James E. McLeod, 67

Vice chancellor for students and dean of College of Arts & Sciences one of WUSTL’s ‘greatest citizens and leaders’

James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital of kidney failure after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 67.


In a letter addressed to the WUSTL community Sept. 6, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton announced that “Washington University has lost one of its greatest citizens and leaders.”

“No single individual has had a greater impact on the vitality and the quality of student life at this university,” Wrighton says. “Jim was truly a man of wisdom, compassion and steadfast loyalty to the university. He enjoyed deep and lasting respect from all who were fortunate to interact with him.”

As dean of the College of Arts & Sciences — WUSTL’s largest undergraduate school with 4,000 students — and as vice chancellor for students, he helped build a warm, supportive and challenging student culture that is unique in the nation.

McLeod’s goal was to have every student “known by name and by story.”

From the time he arrived at Washington University in 1974 at the age of 30, the Dothan, Ala., native adopted Washington University as his institution and St. Louis as his home.

“Jim McLeod was one of the finest people I’ve known,” Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth says. “The amazing thing about Jim was everyone felt the same way. We will all miss him very much. He was one of the important shapers of Washington University.”

In a 2009 letter announcing a scholarship fund being established in McLeod’s name, Danforth and Robert L. Virgil, DBA, Olin Business School professor, dean and trustee emeritus, wrote:

“No one has worked harder or has devoted more of himself or herself.

“He always puts the needs of the institution and its people first. As he once said, ‘People talk about careers. I don’t have a career. I have a job, an important job that needs doing.’”

His wisdom, steadiness under pressure, generous spirit, strong values and appreciation of humor guided and influenced many generations of students, faculty and staff at the university.

Effective leader

Recognized as one of the university’s most effective leaders, McLeod spearheaded many successful undergraduate efforts, including developing a residential college approach to dormitory living; strengthening the undergraduate advising system; constructing new small-group housing; advising the new undergraduate curriculum effort in Arts & Sciences; enriching the mix of seminar experiences for freshmen; establishing and building the John B. Ervin Scholars Program; and helping initiate and shape the expanded study-abroad program.

McLeod, shown here at the 2010 Freshman Finale with his wife, Clara, made it his goal to make sure students had ample opportunity to become involved in the “intellectual life of the university.” Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

McLeod focused on making sure that students had opportunities to become more involved in the “intellectual life of the university.”

In a Washington People profile of him in the Aug. 27, 1992, Record, McLeod said that while undergraduates were deeply involved in the life of the institution, “we need to seek ways to involve them even more, whether through research projects, seminars, lectures or colloquia. Becoming engaged with the intellectual work of an institution is important. Learning is not a spectator sport.”

Nor is being a dean of a college or vice chancellor of students. His calendar was full morning and night, weekdays and weekends, says Patti Randall, his administrative assistant the past nine years.

“He would say, ‘If a student is having a problem, it’s their whole world.’ And he would ask me to find time on his already full calendar to meet with that student,” Randall says.

“He wouldn’t say ‘no’ to anyone. Everybody wanted his time, whether it was a faculty issue, a student issue or a request to speak at an engagement. He never wanted to leave anyone hanging. He was amazing,” Randall says.

Morgan DeBaun, a senior majoring in political science in Arts & Sciences, and one of hundreds of students, alumni and colleagues who have referred to McLeod as their mentor, says “Dean McLeod embodied the pulse and warmth of our campus. As student body president and an Ervin Scholar, I had the privilege of spending time with him in multiple settings and I was a witness to his untiring commitment to making every individual’s Washington University experience phenomenal.

“My heart breaks at the thought of him no longer physically being present on campus,” DeBaun says, “but I know his spirit and legacy exists in all of the students he has touched. He will be deeply missed.”

‘Wise, caring and a genius’

“Jim meant so much to me and to so many people at Washington University, in St. Louis and in higher education,” says Provost Edward S. Macias, PhD, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences.

Macias, who had known McLeod since he arrived on campus in 1974 and worked closely with him during Macias’ tenure as dean of Arts & Sciences and then as provost, says McLeod was “wise, caring and a genius.”

“His genius was making us and our institution work so well,” Macias says. “He was a great treasure. There was no one better than Jim. I miss him very much.”

McLeod joined the WUSTL faculty in 1974 as an assistant professor of German in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures in Arts & Sciences.

He held a number of administrative positions, including assistant dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences from 1974-77; assistant to then Chancellor William H. Danforth from 1977-1987; and director of the African and Afro-American Studies Program (now known as African and African-American Studies) in Arts & Sciences from 1987 until 1992, when he was appointed dean.

When Wrighton named him vice chancellor for students, McLeod became responsible for undergraduate admissions, financial aid and student affairs. As dean, he oversaw all aspects of the College office, from advising to curriculum to graduation.

35 years of invaluable contributions

Washington University established a scholarship fund in 2010 to honor McLeod for 35 years of invaluable contributions, inspiration, devotion and guidance to the university community.

Nearly 1,500 friends and admirers of McLeod contributed nearly $4 million to create the fund. The first class of McLeod Scholars entered WUSTL last fall.

At 16, McLeod entered Morehouse College, where he graduated in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in German and chemistry. After two years at the University of Vienna, he had shifted his major emphasis to German.

He did his graduate work in German at Rice University, where he was a National Defense Education Act Fellow and Woodrow Wilson Fellow.

McLeod was recognized for his contributions not only to Washington University, but also to the St. Louis community. In 1991, he received the Distinguished Faculty Award at WUSTL’s Founders Day.

In 2007, he and Danforth received the Rosa L. Parks Award for Meritorious Service to the Community. Established by the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Committee, the award is presented to someone closely affiliated with WUSTL who “exhibits the same character, conscience and courage of Mrs. Rosa L. Parks, who has given a lifetime of service to the community, whose efforts have had impact far beyond the immediate circumstance, and who has served without striving for personal gain.”

The St. Louis Business Journal named McLeod one of St. Louis’ Most Influential Minority Business Leaders for 2007 and he received the Salute to Excellence in Education Lifetime Achiever award from the St. Louis American in 2008.

In 2010, McLeod received WUSTL’s Search Award, which is given annually to an outstanding member of the university community by the Eliot Society.

Active in the St. Louis community, he was a board member of the American Youth Foundation and the National Council on Youth Leadership and president of the board of directors for Express Scripts Foundation and chair of the advisory council of New City School.

He served as a board member of the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Churchill Center & School for many years.

For his effective leadership in the community, he received the Coro Leadership Award in June 2011.

He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Clara, the departmental librarian for the Ronald Rettner Earth & Planetary Sciences Library of Washington University Libraries; a daughter, Sara, of Atlanta; his father, the Rev. James C. McLeod of Dothan; a brother, Jeff McLeod of Birmingham; and two sisters, Alice Head and Mary Parker, both of Dothan. He was preceded in death by his mother, Earline McLeod.

Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, at the Austin Layne Normandy Chapel, 7733 Natural Bridge Road, Normandy, Mo., 63121. The funeral service for family and close friends will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at Cote Brilliante Presbyterian Church, 4673 Labadie Ave., St. Louis, Mo., 63115. Burial will be in South Carolina.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts to the James E. McLeod Scholars Fund. Please make checks payable to Washington University and send to Washington University in St. Louis, One Brookings Drive, Campus Box 1082, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130.

The university will hold a memorial event to honor McLeod’s life and service at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, in the Athletic Complex Field House.

Within less than 24 hours of his death, more than 2,300 had joined a Facebook page honoring McLeod, with many leaving remembrances.