A conversation with Andrew Martin, Washington University’s next chancellor
Saturday afternoon, Washington University’s board of trustees formally announced that Andrew Martin would be the University’s next chancellor. Ahead of the formal announcement, Martin sat down for a phone interview with Student Life. The conversation has been edited lightly for clarity.
Student Life: While you obviously have prior experience at the University, most students here weren’t around then. So, for those people: Who is Andrew Martin?
Andrew Martin: First and foremost, I’m a quantitative political scientist. I studied the U.S. Supreme Court and other institutions my entire career. When I was on the faculty at [the College of] Arts and Sciences I taught primarily courses on quantitative methods, for both undergraduate and graduate political science students. Almost every political science major took QPM, Political Science 363, which is a course that I taught almost every year. Of course, some of my teaching has been in the School of Law as well, teaching courses on social science research for lawyers and courses on judicial decision making. But first and foremost I’m a faculty member and I look forward to re engaging with students, both undergraduate and graduate and professional students. I do look forward to teaching undergraduates in the years to come.
SL: It’s a very simple question, but what goals do you have as chancellor?
AM: The goal that I have as chancellor is to continue the excellence of this institution. If you look at the development of this institution over the past 40 or 50 years, the trajectory here is unrivaled in American higher education. I mean, it’s really a great success story: Programs have gotten better, the community has gotten more exceptional.
One of the things that’s really important as you think about driving academic excellence further has to do with a commitment to diversity. At the end of the day, if an institution isn’t bringing the most talented people into the community, regardless of their previous opportunities—whether it’s students or faculty members of staff—you’re going to be a less excellent institution. So for me, a commitment to diversity and commitment to excellence go hand in hand and at the end of the day those things are a top priority.
Another top priority, which is something that the University of course is doing very good work in in many different domains, is serving the public good. I think the University has a special commitment to the city of St. Louis and to the St. Louis metropolitan area, but also a responsibility to the country and the world. Over the course of the last 50 years, what I would call the gross campus amount of public service has been increasing year over year and I think that under my leadership we’ll see that continue well into the future.
SL: I did want to ask you specifically about diversity and inclusion because I know that’s big part of what you’ve done at Michigan and elsewhere. As I’m sure you know, a 2017 New York Times article found that as of 2013 the University had more than three times as many students from the top 1 percent as from the bottom 60. So in more depth, how do you plan to address that?
AM: I’ll talk about it just with regard to student recruitment, and to simplify the conversation let’s just talk about undergraduate student recruitment, although there are corollary strategies with graduate students. But there’s important work to be done with regards to faculty and staff as well, which I’m happy to talk about.
I think the core lesson that I’ve learned from my time at Michigan is that in order to be able to recruit the most talented people regardless of their previous opportunities, step one is you have to have real meaningful engagement in those communities. You need to get people who are on the ground, talking to students, talking to guidance counselors, who are present to affirmatively invite people to think about Washington University. Of course, our student recruitment team is doing that work today, but it needs to be done and I think it needs to be done even more.
Certainly at Michigan, we’ve had great success using students as ambassadors in those relationships. Once you attract a student to the university from a particular high school, working with that student to connect with other future students allows you to build pipelines. Once students are on campus, I think it’s the University’s responsibility to think very carefully not only about financial support, but about the other types of support that are necessary for students who maybe didn’t have great educational opportunities in high school to come to a university setting and succeed.
From a financial place, it’s obviously tuition, room and board, these things are necessary, but you also have to make resources available to students to round out the student experience. One thing that I’m really proud of that we’ve been able to do at the University of Michigan is be able to provide scholarships for students who are taking summer internships. And in fact, for the last four years, we’ve met full financial need for our undergraduate students who are taking internships. Again, empowering them to have the experiences as students who are more privileged.
The other piece has to do with academic support and support that goes outside of the academic domain. At Michigan we’ve had great success with different types of cohort programs. Just on Wednesday evening of this week, I hosted a dinner with about 30 students who are in our summer bridge program. This is a program that brings students from low socioeconomic status, students from rural high schools, some students from Detroit high schools, we bring them to campus and they actually study together over the course of our summer term. They earn nine credit hours, they build a cohort. This is a program that has over 40 years of history at Michigan and has really allowed us to help students transition into university lives in really important ways. We have a fabulous program called the Kessler Scholars Program, which is one that supports first generation students. Again, to bring them together in a cohort, to have them work very closely with professional staff to do academic and non-academic advising and to provide them opportunities that some of our other students frankly don’t have an opportunity to get.
SL: A couple of times there you brought up your prior experiences at Michigan and how those are informing what you want to do at Wash. U. In what other areas are you planning to use what you’ve learned during your time in Michigan in your role as chancellor?
AM: Great question. One of the things that the University of Michigan has done quite well is develop enterprise-wide data resources, which are used by everybody who is involved with academic planning and that includes the faculty, administrators and the like. I have deep knowledge about how those systems work and how they can be used to help strategically plan. That’s certainly one area.
We’ve already talked about diversity, equity and inclusion. One of the things we accomplished in my second year as dean is a comprehensive strategic plan regarding diversity equity and inclusion. Some of that had to do with undergraduate recruiting. A bunch of it had to do with faculty recruiting and also creating a climate that supported the faculty staff and students alike. I think much of what we’ve learned through that experience and what’s worked and what hasn’t worked are things that I’ll bring along.
SL: So this is another fairly simple question, and I’m sure you’ve gotten it a number of times, but why did you want this job?
AM: Because I’m not crazy. This is an absolutely world class university. I was so proud to be a student here, I was very proud to be a faculty member here. When I think about all the talented people in this place that I had the opportunity to work with when I was faculty member, many of whom are still here, this has got to be the greatest job in American higher education. So when I saw in the fall that Chancellor Wrighton was retiring after a truly illustrious term of service, I honestly thought “There’s no way I’m actually gonna get the job.” But I couldn’t imagine a better place for me and my family to be. I’m absolutely thrilled to be the 15th chancellor and to have the opportunity to come back home to Washington University.
SL: And so looking ahead just a little bit, Chancellor Wrighton is going to be stepping down next summer, so what does this upcoming year look like?
AM: Well for me between now and November 4, I’m the dean of the College of Literature, Arts and the Sciences (LSA) at University of Michigan and I’ll have many responsibilities in Ann Arbor, working with my colleagues, the provost and the president to ensure that there’s a smooth transition in leadership there.
I do intend to be in St. Louis as much as I can during that time period, beginning to re-engage with the community and learning about parts of the community that I didn’t know much about when I was here previously. I certainly look forward to meeting students at some point in late August or early September when I’m back on campus. The month of November and December my family will accomplish two things: We will move from Ann Arbor to St. Louis, hopefully successfully, and we’re going to get some rest. We’re going to take a couple of vacations, although I will be here for a number of events that are scheduled during that time.
And then in January, I’m going to hit the ground. And certainly there will be a steep learning curve. I’ve already begun spending time with many of the executive vice chancellors and vice chancellors and I look forward to engaging the campus community on all levels, with a particularly acute focus on the first six months of the job.
SL: You mentioned your family. Who are your family?
AM: So my wife Stephanie was with me here in St. Louis when I was on the faculty. We met when I was a graduate student, although she was living in Seattle at the time. Stephanie has two degrees from Saint Louis University. She did nursing as a second career and so she has a bachelor’s degree and a masters in nursing from Saint Louis University. She practiced at St. Louis University Hospital until our daughter was born. My daughter’s name is Olive Martin. Olive is 10 years old. She was born here in St. Louis, left after kindergarten and she is absolutely thrilled to be moving back to the city that she calls home. We also have a Boston Terrier named Danny, who is going to be returning to St. Louis.
SL: Will we be seeing Danny around campus?
AM: You will be seeing Danny around campus. I hope he doesn’t do what he did one time. Before we moved, we lived on Pershing, just north of the Knight Center and in the neighborhood in between campus and the Loop. Danny once got out of our yard, crossed Forest Park Parkway and ended up on the front steps of the Knight Center. So hopefully he doesn’t escape from Harbison House, but you’ll be seeing Danny all around campus, I’m sure.
SL: You’ve mentioned a few times wanting to interact with students directly. How do you plan on making that happen?
AM: As I mentioned before, I do plan on teaching undergraduates. I will not be teaching undergraduates in my first semester but in my first full academic year I certainly will. You know, I’m going to be very present on campus. I’ll be in the dining halls, I’m going to be at student events. I certainly will have some larger-style interactions, town hall type things, and I will make myself available for students in some sort of office hours, although I’m not sure exactly how we will organize those. I read all of my emails, I’ll be active on Twitter and that provides another platform. I’ll walk to work every day, I’ll be walking all over campus and so I look forward to those interactions, seeing students and spending time together.
SL: You’ve mentioned plenty about your previous time in St. Louis and at Washington University. I don’t know how much time you’ve been back but has anything changed? Is anything strikingly different?
AM: I’ve spent very little time on campus actually because of the confidentiality of this process. The two biggest things that have changed, of course one is the East End transformation, which is truly a transformation. That work all began after I left and just driving by that today, I look forward to getting a richer tour of that area. That’s transformative for campus and I look forward to seeing that develop going forward.
And the other thing that has changed quite a bit is the Loop. My wife and I and our daughter had the chance to drive to the Loop a little bit earlier today. The development that’s happened in the Loop, particularly to the east of Skinker has really been tremendous. I mean, I think about what that area was like when I was a graduate student living over on McPherson and Waterman on that side of Skinker back in 1994, 1995 and 1996. It has improved dramatically and to see the transformation of that area has been really interesting. I look forward to exploring some of the rest of the city, which I’ve just never gotten a chance to do yet. This is a great city of neighborhoods and when my wife and I were here before we really enjoyed spending time in Central West End and Lafayette Square and Soulard and in the Midtown area and to go and rediscover those places is going to be a lot of fun.
SL: Zooming out a little bit, can you talk about your own personal path to this point? We have your resume, we know what you’ve done, but what in your own words has led you here?
AM: I’ll try to tell this in an efficient way. But as an undergraduate I studied mathematics and government. I had two majors, I wrote my thesis in math and I didn’t really have any idea how those two things fit together. You have to remember, this was pre-internet so it was hard to find out about graduate programs and other sorts of things. So I had a conversation with a family friend who happened to be the dean of the liberal arts school at Purdue [University] in my hometown, I grew up in Lafayette, Indiana. And he said “Hey Andrew, have you ever heard of this thing called political methodology?” The answer to that question was no. And he said “Well this is mathematical modeling setting policy. This is something that can bring your two interests together.” So that lunch that we had at the Acropolis Restaurant in West Lafayette, Indiana in the summer of 1993 led me to Washington University. What he told me was that the three best departments that do political methodology in the world are Rochester, Wash. U. and CalTech. I ended up applying to all three. I got into Wash. U. I visited here and decided I wasn’t interested in the other programs and enrolled that fall. That’s what brought me in the first instance to Wash. U.
I finished my Ph.D. in four years, I got a tenure track job at Stony Brook University, which is a great university, perhaps not the most lovely place in the world to live, and I get a phone call from the department chair of political science and he said “Andrew would you be interested in coming back to Wash. U. to rebuild the graduate methodology curriculum and then build an undergraduate methodology curriculum?” And the answer to that question was absolutely. In a sense, it’s similar to the answer I gave Craig Schnuck when he called me to tell me the board had decided that they wanted me to be the 15th chancellor of the University. So after just two years away I came back and I was here for 14 years. I was teaching just in political science until I earned tenure and was promoted.
A bunch of my academic work had to do with law and courts. I began interacting with colleagues in the law school. They got a research grant and were doing some interesting projects and then lo and behold, the law school offered me an appointment. So from 2006 until I left in 2014 I was teaching in both schools, doing work in both schools and really enjoying the intellectual lives of two different sets of colleagues who were working on similar problems but from different perspectives.
So that gets me up to the part where I departed. I decided that because of the great experience I had as department chair of political science in Arts and Science and as vice dean of the law school, that my day-to-day life was much more fulfilling in academic leadership. And I also thought that I could make the world a lot better place by helping empower academic institutions to do even more than I could by continuing to write papers and teach students. So I was interested in a deanship. The Michigan deanship was actually the first position that I ever raised my hand and said “Hey look at me.” That was a long process and after about seven months I got the call from the provost at Michigan offering the job.
It was bittersweet leaving here. Our roots were here, great friends and family here, but at the same time LSA at the University of Michigan is a truly outstanding arts and sciences college and so we made that transition. As I will be telling many of colleagues tomorrow the LSA deanship is the best job that I’ve ever had. I think that I’m moving to a better job but it’s the best job that I’ve ever had. It’s been a wonderful four years in Ann Arbor. Great colleagues, great community, wonderful students, a great alumni network, super talented staff and it will be bittersweet in many ways to leave that position—but I’m leaving that position to come home.
SL: [Chairman of the Chancellor Search Committee] Mr. Schnuck said that he and the board were impressed with your vision for where higher education is going. Where is higher education going, and how does Wash. U. fit into that?
AM: There are a couple of big challenges for higher education. One has to do with public support. Higher education institutions have been institutions historically that have been viewed by all with the very highest regard in our society. That’s not the case anymore, and in particular, you’re beginning to see political polarization. In fact, a recent Pew study showed that a majority of Republicans think that higher education is actually detrimental to the United States. That’s one challenge.
Another challenge is how do we make a residential education—which is undoubtedly expensive—how do we make it distinctive from what you can do online. And of course you can learn calculus online but there are many things that you can’t do. So our challenge as a university is how do we think about bringing together roughly 7,000 undergraduate students, 7,000 graduate professional students, how do you bring them into a particular place and create environments that they can’t have anywhere else. And I think that’s our biggest challenge. I think there’s some real places for opportunity there. There’s certainly many opportunities in team-based engaged learning. There are obviously some opportunities in research. This is a great research university and so continuing to get more and more undergraduate students involved in research I think will be very important.
I also think as we continue to deepen the engagement with the community here in St. Louis and beyond, that provides educational opportunities for students they really can’t get any other way.
A final thing that I’ll mention, particularly for students in Arts and Sciences, which is the college I’m leaving now in Michigan is how do we ensure that students who are learning incredibly valuable areas of study like philosophy and classics and sociology are able to connect their undergraduate education with their goals and aspirations, some of which of course have to do with getting a job. That’s an area where I’ve done a lot of work at Michigan. We launched the LSA Opportunity Hub a couple of years ago, which really has been transformative for our college.
SL: One of the people your predecessor Chancellor Wrighton has worked most closely with was Provost Holden Thorp. I understand you’ve worked with him and interacted with him in the past. What were those interactions and are you looking forward to working with him again?
AM: I absolutely look forward to working with Holden. We overlapped here for about a year, a year and a half. He was an incredibly supportive mentor and friend and colleague during my last semesters here at the University and we kept in touch during my time at Michigan. Holden is an incredibly talented administrator, I am truly, truly grateful that he’s going to continue to be part of the leadership team and from my perspective, I hope he’s here for a really, really long time. We get along really well, we have very similar views about not only the future of higher education but about some of the things that are happening on the ground here. He and I have had the chance to speak a couple of times and I look forward to working with him in the years to come.