State of the University Address

By Nathan O. Hatch

Wait Chapel, Wake Forest University

I am grateful to the University Senate for this occasion to address the University community on matters of common concern. Let me also express appreciation to you for your hard work to renew the Senate as a place that faculty and administrators can engage in constructive dialogue about important issues across the entire scope of the university.

Two and a half years ago, in this place, I pledged in my inaugural address to advance at Wake Forest a distinct kind of learning community at the highest levels of academic life. I suggested that it was Wake Forest’s heritage, our identity, and our greatest opportunity.

I also said that these lofty aspirations were tied directly to our ability to work together. Today, my remarks will focus on our emerging strategic plan. Its formulation has been a wonderful model of working together to set a common future. I am deeply grateful to all of the faculty, staff, and students who have invested in helping the University set its course.

I want to offer a special word of thanks to former Provost Bill Gordon and Senior Vice President Nancy Suttenfield, who launched this process, and to the University Strategic Planning Council for all of their efforts. From her first day on the job, Provost Jill Teifenthaler picked up the mantel of strategic planning with energy and insight. She, her staff, and the deans have been remarkable in the ability to listen to the community, to frame options and alternatives, and to clarify directions for the future.

Wake Forest enjoys a clear and compelling identity-a lively intellectual environment, a faculty and staff who really care about students as people, a community grounded in the liberal arts, passionate about professional education, and committed to living out the values that we profess.

Today, there is also one other certainty about Wake Forest: across the board, we compete at a different level and with different expectations. Students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni all expect Wake Forest to provide the opportunities and resources of a top-thirty national university.

The question is how best to be true to our identity and, at the same time, meet the intensely competitive market forces swirling about us. We face significant challenges to make faculty and staff compensation competitive, to provide ample financial aid and reduce student debt, to renew a central campus that is half a century old, and to design a set of new buildings that correspond to our hopes and dreams.

Preserving what is best about Wake Forest will require boldness and innovation. We must sustain a clear vision of who we are, make difficult choices in line with priorities, recruit and empower the right kind of leaders, and build a case for new levels of philanthropic support.

This afternoon, I want to mention briefly nine themes that have emerged as important to our ongoing strategy as a University. I will mention each of these priorities and offer a few examples of the initiatives that flow out of them.

I. BUILDING A COLLEGIATE UNIVERSITY

Wake Forest has long worked to integrate the intimacy of an undergraduate liberal arts college with the academic vitality of a research university. This goal has created for the University an important niche in higher education. Now, we seek to reinforce and protect this identity, creating a genuine collegiate university. To do so, we must do at least four things:

  1. Attract and support superior teachers-scholars-mentors;
  2. Strengthen the fabric of our community of learning;
  3. Develop a nationally recognized mentoring program; and
  4. Manage enrollment to meet our objectives.

These four essential components are inseparable if we are to be successful.

I am delighted that the Provost’s office has already announced for the coming fiscal year a series of academic initiatives to assist the work of our faculty. These include new support for travel, speakers and conferences, research, curricular innovation, the library, the Teaching and Learning Center, and initiatives beyond our campus.

Moving forward, we have the opportunity to establish nationally recognized mentoring programs, integrating current efforts with new opportunities in departments, schools, and across the division of student life. We should also draw upon committed alumni to assist students in vocational discernment.

In recent months we have spent considerable time and effort assessing the size of the undergraduate student body in light of our goals and our educational philosophy. To achieve the Wake Forest model of a collegiate university, pairing an intimate learning environment with the critical mass needed to fulfill our objectives, we propose to continue the University’s practice of moderate and controlled growth by adding 80 undergraduates for 2008-09 and a total of no more than 500 undergraduates over the next five years. The trustees are committed to monitor this matter annually and at the end of five years. Even with moderate growth, all of us will be obligated to ensure the personal touch that has distinguished a Wake Forest education, relying on face-to-face communication as often as possible.

II. LINKING LIBERAL ARTS AND THE PROFESSIONS

Given the scale of our community and the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of learning, we have a tremendous opportunity to build more productive connections between and among arts and sciences and professional schools in law, medicine, business, and divinity. At the same time, we have the opportunity to revitalize our graduate and professional schools.

Toward this end, the University will undertake initiatives such as integrating undergraduate and graduate business programs, building a more flexible system for joint faculty appointment, and establishing interdisciplinary institutes over the next decade to support common efforts in broad areas such as public engagement, Arts and Humanities, Integrative Science, and Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise.

III. ADVANCING GRADUATE AND PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION

Our graduate and professional schools are singularly positioned to offer superb education while creating knowledge and responding to society’s changing needs. Each school is defined by Wake Forest’s guiding principle of building a faculty of dedicated teacher-scholars who push the frontiers of knowledge and engage students through small classes and individual attention.

Wake Forest has a wonderful opportunity to reshape professional education. The fields of medicine, law, business, and divinity are all looking to respective professional schools for more than technical expertise and professional credentialing. At this moment, when some speak of professionals as “beleaguered rulers,” our schools can play a more creative role in the formation of young leaders whose vision and whose lives are committed to the common good.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences uniquely bridges the Reynolda and Bowman Gray Campuses. Its degree programs have been carefully selected to ensure that Wake Forest capitalizes on its strengths while educating researchers whose work advances their respective disciplines. Where we have graduate programs, they must be strong and competitive nationally; and in a few cases, where we have a competitive advantage, the University may nurture new programs.

IV. ENHANCING OPPORTUNITY

Wake Forest has long been a beacon of opportunity, allowing young people from families of average means to fulfill their ambitions. Opportunity and mobility are deep in the Wake Forest genetic code. Our quest for excellence must be guided by that most bedrock of principles: that we treat everyone with dignity and appreciation and that we go the second mile to welcome and encourage students of lesser opportunity. Our commitment to diversity must be consistent and creative.

No area of Wake Forest is more congruent with our heritage than scholarship aid to worthy students,¬†but there is no area under greater threat. Our competitors, usually with two to three times our endowment per student, are moving dramatically to reduce the proportion of loans in financial aid. Many schools in our peer group have reduced, or plan to reduce, loans to zero. If Wake Forest decided to eliminate loans today, we would need an additional $12 million annually, a significant challenge indeed. We must be bold and innovative in increasing financial aid so that our students graduate with the minimum possible debt. We also seek to create the Alumni Scholars Program for students who are the first in their families to attend college. We also should redefine admissions standards to reflect Wake Forest’s emphasis on individual attention.

V. EDUCATING THE WHOLE PERSON

Today’s students long to narrow the gap between the ideals we profess and the lives we lead. They are looking for models of vocation, how to integrate the often incoherent facets of their experience as reflective persons, aspiring professionals, consumers, family members, sports fans, volunteers, and good citizens.

As a close-knit community, Wake Forest has long educated leaders who link intellectual curiosity and moral reflection to serve humanity. Wake Forest should sustain a variety of programs, academic and otherwise, that challenge students to live an examined and purposeful life. We should continue and expand our efforts to provide leadership education and experience.

Wake Forest’s religious heritage, far from a liability, provides a middle ground where diverse religious traditions can engage secular thought in a climate of academic freedom. This should be a place where faith in a variety of traditions is practiced intelligently and studied critically; and where believers¬†and those of secular conviction can engage each other with respect and forbearance. Our culture is hungry for such dialogue.

VI. ENGAGING OUR LOCAL COMMUNITY AND THE WORLD

Wake Forest has long trained leaders of public service in many walks of life. In the spirit of our motto, Pro Humanitate, the University should cultivate stronger relationships with the local and regional communities, even as we enrich our international outreach. Wake Forest must develop more targeted, consistent efforts in public engagement, encouraging faculty and students to bring their knowledge and skills to bear on pressing contemporary problems.

Our strategic initiatives will range from improving partnerships with local public schools to continuing leadership in the Piedmont Triad Research Park; from exploring new opportunities for collaboration in the arts, to establishing a more durable presence for graduate programs in Charlotte.

Further, with growing student interest in study abroad and our faculty’s increasing interest in international issues, Wake Forest is poised to build an even stronger set of international programs.

VII. MODELING EXCELLENCE IN INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS

Wake Forest is proving that a small, private, strong academic institution can excel at the highest level of collegiate athletics. Prospective student-athletes are offered the opportunity to attend one of the outstanding universities in the country with an intimate learning environment, a place that emphasizes their well-being and provides quality coaching and facilities. Beyond providing students and other fans with the sheer delight of competition, our athletics program offers another important venue for expressing an integrated value system in an intensely competitive world. We recognize, further, that our athletic program contributes importantly to building community for students and alumni alike.

VIII. SUPPORTING THE UNIVERSITY’S MISSION

Three pillars of support critical to our academic mission are our administrative and support staff members; the campus infrastructure; and the computing infrastructure.

A. Wake Forest People

In every facet of the University, people are our greatest asset. We must go the second mile to recruit and empower the right kind of leaders. We must continue to foster staff professional development, including opportunities for education, advancement, and structured feedback. And, we must recognize and reward excellent work. We continue to make good progress in our compensation review process which will help to guide our decisions relative to compensation.

As a first step in this effort, we have provided for additional salary dollars, above and beyond our merit pool, which will allow us to begin bringing those individuals whose compensation fell below market into the appropriate salary ranges for their specific positions. Recognizing the long-standing role of staff in our community, we also need to create more physical spaces on campus to bring people together and develop more robust means of internal communication.

B. Buildings, Grounds, Sustainability

The physical infrastructure of the campus must support the strategic plan as it evolves. You may recall that we timed our campus master planning effort to fit with our work on the strategic plan and thus far the sequence has worked. Our goal was to take a comprehensive look at the physical environment of the campus and how that environment can help us to succeed in our educational mission. While considerable attention has been devoted to new or renovated facilities and green space, the process also has looked closely at environmental issues, traffic and parking, and the capacity of our important utility infrastructure. After nearly eight months of work, the campus master plan is taking shape. We have some significant work left yet this spring and we hope to have a draft campus master plan ready for review by the board of trustees this summer. This process has been a wonderful occasion for our community to look at how the campus should evolve over the next thirty years.

In the next few months, we will be clarifying our immediate priorities for new buildings, which, as resources permit, will allow us to address pressing needs in academic and student life. At the same time, we have much renovation to do within buildings almost half of which date back to original campus construction. Moreover, we seek to integrate sustainable principles and practices across all aspects of our community.

Let me make one other point briefly about the perimeter of our campus. On one side, we aim to see the historically rich Reynolda Village flourish as a special kind of retail and office community. On the other, we are investing in the transformation of Deacon Boulevard into a mixed use development, a more vibrant college town.

C. Technology

Our computing infrastructure must have the capacity to serve our academic mission and the administrative structure that supports it. Change in information technology continues to grow as does our increasing reliance on it across the university. Accordingly, we must bring renewed energy to how we approach technology and its relationship to teaching and learning, to research and scholarship; and to its central place in consolidating wide-ranging data into useful forms for managing and improving the operational capacity of the university. I am grateful for all who have worked so hard to make our evolving information systems viable. We will need continued investment to build out a mature system.

IX. ADVANCING WAKE FOREST UNIVERSITY HEALTH SCIENCES

Wake Forest University Health Sciences and its distinguished faculty have made remarkable progress in recent years as a national center for instruction, research, and clinical practice. Health Sciences has also launched the Piedmont Triad Research Park, a promising bio-tech research center that will contribute to the improvement of health care and help to fuel Winston-Salem’s economic vitality.

We are currently engaged in a major reorganization to bring better functional integration within the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center; and we are looking for a new chief executive officer to lead those efforts.

It is important to note that we are working on two distinct fronts to promote better functional integration. On academic matters, the Reynolda and Bowman Gray campuses are forging ever-closer ties as parts of the same university. On a broad range of clinical matters, new ties link Health Sciences and the North Carolina Baptist Hospital. Establishing more durable connections in both directions is not at all contradictory. Both can and should happen at the same time.

Let me conclude. Our overarching goal is to sustain and enhance Wake Forest’s finest tradition: a face-to-face community, passionate about quality in teaching and research, grounded in the liberal arts, creative in graduate and professional education, and devoted to students living an examined and purposeful life. These bold initiatives embrace our heritage, define our identity, and preserve our most deeply-held principles. They also provide access to our noblest opportunities and a distinct leadership role in higher education.

To realize this vision of a collegiate university, I pledge to you my best efforts, and I seek your active partnership. Thank you.

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