Provost Wrighton to Head Washington Univ.
Will Leave to Assume Chancellorship in St. Louis after 23 Years at Institute
Provost Mark S. Wrighton
By Daniel C. Stevenson
Editor in Chief
Provost Mark S. Wrighton will be the next chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.), effective July 1. The appointment was announced yesterday by the Washington University Board of Trustees.
Wrighton will succeed William H. Danforth, who has held the university's highest position since 1971.
"Washington University is one of the leaders of American higher education, and I am greatly honored to be asked to become its next chancellor," Wrighton said.
Total enrollment at Washington University is 11,655 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, with a faculty of more than 1,970. The university has one of the ten largest endowments in America - $1.7 billion - and operates with a budget close to $800 million.
A former head of the Department of Chemistry, Wrighton has served as provost for almost five years. His imminent departure is the latest development in a period of upheaval among the Institute's highest positions: The undergraduate and graduate deans, as well as the associate provost for the arts and the director of libraries have all announced plans to resign this year.
"I think it's a great honor for Mark, and I think it speaks well to MIT's leadership, but we certainly are going to miss him here," said President Charles M. Vest, who appointed Wrighton shortly after taking office.
"I greatly regret leaving MIT," Wrighton said, citing Vest and Chairman of the Corporation and former President Paul E. Gray '54 as "tremendous mentors for the role of leading a research university."
"MIT has been blessed with a succession of outstanding provosts, and Mark Wrighton certainly has continued this tradition," Vest said. "His leadership through this period of change has been very important to the continued excellence and vitality of MIT."
"You can't be provost forever," Wrighton said. "I've really enjoyed it; I've gained a lot of experience."
Wrighton, as chief academic officer, is responsible for research and education programs. The deans of the five schools report to him, as do the deans of undergraduate and graduate education.
He was involved in the budget planning, re-engineering, government relations, and general academic policy.
Vest said he will not use the occasion of Wrighton's departure to seriously change the position of provost.
Washington University is "an institution which is broader than MIT, and certainly not focused at the undergraduate level on science and technology," Wrighton said. "It has a different focus" than MIT, with more diversified programs, such as a top-ranked medical school and a law school.
Wrighton will assume the new post in less than three months. "To my taste, it's a very abrupt transition," he said. "In fairly short order I need to get a grip on a couple of matters."
He will be faced with selecting deans for the school of arts and sciences and the business school, as well as the start of a major fundraising effort.
Wrighton will meet with a management style at Washington University strikingly different than the Institute's. "At MIT, the provost is clearly the chief operation officer" in a centralized administration, he said. At Washington, "it's a decentralized system, where the academic deans all have their own endowment, their own programs."
As chancellor, Wrighton will be "looking to develop a stronger research presence, not just in the sciences, but in the humanities and other areas."
Wrighton feels he can particularly assist Washington University in building synergistic, interdisciplinary programs like those found at MIT.
The first thing Wrighton wants to do is to "make sure I understand what everyone does, get to meet them, and determine what changes need to be made in order to sustain the activities of the universities."
23 years at MIT
As provost, Wrighton played a leading role in the restructuring driven by changes in research funding. He created new education and research programs in environmental science and engineering and worked to recruit and retain more faculty from underrepresented minority groups.
Wrighton displeased many faculty members when he closed the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology in June 1993, counter to the recommendations of a review committee.
Following several months' debate at faculty meetings, a faculty committee appointed by President Vest reported that "in some important aspects" the decision-making process in the closing of labs or centers was "seriously flawed."
Afterwards, Wrighton acknowledged the shortcomings of the review process and the decision to close the center. He said the committee report provided guidance that would be useful in the future.
Wrighton has been provost since the fall of 1990. He joined the MIT faculty in 1972 and became a full professor of chemistry in 1977. When he was named Frederick G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry in 1981 at age 32, Wrighton became one of the youngest people to ever hold a named professorship at MIT.
He was named head of the Department of Chemistry in 1987. Wrighton has mentored over 70 PhD students and has received several teaching awards. He holds 14 patents and has authored more than 400 research papers.
In 1983, he received one of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's "genius grants."
Wrighton received a B.S. in chemistry from Florida State University in 1969 and received his PhD in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1972 at the age of 22.