MIT Provost Mark Wrighton Moves To Washington University As Longtime Chancellor William H. Danforth Steps Down

As Longtime Chancellor William H. Danforth Steps Down Author: Franklin Hoke Mark S. Wrighton, 46, became the new chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis on July 1. Wrighton, a research chemist, was provost and chief academic officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology until his appointment. He succeeds William H. Danforth, Washington University's top officer for 24 years. The university's $1.7 billion endowment ranks it in the top 10 of United States schools; its operating bu

Jul 10, 1995
Franklin Hoke

As Longtime Chancellor William H. Danforth Steps Down Author: Franklin Hoke

Mark S. Wrighton, 46, became the new chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis on July 1. Wrighton, a research chemist, was provost and chief academic officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology until his appointment. He succeeds William H. Danforth, Washington University's top officer for 24 years. The university's $1.7 billion endowment ranks it in the top 10 of United States schools; its operating budget for 1993-94 was $780 million, including $479.5 million for the medical school.

In addition to administering the university, former chancellor Danforth was a strong and frequently heard voice in national science policy and funding debates, and Wrighton also hopes to use his new position to make an effective case in Washington, D.C., and here for the mission of research universities. In particular, he sees a threat to the educational mandate of the universities developing in recent congressional moves to cut research funding.

"The government has had a policy of linking advanced education and research, but that policy is now strained," Wrighton says. "The government's actions do not reflect a full implementation of that policy, and I would like to work to rebuild that very strong coupling.

"The government is backing away, in effect, from its commitment to link education and research. We're tending, in this time of [fiscal] constraint, to think of research as a procurement activity, as opposed to an educational and research activity."

Both MIT and Washington University have been pioneers in developing research alliances with industry. Here, too, Wrighton says that recent criticism of government funding for research that benefits industry as a form of corporate welfare fails to properly weigh the educational aspects of such arrangements. Many of the university-industry research partnerships that MIT and Washington have become involved in effectively combine research and education, he contends.

"There's been a lot of concern recently that the graduate programs are not preparing students well for careers in industry," he notes. "So, engaging industry [more] in developing educational programs is going to be important, and I look forward to building those kinds of relationships. Properly done, those can be very meaningful relationships that add value to the government investment."

As chancellor of Washington, Wrighton will not be able to continue as head of an active research lab, as he was able to do as provost at MIT. At MIT, he conducted studies in inorganic photochemistry, catalysis, photoelectrochemistry, surface chemistry, and molecular electronics. One recent line of investigations has sought to chemically mimic photosynthesis.

"The biggest thing I'm going to miss is having my own research group," he says. "As provost at MIT, I was able to have a very strong research program, and that kept me in touch at the grass- roots level with what was going on. That's a valuable thing, and I hope that I can find ways at Washington University of immersing myself in the issues that the faculty and students are facing."

Wrighton received his B.S. from Florida State University at Tallahassee in 1969 and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1972. He became an assistant professor of chemistry at MIT in 1972, an associate professor in 1976, and a full professor in 1977 at the unusually young age of 28. He headed the chemistry department at MIT from 1987 to 1990, when he became provost. He has held two endowed chairs, first as the Frederick G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry from 1981 to 1989 and then as the first Ciba-Geigy Professor of Chemistry from 1989 until his move to Washington University.

Franklin Hoke

(The Scientist, Vol:9, #14, pg.17 , July 10, 1995)
(Copyright, The Scientist, Inc.)
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