Provost Mark S. Wrighton, a chemistry professor since 1972 at MIT and its chief academic officer since 1990, will leave MIT to head Washington University in St. Louis.
Professor Wrighton, 45, will assume his new duties as chancellor July 1. His appointment was announced Monday in St. Louis by the chairman of the Washington University Board of Trustees, William M. Van Cleve, who headed the committee which conducted the year-long nationwide search.
"Mark Wrighton has outstanding credentials as a teacher-scholar, a strong background in higher education administration and extensive experience in managing the complex issues that affect us today-particularly issues that impact a teaching and research university like ours. And yet these credentials are only part of the story. In Mark, we have found those personal qualities of vision, character and leadership so necessary for the future advancement of Washington University," Mr. Van Cleve said.
Chancellor William H. Danforth, who is retiring after heading the university since 1971, hailed Professor Wrighton's selection. "He is a wonderful choice whose experience with faculty, students, staff, trustees, alumni and friends at MIT will serve Washington University well," he said.
Washington University, one of the nation's top research universities, has an enrollment of 11,655 and a faculty of 1,970. Its endowment-$1.7 billion-is among the nation's top 10. It receives about $210 million yearly in federal and private research support. The 1993-94 operating budget of $780 million included the $480 million budget of the Washington University Medical School.
In a letter to the faculty, MIT President Charles M. Vest said, "MIT has been blessed with a succession of outstanding provosts, and Mark Wrighton certainly has continued this tradition. His leadership through this period of change has been very important to the continued excellence and vitality of MIT. He has kept the values of the academy at the heart of administrative actions, and I want to express my profound personal gratitude and respect for his exemplary service. I know that you all join with me in congratulating Mark and wishing him well as he assumes leadership of this fine institution and takes a more prominent role within the broader higher education community."
As provost, Professor Wrighton has overseen MIT's $1.1 billion budget, coordinated the annual five-year planning process, and played the leading role in the continuing restructuring that has been driven by the changes in research funding that have followed the end of the Cold War. At the same time, he has been a builder, creating at MIT new education and research programs in environmental science and engineering, encouraging international programs, strengthening undergraduate education and developing plans to recruit and retain more faculty from underrepresented minority groups and women faculty.
Professor Wrighton said, "I greatly regret leaving MIT. As provost, I've had the extraordinary fortune of working with a truly outstanding faculty and with Chuck Vest and Paul Gray, who have been tremendous mentors for the role of leading a research university. I look forward to working in the higher education community, knowing that people like Chuck Vest are out there working on behalf of the whole group."
Looking back on his 23 years here, Wrighton said, "MIT is the finest institution imaginable in which to build a career. What a great place MIT is for young faculty! For me, I felt that the administration that was in place as I built my career [President Jerome Wiesner, Chancellor Paul Gray, Provost Walter Rosenblith] was important to my success, and was important to enhance education and research in chemistry."
Asked what accomplishments as provost and chief academic officer gave him the most satisfaction, he said, "I'm proud of recruiting an outstanding set of academic leaders and of establishing a selection process which will continue to serve the Institute well, in filling positions on the Academic Council.
"In programs, I'm proud of the MIT contributions in environmental education and research, international education and research, the contribution to the reshaping of engineering education, and the rededication to undergraduate teaching symbolized by the Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program.
"In fiscal management, we have initiated an ongoing process, and I feel privileged to have been here at the beginning of what promises to be a model of how to reengineer a major research university. We have had some success in the program to diversify our faculty. It is a continuing process and further improvement is needed.
"I'm proud of the commitment of our community to use Institute funds rather than research funds to provide full support of faculty salaries," he said. "I'm also very proud to have been one of the first public spokespersons on the antitrust lawsuit, which was a great effort on MIT's part to secure access to high quality colleges by a wide spectrum of society."
Professor Wrighton headed MIT's Department of Chemistry from 1987 until he was named provost in 1990 by President Vest. He is widely considered to be one of the nation's leading scientists. In addition to his post as provost, Dr. Wrighton is the CIBA-GEIGY Professor of Chemistry and continues to oversee the work of several students.
In his research, he has used chemistry to seek to mimic the photosynthesis of plants and to tailor the properties of surfaces with respect to optical, wetting or catalytic properties. His recent work in molecular electronics has demonstrated new kinds of devices that may prove useful in sensor applications.
He has mentored about 70 PhD recipients at MIT, where he became a full professor in 1977 at the unusually young age of 28.
His numerous awards include the American Chemical Society's Pure Science award in 1981, the E.O. Lawrence Award of the Department of Energy, and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1983, one of the so-called "genius grants." He also has won praise as a teacher. He received the Chemistry Graduate Teaching Award in 1981 and was co-recipient of the MIT School of Science prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching in 1987.
Professor Wrighton holds 14 patents, and he is the author of more than 400 research papers and the co-author of a book, Organometallic Photochemistry. He is the consulting editor for a major freshman text now in its fourth edition.
A native of Jacksonville, FL, he received the BS in chemistry from Florida State University and the PhD in chemistry at California Institute of Technology. He joined the MIT faculty in 1972 as an assistant professor, became associate professor in 1976 and professor in 1977.
The naming of MIT Provost Mark Wrighton as the next chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis is not the first connection between the two universities. From 1945 to 1949, the famous physicist brothers, Arthur and Karl Compton, headed the two universities. Karl Taylor Compton was president of MIT from 1930 to 1949; Arthur Holly Compton, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1927, served as chancellor of Washington University from 1945 to 1953.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 12, 1995.