Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton

14th Chancellor

I like "doorkeeper" from the Latin cancellarius, because my principal role is to open the doors to this great University for men and women to enter, learn, create, and contribute to making our world a better place.

Washington University's first century and a half of progress has depended on many outstanding people, from its visionary founders Wayman Crow and William Greenleaf Eliot to its current community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends. The University has attracted talented and dedicated leaders to many key positions, and 13 have completed terms as Chancellor, the chief executive officer of the University. The Chancellor reports to the Board of Trustees but is accountable to the entire University community.

This Web site was prepared to provide a brief biographical sketch of the Chancellors within the historical context of the challenges and accomplishments of their era. A few individuals have served as Acting Chancellor, bridging the terms of the Chancellors. These individuals, too, have played an important role in the life of the University, and they are noted in the biographies of those selected to serve as Chancellor. The term of office for the first 13 Chancellors has ranged from about one year to nearly a quarter century, and five have held the post for ten or more years.

Academic backgrounds of the Chancellors have been quite varied with representation from the classics, divinity, social sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, engineering, medicine, and law. Our Chancellors have been associated with great recognition and accomplishments before, during, and after their tenure as Chancellor. One was a Missouri governor prior to becoming Chancellor and another had won a Nobel Prize. One was recruited to become Chancellor after serving as the President of the University of Texas, and after serving as Chancellor he became Secretary of Agriculture and then Secretary of the Treasury in the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. Another served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the U.S. Navy named two ships in his honor. These "nuggets" may encourage you to learn more about these leaders, and if you do you will find that the University always has been led by men of commitment and ability who were dedicated to advancing the mission of the University.

During my tenure as Chancellor I have often been asked, "what does the Chancellor do?" Many also ask, "who is the President of the University?" At Washington University, as in many other American universities, the Chancellor is equivalent to President. In other parts of the world, however, the Chancellor is a figurehead or titular leader, and it is the Vice Chancellor who is the campus chief executive. Academic traditions do vary in terms of these titles, but the title Chancellor is somehow more endearing than President and allows for an easy, informal salutation by all members of the community. "Hi, Chancellor!" flows more smoothly and naturally than "Hi, President," and it is a greeting I cherish.

The Chancellor is the individual officially responsible for all operations of the University, but no Chancellor has done much by himself. Indeed, like my predecessors, I have benefited enormously from the efforts of others from every sector of the University community, and I have had the special good fortune to have Chancellor William H. Danforth as a mentor and counselor.

Before starting as Chancellor I received a gift from a friend: a framed copy of the definition of "chancellor":

1. Doorkeeper, literally, man at the barrier; 2. Secretary, chief secretary, chief secretary to the king; and 3. Titular leader of a university.

I like "doorkeeper" from the Latin cancellarius, because my principal role is to open the doors to this great University for men and women to enter, learn, create, and contribute to making our world a better place. Each Chancellor has faced different times and attendant challenges, and I am sure that each Chancellor has held my view that it is a privilege to serve as doorkeeper for generations of talented students and faculty. It is my hope that those who look back on my chancellorship will see an era of growth in quality and impact of the work we do in education, research, creative expression, and clinical care. This objective is the tradition of our Chancellors and one I hope to sustain.

Mark S. Wrighton
14th Chancellor

Leading Together: the Campaign for Washington University