Daring to Dream in a Time of Constraint

By Nathan O. Hatch

Wait Chapel, Wake Forest University


It is a pleasure to stand before you to report on the State of the University. In a year that has seen the financial structures of the country reshaped, Wake Forest University has been buffeted but stands strong. In a time when age-old institutions are failing–or questioning their core mission, Wake Forest is boldly embracing its heritage and tradition as the source of our vision for the future.

The state of the University is stable, focused, and dynamic despite weathering serious financial challenges. We are also realistic, planning for an immediate future that will be characterized by continuing financial constraints.

Strength Amidst Challenges

The nature of this economy has forced us to be more deliberate about our planning and the pursuit of the goals set out in our strategic plan. Like other institutions, we have seen impact to three major sources of income: charitable giving is down, our endowment saw significant decline, and our income from tuition is affected by a greater need for financial aid among our students. But, there are bright spots even in this somber reality. Our applicant pool has never been stronger; and while charitable giving in dollar terms is down, we have seen increases in the numbers of people giving, suggesting that we will be in a stronger position as the economy recovers.

From a position of relative strength, we remain committed to my earlier pledge to avoid job cuts. You as faculty and staff members have been positive and cooperative about the budget reductions, and we have worked together in a stable salary environment. I am humbled by the sense of teamwork and loyalty to the Wake Forest community that you have demonstrated despite the absence of raises.

Even as budgets constrict, you have maintained an upbeat spirit and a willingness to address challenges. Fortunately ingenuity is a resource Wake Forest has in spades. For years, we have managed to do “more with less” in ways that would make the most ardent Puritan proud.

Of course, if we can do “more with less,” the imagination naturally wonders what we could do with “more.” The ingenuity of Wake Forest will never be an excuse for failing to garner the resources we need to excel. This year the administration is actively engaged in planning a major capital campaign. We need to be poised, as the economy strengthens, to partner with those who believe in Wake Forest and whose generosity is essential to build the premier collegiate university.

Clarifying the Collegiate University

Part of that preparation has been careful work to clarify what it means to be a collegiate university.

The spectrum of higher education in this country has, at one end, small liberal arts colleges and, at the other, large research universities. We are something essentially different than either of those models: a collegiate university. This doesn’t mean that we are middling or moderate. By taking a “middle road,” Wake Forest is not compromising between those two well-understood models, but rather our bold pursuit is to offer the best features of both.

At the foundation of that pursuit is the conviction that the collegiate university is primarily driven by people. Like a liberal arts college, we place emphasis and value on the mentoring that occurs inside and outside our classrooms. We are also committed to faculty who robustly pursue the life of the mind in cutting edge research and creative exploration. First rate minds and deep interpersonal relationships — this powerful combination is what students need to negotiate a bafflingly-complex world and do so with a commitment to the greater good.

People are at the core of the collegiate university: teacher-scholars who stand at the top of their fields in terms of research and technical ability, but who are willing to slow the pace of their research to emphasize teaching, and students who can and will take advantage of the resource of these exceptional faculty members. I am deeply grateful to so many of you — faculty, staff, administrators, and coaches — who work day-in and day-out to build a community that is both challenging and supportive of students.

Leadership Team

These goals are bold, but attainable with the right leadership. This matters more in higher education than in almost any other field, and Wake Forest has assembled an energetic and talented leadership team.

In the recent past, we have greeted strong leaders like Jill Tiefenthaler, Nancy Suttenfield, Matt Cullinan, Blake Morant, and Steve Reinemund. We continue to recruit exciting new leaders.

Mark Petersen joined us late last year as Vice President for University Advancement. He has engaged our Advancement staff in a thorough reorganization process that will position us for a successful capital campaign in the near future. He brings rich experience from Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas.

Dr. John McConnell has also joined us as Chief Executive Officer of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. John is a distinguished urologist and member of the National Academy of Medicine. He was previously Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs at the University of Texas – Southwestern in Dallas and had responsibility there for the integrated hospital and academic medical enterprise. He brings a deeply appreciated sense of wisdom and commitment to his role.

On the Reynolda Campus, we have welcomed Jim Dunn as our new Vice President and Chief Investment Officer. Previously managing director of Wilshire Associates and chief investment officer for Wilshire Funds Management in Santa Monica, California, Jim brings knowledge of the complexities of investment and financial management and a commitment to excellence and integrity that makes him a wonderful addition to the Reynolda Cabinet.

We welcomed another West Coaster this year: Andy Chan left his position as assistant dean and director of career development at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University to become our first Vice President for Career Development. Andy has broad experience in private industry as an entrepreneur and executive, and a commitment to higher education that makes him the perfect person to help guide our students toward careers and lives that match their passions. We also welcome Ladd Flock, the new Director of Career Services, who comes to Wake Forest from the University of Virginia.

A significant number of the leaders throughout Wake Forest’s history have come from within its gifted ranks, and that tradition has continued as well. Jacquelyn Fetrow joined Wake Forest in 2003 as the Reynolds Professor of Biophysics and has been an exemplary teacher, mentor and scholar. Jacque was named Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the end of the last calendar year, and has already put her mark on the Office of the Dean.

Perry Patterson, professor of economics, has been named Associate Dean for Advising in the College, and Michelle Roehm, Board of Visitors Professor of Marketing, has been named Senior Associate Dean for Faculty in the Schools of Business. Perry and Michelle have both amassed impressive records of research, teaching, and service to the University, and we look forward to their new leadership roles.

Continued Progress in Critical Areas

Integrations and Reorganizations

Several units of the University have undergone restructuring and integration over the past year to better position us for future growth and excellence.

In order to enhance student experience at Wake Forest, the Division of Student Life has been moved under the purview of the Provost. Jill Tiefenthaler and Vice President Ken Zick will work closely together to steward the growth and experience of students during their time at Wake Forest. This move enables more seamless cooperation between admissions, student life, and career development, which are now all represented on the Provost’s executive team.

The integration of the Schools of Business, which I described in its early stages last year, is now fully mapped and functionally underway. I am grateful to the business faculty and administration for their great dexterity, energy, and cooperation in facing these challenges.

Down the street on the Bowman Gray campus, Dr. John McConnell is settling into the new position of Chief Executive Officer of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, combining leadership of the hospital and the Medical School in path-breaking ways. It is a daunting task to integrate two billion-dollar organizations which together employ some nine thousand people. These changes are critical given the changing structure and financial challenges of contemporary health care.

We have also recognized the significant educational background and contributions to academic life of the professional staff of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library by granting faculty status to our dedicated librarians. Library Dean Lynn Sutton now sits on the Deans’ Council and will be able to coordinate more closely the Library’s services with the needs of the University’s students and faculty.

Initiatives that Strengthen the Character of Wake Forest

Particularly at this moment, it is crucial that Wake Forest not stand still. What is important is that we know who we are and limit our investment to that which is really important, our very signatures. It was in that spirit that we did not retreat from hiring a full complement of new faculty last spring where there were open positions. As a result, this fall we welcome a wonderfully talented set of new faculty colleagues.

Today I also want to mention several initiatives that are currently underway, many of them made possible by units reallocating scarce dollars, others by new fund-raising efforts. These efforts grow out of our strategic imperatives to enhance advising and mentoring, to focus on public engagement, and to assist students in discerning their own passions and translating them into a life of purpose.

  1. Advising Center
  2. For years, undergraduates have been paired with a faculty advisor and a student advisor for the purposes of course selection and acclamation to college life. Building on this rich heritage, Professor Perry Patterson will lead the new Academic Advising Center in the office of the Dean of the College. Perry and his staff of professional academic counselors will coordinate the advising program to ensure that no student falls through the cracks and to offer training and background materials in a coordinated fashion so that faculty and student advisors can be better prepared for their roles.

  3. Magnolia Scholars
  4. Even more focused advising will be offered to our Magnolia Scholars, a group of exceptionally talented first-generation college students. The Magnolia Scholars program minimizes loan burden for these students, but also provides them with a robust support system and other cultural and leadership experiences at Wake Forest and in this community.

  5. The Institute for Public Engagement
  6. At Wake Forest, Pro Humanitate is not intended to be an aspiration for our students’ futures, but a statement about our orientation as a community in the present.

    This fall we have launched the Institute for Public Engagement, a major effort to build upon and extend the rich heritage of service and service-learning that characterizes Wake Forest. The aim of the Institute is to develop university-wide excellence in public engagement, collaborative skills, and interdisciplinary teaching and research. The Institute will prepare students for civic leadership, action and reflection; and will facilitate community-based research.

    The Provost’s Office is now coordinating a search for a full time faculty director for the Institute. For the first time we will have a central coordinating office that can assist students and faculty as they discern the best avenues of public engagement. The Institute can also serve as a public face to our community, assisting our neighbors to identify the right resources and the right people at Wake Forest.

  7. Teaching and Learning Center
  8. Many of you are already familiar with our Teaching & Learning Center. The Provost’s Office is beginning to review applications for the position of Managing Director of the Center. This new position will allow for focused attention to build on the good work that Jeff Lerner has begun as the Center’s faculty director. As an institution, we want to provide the very best kind of support and encouragement to the next generation of our faculty.

  9. The Institute for Personal and Professional Development
  10. The fabric of our strategic plan includes important strands of teaching and mentoring and of public engagement. We are also committed to helping students think through their own place in the world, to explore the vast potential of their own futures. ‘The great use of a life,’ William James noted, ‘is to spend it for something that outlasts it.’

    At the intersection of passion and purpose, Wake Forest has the opportunity to create something durable and important.

    When Andy Chan was appointed as Vice President of Career Development, it was clear that he would manage our career development office and coordinate career services with the professional schools. But Andy also will lead in a new Institute for Personal and Professional Development that will draw on the existing resources and offerings of the University to shape a four-year, co-curricular program for students to explore their passions for life and work.

    Few people understand this need — and the yearning of our students for active citizenship — better than Andy Chan.

    The shape of the Institute for Personal and Professional Development is not yet fully determined, and Andy will be working with many of you in the coming months to add detail to his plans. The stakes in the ground are that we will engage students in more fully considering the lives they wish to live at the end of their formal education, that we will push them to question their assumptions about work and self, and that we will support them fervently in this exploration.

  11. Sustainability
  12. Dedee Johnston started work this summer as Wake Forest’s first Director of Sustainability. Dedee is working across the University to support effective teaching and research about sustainability in classes and for student groups, as well as to find ways that the University’s own use of energy and other resources can be streamlined and updated.

  13. The S.A.T. Optional Policy
  14. In addition to looking forward, we can also look back proudly and observe the success of a bold move from last year: our decision to end the requirement for standardized test scores in the admissions process. With phenomenal increases in applications for admission despite a challenging environment for private colleges and universities, our quality remained high. Twenty-six percent of our enrolled students did not submit standardized test scores during their application process. We collected almost all of those scores after students enrolled so that we could report fair admission statistics. The percentage of our entering class graduating in the top ten percent of their class rose from 65% to 75%; and the range of our SAT scores remained about what they have been in the past.

    This decision was never about statistics, though we have committed to watch those numbers closely. It was never about short-term results either, and we will continue to carefully track the effect on our students’ performance through the careers of this and future classes.

    There has been considerable focus on the decision to drop the SAT requirement and much less public attention on the corresponding decision to emphasize interviews for applicants. We are grateful indeed for the Herculean task that Martha Allman and her staff have taken on in reinventing our admissions process, and taking on that work with creativity and good cheer.

  15. Capital Projects
  16. I want to mention two important construction projects on campus. During the summer and fall, you may have noticed the new dorm on the south side of campus, which will provide housing for First Year students. It will open in Fall 2010.

    Construction is also beginning on a new Welcome and Admissions Center. As we enjoy increases in the number of applications and emphasize the importance of applicants coming to campus and meeting with us face-to-face, we have outgrown Starling Hall and even the temporary trailers stationed just outside. This new facility will help us to host larger groups and create a more welcoming front door for our campus. Its public spaces, the atrium and the auditorium, will also be an important resource for those of us who already call Wake Forest home.

Daring to Dream

The success we know today at Wake Forest has resulted from bold and creative dreams across 175 years of history. Every recounted achievement calls us to renew our own vision. This is an important moment for Wake Forest. We must seize it, fully aware of the fiscal challenges we face.

We are ready to turn thought into actions; planning into execution. My conviction is that we stand at a pivotal moment in the history of this University. As a result, I dare to dream for Wake Forest. And I trust many of you will dream with me.

And I say this despite the weak economy which will force us to make hard choices, but should not weaken our resolve. In fact, in a time of financial constraint many of our supporters will have to prune their commitments and hone in on just a few organizations or causes that they believe in. Like never before, we need to explain why it is right to have Wake Forest at the top of their priority list.

Why am I emboldened to think this way? Why do I say, “this is our time?” I have four simple reasons:

  1. Wake Forest People. Above all, Wake Forest believes in people and in doing things right in whatever sector of life we touch. Thousands of graduates, parents, and friends have been touched here in ways that are deeply personal and that ring of integrity. It is because of you, the faculty and staff of Wake Forest, that we have good reason to dream.
  2. Our best prospects for the future are not some novel overlay: in fact, they renew our traditions. Our strategic plan draws upon some of the noblest strands in Wake Forest history. By clinging doggedly to our best traditions, we are in fact being both counter-cultural and deeply traditional at the same time, and in the best ways.
  3. We have an unusual team of leaders who can achieve big things. This a rare moment on which we can capitalize. We have the energy, creativity, vision, and drive.
  4. Finally, American culture today is hungry for higher education that is more student-focused, more publicly engaged, and more interested in reconnecting intellect and character.

What, then, does it mean to dare to dream, to attempt to grasp this opportunity? I know one thing: Our dreams will not be achieved through conventional means, letting intertia takes its course.

It will take a boldly articulated mission and great resolve. If we are serious when we say we want the best teacher-scholars, that we aim to have truly exemplary mentoring programs, and that we strive to educate lawyers, doctors, executives, and educators whose lives have a ring of integrity — these goals will require effort beyond our normal reach. They also will require us to take personal and institutional risks, but that too is part of the history and fabric of this place.

Despite all the challenges we face, I dare to dream for Wake Forest to ensure for students a kind of education at Wake Forest that is renowned for its quality, its attention to values, its fulfillment of our motto, Pro Humanitate.

I am not interested in playing it safe, in leaving well enough alone. I want us to engage in a marathon, not a walk in the park.

As we look to the future, I am deeply grateful for the deep and abiding affection for Wake Forest that so many of you have shown. I would ask each of you to renew your own level of commitment and resolve for this institution. We cannot begin to achieve Wake Forest’s dreams if they are not your dreams too. The energy for what is ahead must emanate from all of us in this room.

I am deeply grateful for the priceless heritage of a place that allows us to dream; and invite all of us to dream ever more boldly about our future.

175 years worth of boldness, creativity, and noble service demands nothing less from us.