Chancellor Andrew Martin delivers first annual ‘State of the University’ address

| Staff Reporter

In his first annual “State of the University” address, Feb. 16, Chancellor Andrew Martin detailed some of the challenges faced by Washington University over the last year and outlined a plan for how to “keep the momentum” going.

After the pre-recorded video went live, community members had the opportunity to join different breakout sessions with different administrators to discuss subtopics of the State of the University address, such as Academic Distinction, Educational Access and Financial Aid, Our Commitment to St. Louis, COVID-19 Response and Operations, University Finances, Student Life and the Student Experience, Racial Equity and Human Resources and Employee Engagement.

During the address, which was broadcast live on YouTube, Martin described some highlights of the Washington University experience in 2020, in the face of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do not believe we have lost our momentum,” Martin said. “Indeed, I believe we are keeping our momentum, and I am extremely proud of this community and the many ways all of you have stepped up to help us continue to build on the firm foundation we have in place.”

Martin categorized the University’s momentum over the past twelve months into four main topics: “academic distinction,” “educational access,” “in St. Louis” and “financial & operational updates.” He also incorporated discussion of research, racial equity, financial aid and class demographics into the presentation.

Martin discussed how different undergraduate schools on the Danforth campus have collaborated to better understand the pandemic and provide solutions. The College of Arts & Sciences found relationships between COVID-19 and gender. The Sam Fox School of Art and Design created different forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) and made partnerships with local manufacturers. The McKelvey School of Engineering researched the relationship between COVID-19 and airflow. These efforts, combined with the work of the graduate schools, has yielded positive results for University research.

“In 2020, our total research revenue was up $25.5 million from fiscal year ’19 for a total of $660.7 million,” Martin said. “To break it up by campus, revenue was up $3.8 million on the Danforth Campus and up $22.7 million on the Medical Campus.”

After acknowledging the University’s academia-centered response to COVID-19, Martin turned it over to Mark Kamimura-Jiménez, the associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, to reflect on how the University has been addressing racial inequality.

“Some of the immediate things that happened over the last six months were racism pandemic town hall series, ‘Say Their Names’ vigil and the creation of courses, trainings and the reallocation of resources to support our students’ work,” Kamimura-Jiménez said.

Vice Provost Adrienne Davis then commented on faculty progress on the subject, stating that the University’s Asian faculty has grown by 28%, the Hispanic/Latinx faculty has grown by 71% and the Black faculty has grown by 133%. Davis also noted that the newly created Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, & Equity and the Equity and Inclusion Council were representative of the University’s commitment to tackling racial inequality.

However, Grace Ward, a senior member of Washington University Undergraduate & Graduate Workers Union (WUGWU), expressed frustration at the lack of mention of student initiatives on combating racial injustice during the address.

“We heard a lot from Martin and others about committees and vague terms like inclusion and equity, but nothing about the concrete proposals put forward by student activists, including disarmament and abolition of WUPD, greater support for the Prison Education Program, more structures of support for Black students, divestment of the University endowment from the private prison industry, changes to curriculum or increased wages for Wash. U.’s lowest paid workers, many of whom are people of color,” Ward said. “Those are things the University could actually do to advance racial justice. We don’t need more committees.”

After Davis spoke, Chancellor Martin described data regarding the class of 2024.

“At Wash. U, we have an outstanding class of 2024, which includes 1806 students compared to 1735 for class of 2023 as of the same date. An additional 118 students elected to take a gap year and will join the Class of 2025,” Martin said.

Martin also mentioned the projected numbers for the incoming class of 2025. With 33,000 first-year applications, a 20% increase from the previous application cycle, next year’s class is predicted to break previous records.

Financially, Martin described the sacrifices that had to be made during the pandemic.

Martin said that “budget cuts, furloughed employees and reduced hours for others, reduction in salary for some and not paying a typical retirement match for a time due to costs of shutdowns and losses” were just some of the costs the University dealt with over the last year.

According to Martin however, the outlook for next year is improving. This is namely due to an endowment that has performed relatively well and positive research funding and medical revenues. Martin said that these factors allowed the University to present merit raises and offer $100 million in financial aid, as well as an undergraduate tuition increase that is the lowest in fifty years.

Ward, as a Ph.D. student, pointed out the lack of universal distribution of these positive results for university workers over the last year.

“Faculty and some staff in the medical school were given a $750 bonus at the end of last semester to thank them for their exemplary work during the pandemic, but this bonus was not extended to Ph.D. students working in labs in the medical school, many of whom continued to go onto campus to conduct in-person research during the worst phases of the pandemic,” Ward said. “If we had structures—like unions—to check the power of administrators, I think we’d have heard a pretty different State of the University address, one that included the accomplishments, struggles and concerns of the majority of people who actually make this institution work.”

The presentation also detailed updates regarding the relationship Washington University has with the St. Louis region. This has been a recent initiative of the University to be more involved with the area, garnering the slogan “In St. Louis, for St. Louis.”

“Hank Webber has recently pivoted to executive vice chancellor for civic affairs and strategic planning with a sharp focus on regional, equitable economic development, community engagement and partnership with these neighbors and civic and community leaders,” Martin said.

Outside of administrative changes, the University community has played a key role in helping the region this past year in areas such as patient care, student initiatives and housing healthcare workers during the summer. In terms of civic engagement, the University was ranked 3rd in student voter registration nationally for the 2020 election.

“Given the way we have adjusted, rebounded and grown in the last year alone, it gives me immense confidence that we can do anything as long as we do it together,” Martin said.

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