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Ed Macias '66 is a driving force at
Washington University in St. Louis
Helping make great things possible
|by James Russell|
Edward S. Macias '66, on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, is one of the nation's leading academics. Photo by Joe Angeles.
Reprinted with the permission of the Washington University in St. Louis
"I can hardly recount the number of meetings I attended with chairs of other political science departments at which the participants tried to out-top each other with horror stories about their deans," says Professor of Political Science Lee Epstein. "I don't think any of those chairs believed me when I told them that I couldn't imagine working with a better administrator than Ed Macias. But the simple truth of it is this: Ed Macias is the finest dean I have ever known; in fact, I would go even further and say that he is one of but a handful of truly great academic leaders in the United States today."
Epstein's praise of Macias reflects the culmination of three decades of service and leadership in which Macias has grown to understand and articulate Washington University's mission and vision with remarkable clarity.
Perhaps that clarity is no surprise when one considers Macias' roots in chemistry and research interest in the quality of the air we breathe. He joined WU in 1970 as assistant professor of chemistry, became department chair in 1984, became provost in 1988, and in 1995 took on the role of dean of Arts & Sciences and executive vice chancellor.
"The transition from department chair to provost was a pretty big one," he says. "I went from representing the faculty in an individual department to being chief academic officer for the whole university, where I worked with a much broader constituency and range of people and issues." Macias says that the breadth of the provost's role was perfect preparation for his transition to Arts & Sciences.
"Arts & Sciences really touches all other parts of the university because it teaches the basic material, the knowledge that everything else is built upon," he says. "Graduate and professional study in all areas have natural links to Arts & Sciences -- that's why at the core of every great university is a strong arts and sciences. In fact, without a division of arts and sciences, a university would not exist."
As executive vice chancellor, Macias retains the role of chief academic officer for the university, and as dean, he watches over all budget and personnel matters in Arts & Sciences -- the largest division on the Hilltop Campus -- which includes the College, the Graduate School, and University College. Some 3,800 undergraduate students, 1,700 graduate students, 340 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, 21 departments, and 20 interdisciplinary programs are under the purview of Arts & Sciences. Yet his busy schedule includes time for creative reflection on and devising solutions to the myriad issues that face Arts & Sciences and Washington University.
He has worked to strengthen Arts & Sciences in several ways. "A number of academic departments have benefited from new leadership and new resources," Macias says. "We've recruited excellent faculty and students in Arts & Sciences, and we have fostered the development of our interdisciplinary programs."
Macias cites programs in social thought and analysis; philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology; environmental studies; American culture studies; and literature and history as "just a few" of the exceptional interdisciplinary programs that have grown from the traditional disciplines in Arts & Sciences. "We increasingly find that interesting problems aren't well-compartmentalized in traditional ways -- they tend to branch out into other areas," he says. "Faculty and students want to study these, so we find that in addition to helping students learn the basics, we're also teaching things we've never taught before. The world is changing, and it is vitally important that our students be well-prepared."
Macias' leadership has also been profoundly important in the recent effort to strengthen the undergraduate Arts & Sciences curriculum. The new curriculum creates more cross-disciplinary connections, emphasizes writing and quantitative skills, and develops small seminar experiences for freshman students.
"He's been extraordinarily engaged with the curriculum redesign and very supportive of the effort," says James McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. "He realizes how important it is."
A new issue that has captured Macias' attention is the challenge of articulating a clear identity for Arts & Sciences. "We want to be able to say exactly what Arts & Sciences is, how it interacts with others, what students study, and what faculty do," he says. "I'm meeting with small groups of faculty, students, and staff to discuss this -- I think that if we can speak about our identity more clearly, it will be good for all of us."
That sense of "all of us" is also essential to Macias' understanding of effective leadership. "My role is very satisfying, but it's not an individual thing -- it's working with
lots of good people, from the chancellor to faculty to students to staff. I think it's very exciting when I can help departments and programs, faculty and students accomplish great things. And when they do, I think I've accomplished what's important."
James Russell is the associate editor of the Washington University in St. Louis Magazine
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