Walter Massey

President Emeritus

Walter Massey became SAIC’s first president emeritus on July 1, 2018, after serving as the School’s president (2010–16) and chancellor (2016–18). This honorific title underscores Massey’s enduring legacy at SAIC through programs that took root during his presidency, such as the College Arts Access Program and the Walter and Shirley Massey Chicago Scholarship Fund, which provides need-based undergraduate scholarships for Chicago Public School graduates.

An image of the President Emeritus of the School of the  Art Institute of Chicago, Walter E. Massey.


As chancellor, Massey supported SAIC President Elissa Tenny on major fundraising initiatives and other outreach efforts on behalf of the School. Chancellor Massey’s vast array of experience across  higher education, the arts and sciences, and the corporate and civic sectors is a tremendous asset to our campus.

As president, and along with then-Provost Tenny, Massey led efforts to increase student scholarships and further diversify our student body; to modernize our campus; to broaden our outreach to new institutional partners across the arts, higher education, and business communities; and to improve the School’s financial position. His tenure as president culminated with SAIC’s 150th Anniversary celebrations and with the launch of an historic fundraising campaign, Beautiful/Work: The Campaign for SAIC.

Prior to joining SAIC, Massey served as president of Morehouse College, his alma mater, for over a decade. During his tenure, more than 5,000 young men (mostly African American) received degrees. He was also instrumental in bringing the papers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the college, where they are now stored.  

A theoretical physicist, in 2016 Chancellor Massey was additionally named Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization. In this role, he guided the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in the Chilean Andes, the world’s largest optical telescope.

Massey began his career at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Brown University, before serving as director of Argonne National Laboratory, with joint appointments as professor of physics and, later, vice president of research at the University of Chicago. From 1991 to 1993, he served as director of the National Science Foundation under President George H.W. Bush. He then joined the University of California system as provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.

Throughout his career, Massey has leveraged his wide range of expertise in other sectors. He is former chairman of Bank of America and currently serves as a director of McDonald’s. In the civic and philanthropic sectors he has served on the boards of the Mellon Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, Smithsonian Institution, and the Salzburg Global Seminar in addition to a number of other organizations committed to the advancement of science and technology, diversity in education, and the arts and culture.  

Altogether, Massey has been recognized for his many accomplishments with honorary degrees from  40 universities, including Yale, Northwestern, Ohio State, Columbia, and Brown, and is also a Trustee Emeritus of the  University of Chicago and Brown University. He and his wife Shirley have two sons and three grandchildren.