Ben Sandler’s nearly 37-year relationship with the University started innocently enough, in 1966, when he arrived from his role as an English teacher in Maine to do graduate work in English literature.
The choice of WUSTL was an easy one for him.
“The English department had a great reputation,” he says, before adding, “and Washington U. was the only school that gave me enough money to live on.”
The plan all along was to get a graduate degree and then return to teaching high-school English.
Ah, but the best-laid plans…
Along came Director of Admissions Oliver Wagner, who was looking for an assistant director of admissions and asked Sandler if he’d be interested.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’m single and I like to travel,’ and flying around the country visiting high schools seemed like a pretty interesting way to spend a year or two,” said Sandler, a Hyannis, Mass., native. “So I decided to do it.
“That’s not a very noble motive, but it’s the way I got into this work. I was fortunate to get my first exposure to higher education administration in the admissions office. Working there — especially with Ollie Wagner, Maggie Dagen and Ted McDonald as mentors — gave me a perspective that has served me well in all the other jobs I’ve had here.”
Aside from a two-year stint from 1969-1971 teaching English at Lafayette High School in Ballwin, Mo., Sandler has stayed at the University, first rejoining the admissions office — again as assistant director. Just two years later, he became director of financial aid and served in that capacity until April 1986.
“I noticed one day on the bulletin board that the director of financial aid had left,” Sandler says. “I was interested in financial aid when I was in admissions, and it looked easy from the outside.
“They hired me, and I quickly learned there was a lot more to it than I realized. But I enjoyed it, and the fit with the requirements of the job turned out to be a pretty good one.”
In the years since leaving financial aid, Sandler has served as assistant vice chancellor for budget and institutional studies (1986-1995), University treasurer (1995-97) and vice chancellor for financial policy (1997-99).
Since 1999, as a part-time employee, Sandler has been special assistant to the chancellor for administration, and University compliance officer.
His run is coming to an end, though. Sandler was honored with a retirement celebration April 5 at the chancellor’s residence.
“Ben Sandler has been an outstanding contributor to the advance of Washington University,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “He has been enormously helpful in strengthening our admissions and financial aid programs, building the financial operations, and most recently developing our compliance program. He has helped craft the Danforth Scholars Program and assisted in its successful launch.
“Ben is a person of uncommon ability, integrity, and support, and I have enjoyed our work together immensely. He will deeply missed, but we know that we can call on him for his wise advice and help — which we will likely need! All who have come to know Ben value his friendship and great support, and we wish him all the best in the next phase of his life.”
Sandler’s responsibilities have included managing the central administration’s budget and overseeing its allocation to the schools, presenting administration and Hilltop Campus school budgets to appropriate committees of the Board of Trustees, developing expense guidelines for federal research projects, negotiating indirect cost rates with the federal government, borrowing for capital projects and helping build a University-wide compliance structure.
The University context for Sandler’s work has been very broad, ranging from the enrollment challenges of the 1970s and ’80s to the management challenges that sometimes come with great success.
Benjamin S. Sandler
Arrived at the University: Sept. 1966
Positions held at WUSTL: Assistant director of admissions; director of financial aid; assistant vice chancellor for budget and institutional studies; treasurer; vice chancellor for financial policy; special assistant to the chancellor for administration, and University compliance officer (part-time)
On Washington University: “I’ve never been in an academic department, but in some ways the University has not changed. It had quite a strong student body in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Student bodies got significantly stronger, but it wasn’t weak then. The faculty was strong, we had excellent senior leadership, excellent leadership in the medical school, so really there have been several constants.”
“In the ’70s and ’80s,” Sandler observes, “we had to come up with new ways of dealing with financial aid. The schools introduced academic scholarships, and in the financial aid office we began using need-based financial aid in ways our competition didn’t, to gain an advantage and find the best balance between meeting our enrollment goals without breaking the scholarship bank. We were forced to design new planning models, and develop automated systems to support them. It was never boring!
“And one thing I have to say about the University’s leadership — it always encouraged independent thinking, finding new ways to tackle old challenges. Not all top universities are like this. From my perspective, this willingness to nurture unconventional approaches is a major reason we’ve done so well.”
“They don’t make ’em like Ben Sandler anymore,” said John Berg, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate admissions. “He is a person of the highest integrity who has a deep understanding of, commitment to, and passion for whatever he has taken on. He has a vast understanding of Washington University, both the big picture and the details, with knowledge of virtually every part of the University. He has made important contributions everywhere he’s worked.
“Ben is also a wonderful and patient teacher, and I count myself among the many fortunate people who have learned a lot from him over the years.”
In turn, Sandler reciprocates those comments when talking about why he has managed to stay here for so long.
“One reason I’ve stuck around all these years is that it’s never felt as though I worked in just one place,” Sandler says. “I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of different jobs in the University, and each of those jobs has put me in contact with a different set of personalities and required different skills.
“I’ve enjoyed most of the work I’ve done. It’s just been fun. I’ve appreciated the people I’ve worked with and worked for.
“I have a lot of respect for the leaders of the University — not only the chancellors, but also senior management, board members, deans, department heads, business managers. Many of them are people of extraordinary skill and vision.
“I’ve also been lucky to work closely with students in the early part of my WUSTL career. Later on, I had some opportunities to work with faculty. Even when they haven’t wanted to hear what I had to say, their talents and achievements awed me.
“Both experiences are a healthy reminder that students and faculty drive the University’s mission, and it’s the job of everyone in administration to support them.”