‘It’s time to double down on our role and impact in St. Louis,’ Martin says

In inaugural address, Martin announces WashU Pledge, financial aid program for region's students

Andrew E. Newman (left), chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, bestowed the Chancellor’s Medallion, the symbol of the university’s leadership, upon Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

In an inaugural address that both celebrated the accomplishments of Washington University in St. Louis and challenged the university community to do more to improve the lives of those in our neighborhoods as well as across the globe, Chancellor Andrew D. Martin vowed to build upon the university’s momentum as a leader in teaching, research and patient care.

Washington University, he said, has accomplished much as an institution of academic distinction — one that has produced transformational and translational knowledge and greatly expanded access to students of all backgrounds. Now, he said, Washington University should leverage its accomplishments to benefit the entire region. 

“It’s time to double down on our role and impact in St. Louis,” Martin, the university’s 15th chancellor, said at his inauguration ceremony Oct. 3 in Brookings Quadrangle. “As an institution founded with the very intent to provide increased educational access at the local level, we are Washington University because of St. Louis. We’re proud to be Washington University in St. Louis. And today, I’m calling us to be Washington University for St. Louis.

“I see it as our ‘WashU Compact’ — a commitment between us and the greater St. Louis region as we look to strengthen our community partnerships and impact ‘in St. Louis and for St. Louis.’” 

In support of this effort, Martin announced the WashU Pledge, a bold new financial aid program that will provide a free undergraduate education to incoming, full-time Missouri and southern Illinois students who are Pell Grant-eligible or from families with annual incomes of $75,000 or less.

Martin, sporting a specially designed tam, greets his family — daughter, Olive, and wife, Stephanie, ahead of the inauguration ceremony Oct. 3. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

The WashU Pledge covers the full cost of a Washington University education, including tuition, room, board and fees. Eligible undergraduate students already enrolled at WashU also will benefit from the pledge.

“We are making this ‘WashU Pledge’ first because it’s the right thing to do,” Martin said. “In addition, we are Washington University ‘in St. Louis.’ That means we have a unique responsibility to provide opportunity for students in our extended region — to the four corners of Missouri and our neighbors in the southern portion of Illinois. By doing so, we’re attracting our very best and brightest and keeping them right here, close to home.” 

The  announcement, made before a crowd of Washington University students, faculty, staff, trustees and alumni as well as local civic leaders and delegates from about 80 universities and colleges, inspired an extended standing ovation and, by the end of day, headlines and television and radio reports across both states.

Martin also vowed that Washington University, as an employer, investor, innovator and partner, would work to further improve the region’s health and well-being. And, most significantly, it would empower its greatest asset — its world-class faculty — to address the region’s complex challenges.

A number of those faculty members presented at an inaugural symposium hosted earlier in the day at Emerson Auditorium. Among the speakers were Bettina Drake, a professor at the School of Medicine who is studying ways to reduce regional cancer disparities; Sean Joe, a professor at the Brown School working to improve opportunities and health for black men in St. Louis; and Joe Scherrer, of the McKelvey School of Engineering, who is making St. Louis a frontrunner in cybersecurity education and research.

“We must confront the most significant social issues facing St. Louis through our research mission — significant challenges including some of the largest income disparities in the nation, health disparities that are unacceptable, high levels of crime, malnutrition, looming environmental concerns and limited educational opportunities for far too many children,” said Martin, who also vowed to increase the university’s faculty. “As we continue to move forward, we must capitalize on more basic and applied research that directly affects our neighborhoods and communities.” 

In contemplating the university’s momentum as both a regional partner and an institution of higher education, Martin conjured a powerful metaphor: Eads Bridge. The longest and largest bridge of its time, the Eads Bridge was an engineering marvel and an economic lifeline. 

“I like to think Washington University is a lot like the Eads Bridge,” Martin said. “We build bridges between faculty, staff and students. Between doctors and patients. Between students and alumni. We intentionally build bridges across differences as we aspire to become a place that is both diverse and unapologetically committed to equity and inclusion — because we know full well that diversity on paper is one thing, and equity and inclusion are another.

“We must build these bridges because it’s at the very core of our understanding of American higher education. It’s imperative for us to continue to move forward, even despite higher education’s public-facing challenges. While the national perception wanes, we must turn those challenges not into threats — but into opportunities.”

Martin assumed the chancellorship June 1, succeeding Mark S. Wrighton, who served as chancellor for 24 years. Martin is the former dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan. He previously served on the Washington University faculty after earning his doctorate in political science here. He is only the second alumnus to lead the university in its 166-year history.

Filled with pomp and circumstance and a good deal of WashU spirit and humor, the ceremony featured music from the Washington University Wind Ensemble, Concert Choir and Chamber Choir; a poem from Paul Tran, a senior poetry fellow in the Writing Program in Arts & Sciences; and remarks from representatives of the student body, staff, faculty and alumni as well as Andrew E. Newman, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, who officially installed Martin as chancellor. 

Representing the faculty, Jennifer Lodge, vice chancellor for research and professor of molecular microbiology at the School of Medicine, told Martin the university’s 3,800 faculty members are ready to join him in his quest for excellence and action and encouraged him to stick around for the long haul. 

“We have a tradition of our chancellors serving for decades and we are privileged to have two former chancellors, Bill Danforth and Mark Wrighton, here at your inauguration, both of whom served 24-year terms with dignity, honor and effectiveness,” Lodge said. “So we look forward to sometime after the year 2043 to saying thank you for all that you have accomplished as our 15th chancellor and the difference you have made to Washington University and to humanity. No pressure.”

Staff member Wes Brooks said Martin already has demonstrated the leadership that makes Washington University both a premier institution and a caring family.

“When I think about family, I think the one thing that makes that happen is great leadership,” said Brooks, a winner of the Gloria W. White Distinguished Service Award. “What I love about this university and the leadership here is that it stands for inclusion, it stands for diversity, but most of all, it stands for the people.”

The ceremony closed with bagpipers, the ringing of the chimes at Graham Chapel and a reception where Martin, a big fan of St. Louis sports, was surprised by a visit from the Stanley Cup, which the St. Louis Blues won in June. The celebration continued with a concert for students and a fireworks display.

Just the day before, the university celebrated the dedication of the East End Transformation, the two-year, $360 million campus expansion that added three academic buildings, two multi-use facilities, an expansion of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and an underground parking garage topped by an expansive new park. 

“Thank you again for being here to celebrate this momentous occasion,” Martin said as he concluded his remarks. “Now it is time to build even more bridges!” 

Read the complete transcript of Martin’s address here.

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