Wiltenburg to step down as University College dean after nearly 20 years

Under his leadership, school has seen significant growth in enrollment, academic programming

Robert E. Wiltenburg, PhD, who has served as dean of University College in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis for nearly 20 years, has announced that he will step down as dean at the end of the academic year, June 30, 2015, according to Barbara A. Schaal, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences.


After a sabbatical during the fall 2015 semester, Wiltenburg will return to teaching in spring 2016.

Steve Ehrlich, associate dean for academics in University College, will serve as interim dean. A search committee to identify Wiltenburg’s successor will be formed next year.

“As both the dean of University College and a long-serving university leader in numerous administrative and academic roles, Bob Wiltenburg has been a dedicated and effective university citizen,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “He has built a strong program in University College, and I am grateful for his wise and generous service to the university.”

“Bob has been an inspirational leader in Arts & Sciences and has contributed to significant advancements in our educational programs,” said Schaal, who is also the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences. “He has an impressive record of developing innovative academic initiatives such as the very successful post-baccalaureate pre-medical program.”

University College, the professional and continuing education division of Arts & Sciences, enrolls more than 7,600 students a year in programs ranging from certificates and associate degrees to master’s degrees and a doctorate. Some students enroll simply for personal enrichment.

As University College dean, Wiltenburg also oversees the Lifelong Learning Institute, which has more than 900 participants a year, and Summer School, which offers 16 programs to more than 2,250 students.

Opening doors, transforming lives

Wiltenburg says it has been a privilege to be associated with a program that dates to the university’s founding, noting that the university’s first classes ever offered were evening classes for part-time students in 1854.

As the evening school did then, University College’s part-time, evening and summer school programs today provide an eclectic curriculum to a diverse group of students in St. Louis and beyond.

He has numerous stories of remarkable students who attend University College to start a certificate or degree program, complete a degree begun years earlier, or for personal enrichment. Many of them are also working full time and raising families.

A favorite memory is of one such student who was graduating with a bachelor’s degree and a perfect 4.0 GPA in the particularly rigorous applied mathematics program.

As she approached the stage during the recognition ceremony, she was cradling an infant in one arm and holding the hand of a toddler while a third child was heard yelling from the audience “way to go, Mommy!”

“At University College, we are fortunate to be able to open doors for people and to help them transform their lives,” Wiltenburg said. “It’s been a great privilege, and a joy, to work with so many fine people across the university, and especially with the students, faculty and staff of University College.”

Spearheaded new programs

Under Wiltenburg’s leadership, enrollment in University College has increased from less than 2,000 students per semester to now 3,000 students a semester. And more than 30 new academic programs have been introduced.

Among those programs are the Associate in Arts degree; bachelor’s degrees in Clinical Research Management, Global Leadership and Management, Health Care, and Sustainability; master’s in Biology for Science Teachers, Clinical Research Management, Nonprofit Management, and Statistics; and a Doctor of Liberal Arts, only the second such program in the country.

Another academic program introduced during his tenure is a post-baccalaureate premedical program, which annually enrolls about 100 college graduates from around the country interested in earning the requirements needed for medical school.

Since its introduction in 2001, graduates of the premedical program have gone on to many of the country’s top medical schools, including Washington University’s.

Another notable program introduced under his guidance is the Undergraduate Honors Program, which offers high-achieving students an exceptionally rigorous but flexible evening program. The program began in 2010, and its first four graduates have all graduated summa cum laude.

Wiltenburg, a former president of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, also spearheaded the introduction of online and hybrid courses in University College 12 years ago. Today, there are about 35 such courses offered, accounting for about 10 percent of the school’s enrollment.

He was instrumental in helping to improve the university’s employee tuition assistance benefit. Since 2002, staff and faculty have been able to take undergraduate courses in University College for free.

In addition to sound fiscal management of the school’s budget, Wiltenburg has been responsible for the hire of all but two of University College’s staff of 29.

Summer School programs that Wiltenburg helped develop include the High School Summer Scholars Program, the High School Summer Institutes and the Fudan at Washington University Summer Program, which brings some 40 Fudan University students to campus for five weeks in the summer.

Active in university community

Wiltenburg joined the university in 1982 as director of the expository writing program and as assistant professor in the Department of English, teaching early modern literature. In 1989, he became adjunct associate professor of English and assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences.

A recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1995, Wiltenburg was named director of the Summer School and associate dean in University College in 1994 before becoming dean in 1996.

A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1968 from Cornell University and a master’s degree in 1974 and a doctorate in 1982, both in English, from the University of Rochester.

Wiltenburg has been an active member of the university community, serving on numerous committees, including the Arts & Sciences’ Academic Planning Committee and the Personnel Advisory Committee, both since 1996, and the Center for Aging Steering Committee since 2000.

He has chaired the Commencement Committee and served as Commencement’s grand marshal since 2008. He was chair for more than two years of the committee charged with producing an Open House for the university’s 150th birthday party in 2003.

Wiltenburg’s wife, writer Candace O’Connor, wrote a history of the university, “Beginning a Great Work: Washington University in St. Louis, 1853-2003,” to coincide with the Sesquicentennial.