias, who has fulfilled the duties of provost continuously since 1988, has worked at Washington University since 1970, previously as a professor of chemistry, followed by appointments such as department chair and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
The provost is the University’s chief academic officer. The deans of all seven schools, including Law and Medicine, report directly to the provost, and he, in turn, reports to the chancellor and the board of trustees. The office of the provost is held accountable for the University’s accreditation and improving academic standards across all the schools.
Despite his distance from the ordinary routines and concerns of undergraduates, the decisions of Macias and his office have been profound. The latest of Macias’ amendments most evident to upperclassmen is the extended break between classes, from seven minutes to 10. More significantly, Macias and his staff have begun to address and correct gender inequity in faculty pay. In a report to the Faculty Senate Council last May, Macias said there has been an increase in the number of women appointed to leadership roles throughout the University and that the pay gap, while still present, is closing. Macias was also proud to report that in three schools “women are paid more than men,” though precise details were omitted from the minutes.
While a school of Wash. U.’s caliber will certainly attract a particularly high caliber of applicants for the position of provost, we should look beyond individuals simply qualified in one particular subject area.
Chancellor Wrighton’s State of the University address last week identified “contributing to the University as an academic establishment and community” as a pillar for the University’s overarching goals. We take this to mean fostering an environment in which all domains of academia can strive for nonpareil instruction and research. Taken further, the chancellor’s vision includes greater multidisciplinary efforts. Consistent with that endeavor, the University should consider candidates experienced in collaborating with various departments, fields and research methods.
The University prides itself on interdisciplinary efforts between each of its schools, things like the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, and it should appoint a provost that would make efforts like this priorities. The College of Arts & Sciences has distribution requirements, but those must be satisfied within the college itself. Washington University has some of the strongest programs in the country for social work, political science and biomedical engineering, but collaboration between the departments is minimal where there is any collaboration at all.
Ed Macias did an incredible job spurring the growth of Washington University and many programs at the school, but looking forward, we should be looking for someone willing and able to pull the resources of the University as a whole to truly expand the education offered here. At a school like Wash. U., with so many different strengths in such a diversity of areas, that’s not a simple task.
With this in mind, the University should consider individuals such as Richard Smith, current dean of the graduate school of the College of Arts & Science, or Bruce Lindsey, the dean of the Architecture school. Both have a strong history of fostering collaboration between various academic fields, both in teaching and in work outside of the classroom. And while there’s definitely something to be said for finding someone outside the University with fresh ideas to contribute, appointing someone who has a proven record with Wash. U. and is willing to fill the role for 25 years is something we shouldn’t look past. But whoever ultimately fills this role will have the opportunity to carry on a tradition of excellence, and make gains in the area of interdisciplinary academia.