Trustees discuss graduate & professional education

The University’s Board of Trustees held one of its longest meetings on record March 4 to review and discuss the role and future of graduate and professional education at WUSTL, according to Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.

The six-hour meeting included reports from Wrighton, the deans of all eight schools of the University and the dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Wrighton opened the meeting by reviewing the purposes of graduate and professional education at the University, including the University’s role in preparing the next generation of leaders in society, and the importance of educating professionals such as lawyers, doctors, social workers, architects, business executives, artists and engineers to work in non-university and university settings.

He also noted the significant role played by researchers who earn doctoral degrees before pursuing careers in industry, government, research institutes and other universities. He said that approximately half of all WUSTL students — about 6,000 — are candidates for master’s or doctoral degrees.

The presentation differentiated between professional degrees and research doctorates in such matters as time-to-degree issues, level of institutional support for the cost of graduate study, and the importance of graduate students in the University’s research mission. Quoting from a federal document published by the Office of Management and Budget, Wrighton said, “Graduate education and research are inextricably intertwined.”

Robert E. Thach, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, which grants all Ph.D. degrees at the University, then shared with the trustees many of the challenges confronting graduate and professional education, including application data over time and the strength of significant programs. Immediately following Thach’s comments, presentations were made by the deans of architecture, art, Arts & Sciences, business, engineering, law, medicine and social work.

During a luncheon break, graduate students gave presentations to the board, followed by a short business meeting and then a two-hour in-depth discussion between the deans and the trustees, moderated by William B. Neaves, president and chief executive officer of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and chair of the board’s research-graduate affairs committee.

After a lively discussion on challenges facing graduate and professional education, Wrighton thanked the trustees and the deans for their willingness to devote significant time to an issue that carries important ramifications for the future of research universities.

In his report to the board during the brief business portion of the meeting, Wrighton noted that the University had received a formal letter confirming the continuing accreditation of the institution by the North Central Association following a team site visit in September. The report gives the University high marks in virtually all areas, but also encourages greater emphasis on strengthening diversity and gender balance on the faculty and the staff.

Wrighton indicated that the number of undergraduate applications has set a record high, topping 21,500 candidates seeking admittance to the fall 2005 freshman class of approximately 1,350 openings.

Also reported to the trustees was the formal establishment of the Richard A. Gephardt Institute for Public Service, named in honor of the congressman who served Missouri’s 3rd District for nearly 30 years and who was both majority and minority leader for the Democrats in the U.S. House.

James W. Davis, Ph.D., professor emeritus of political science in Arts & Sciences, has been named director of the institute and will be appointed a Robert S. Brookings Fellow. An initial grant of $400,000 has been received from the Gephardt Tribute Fund, and efforts will begin soon to build an endowment for the institute.

Wrighton also reported on the status of Missouri legislation dealing with stem cell research; recognized the election of Barbara A. Schaal, Ph.D., the Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts & Sciences in biology, as the first woman vice president of the National Academy of Sciences; and congratulated the University community on raising more than $550,000 for the United Way Campaign — the highest amount in University history and one of the strongest in the nation among universities.