The Story of Wake Forest

Opportunity and Courage

It is interesting and important to know our own stories—as individuals and families; and as institutions.   Since being back in North Carolina for the last six years, I have come to learn more of the Hatch family and their roots in Pittsboro in Chatham County, below Chapel Hill.  My grandfather, whom I visited as a boy on a tree-lined street and comfortable surroundings of Myers Park in Charlotte, never once spoke of his hardscrabble upbringing in Pittsboro.  I did hear about my father, as a teenager, crashing the family’s new Pierce Arrow, but I never heard anything about Pittsboro.

It may have been too painful.  In January of 1893, my great grandfather, Leonidas Hatch was killed in a blizzard trying to get from the courthouse to his farm; and, as a teenager, he had to drop out of school to support his family.  He eventually become an accountant, began working for textile mills, and worked his way up until he owned a successful hosiery mill in Belmont North Carolina.  Knowing that story, and the hard-fought path to success that my grandfather trod, helps me to understand him better and the Hatch family.

One other parenthetical note about Pittsboro.  About six months ago trustee Graham Denton, who was exploring his own family story, compared notes and found that we are in fact distant cousins.  His mother, who was a Bland, had deep roots in that community; and we had a common grandfather, Henry Hardaway Hatch, who lived from 1796 until 1867.

There are equally interesting stories on Julie’s side of the family.  We just returned from Priest Lake, Idaho; and while there had framed a deed from 1920 in which Julie’s great grandfather purchased a remote lake cabin for the sum of $300.  Our grandchildren are the sixth generation to visit that property where Julie’s grandparents and parents spent their honeymoons and where there still exists a log cabin built without power tools by her great grandfather in 1932.

It is equally important to know the stories of institutions.  Over the last six years I have come to learn and to live the Wake Forest story.  Our story is intriguing, not so much because it reflects an unblemished high ground:  a tradition of unparalleled achievement, plentiful resources, and famous graduates.  The Wake Forest story lines involve much more struggle, determination, and will to succeed, often against considerable odds.

Wake Forest was, after all, the school of North Carolina Baptists, who, if you know the sociology of religion in America, know were never as wealthy or prominent as Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or even Methodists—who had the same common origins, but were frankly just better organized.  The Methodists had Bishops and built institutions; the Baptists were staunchly independent localists who surrendered their authority and their resources to institutions with great reluctance.

In the generation of my father, who went to college in the 1930s, people of means in the South were much more likely to choose the University of the South, Washington and Lee, Davidson, or the newly incarnated university that James Washington “Buck” Duke made of Trinity College in Durham, its neo-Gothic spires of the early 1930s expressing the new wealth and power of a tobacco and utilities fortune.

Wake Forest was a community that educated more quintessentially middle-class, the sons and daughters of ministers, teachers, farmers, accountants, and small-town lawyers.  Wake Forest never had a halo of prestige and it certainly never smacked of pretension.

But Wake Forest did its job well, extraordinarily well.  It was a place of serious and deeply moral purpose, a community of quality and of earnest attention to students it was privileged to educate.  At its heart faculty were committed to the formation of young people, to learn without compromise in the classroom; and beyond that to learn not just how to make a living, but how to live.  Quality, personal attention, robust community, a commitment to educating the whole person, and a call to live for purposes higher than mere self advancement—a very special learning community: these are durable strands in the tapestry of Wake Forest history.

As an institution of modest means, Wake Forest has always had a rich history of seizing opportunities.  We joined the ACC when we did not have anything like the quality of facilities that other universities enjoyed.  In the mid-1950s Wake had the audacity of moving to Winston-Salem which offered new resources and opportunities.  I have often thought of the courage of Harold Tribble, the President who oversaw the decision to move.  He took great grief at the time from almost every quarter for the sake of the long-term good of the institution.

Along these lines, it is interesting to note how Arnold Palmer, one of our most famous sons, ended up at Wake forest.   Wake Forest saw the opportunity that it could build a golf program inexpensively, when others were not giving scholarships and thus it recruited Arnold’s friend Buddy Worsham on a scholarship.  Arnold came along with Buddy.  What Arnold Palmer said about himself is a metaphor that can also be used for his alma mater:  “I came from modest circumstances, and I was determined to be successful in my adult life.”

For Wake Forest, necessity has often been the mother of invention. The story of trustee Ben Sutton, and the creation of ISP, now IMG College, is a wonderful example.  Ben worked for Ron Wellman in our athletic department; and pursued, of necessity, aggressive and creative marketing strategies for our sports teams.  These were the fruit not of our financial strength but of the acute need of athletics to raise substantial money in order to be competitive.  Ben’s models have become the standard in college sports marketing and he controls the dominant company in that space in Winston-Salem.

In the 1980s Wake Forest had the courage and foresight to sever ties with North Carolina Baptists—although a deep moral seriousness and welcoming of religious expression is a vital legacy.  In the 1990s Wake Forest emerged as a nationally ranked university as more people began to recognize the distinctives of what we now call a “collegiate university.”

When I came to Wake Forest six years ago, the pressing question was how we could sustain the very best elements of our story—our deep commitment to a certain kind of education—but do so in a swiftly-changing, innovative and highly competitive world.  Can we be distinct, preserving the deeply personal and morally resonant sense of place, but also prosper as a top 30 national university?

I believe that we can—not because it will happen automatically and not because we do not face substantial challenges in doing so.  But I believe in Wake Forest people and our ability to take up the challenge that we face for our time and place. We have a powerful legacy of moral integrity, of striving to do what is right on behalf of young people, and of facing our challenges squarely and with resolve.

I am heartened by several story lines that I see in the contemporary Wake Forest story:

1. We have clarified who we are, where we are going and have tremendous buy-in on campus.  When I arrived six years ago, our faculty morale was low—as was our compensation model—and there was not a strong sense of where the University was going.  Our departing provost Jill Tiefenthaler did an amazing job in raising faculty salaries to meet expectations; but, more importantly, making academic life central to our endeavors. The set of new institutes and centers is a wonderful example of giving the faculty opportunity to think, and dream, and work together—all essential to what a collegiate university is about.  I encourage all of you to read the article on the new Humanities Institute in the new Wake Forest magazine.

2. We have a great set of leaders who embody the values of the institution and understand the ecology of modern higher education.  We are self-conscious about framing the future of Wake Forest—its commitment to teacher scholars, to educating the whole person, to revitalizing the community strands of our identity, to empowering students for lives of service.  In short, the collegiate university combines academic excellence, extra-ordinary relationships, and a commitment to lives of purpose.  And at the end of the day, we will bet on people rather than on abstract strategies.

Jim Collins, the author of popular business books like “Good to Great” and “Built to Last” has a particular talent for articulating the qualities of leadership that I witness in our Wake Forest community. In his booklet, Good to Great for the Social Sectors, Collins suggests three interlocking circles of attributes critical for moving institutions from good to great:

a. In the first circle, Collins places “Passion;” something no one at Wake Forest lacks. Passion is about understanding what we stand for and why we exist. We are passionate about our students, about academics, about sports. We are passionate about building and sharing knowledge. We are passionate about fulfilling the Pro Humanitate mission of the University.

b. Collins places an institution’s points of distinction in the second circle. What can we be best at? How can we uniquely contribute to the people we touch? These questions are at the heart of Wake Forest. You have likely heard me use phrases like “educating the whole person” and the “teacher-scholar ideal, “vibrant campus” and “collegiate university.” You will hear me use these terms again. These are our points of distinction – where Wake Forest stands out as the best of the best. These are the things our students and alumni still remember – still value – years after they leave campus.

c. In the last of the interlocking circles Collins writes about creating a “Resource Engine.”  How will we be a fiscally viable entity for the long term.  We have made some great strides in this final circle recently and we have plans in place to ensure we are able to fulfill the promise we make to every member of the Wake Forest family.

3. Wake Forest has tackled some major, often intractable, problems:

a. Under the exceptional leadership of Steve Reinemund, we have created one business school out of two less-than-scale operations.  We have also begun construction on Farrell Hall, the innovative new home for the Schools of Business.  Through Steve’s vision and hard work, we now have over $30 million committed to this project.

b. We have joined our medical school and the hospital under a single administration; and it has been remarkable the strides that John McConnell and his team have made in facing challenges together.  I can only say that the specific financial and operational issues that they have confronted in the last year would have been virtually impossible under our old structure.  This summer we welcome a new dean of the Medical School, Edward Abraham, a national leader in pulmonary and critical care medicine.  He comes from the University of Alabama Birmingham, and before that the University of Colorado and UCLA.

c. We are addressing in creative ways campus social life—and, in particular working with students leaders to try to live out our values.  This fall, the “Barn” a new student social space, will open and is already booked on every available night.  We are assessing this summer the implications of implementing a three-year residency requirement, which includes moving quickly to build more upper-class residence halls on campus.

We continue to work creatively on what it means to educate the whole person.  Two years ago we brought in Andy Chan as Vice President of Personal and Career Development; and his programs are innovative, even path-breaking.  At this time, I am pleased to report that of this week, the University has raised $5 million, largely through the support of parents.

This summer Andy is adding to his staff another wonderful resource for the university, Evelyn Williams, who has been the Director of the Leadership Development Platform at the Stanford Business School.  At Stanford, she coordinated a required experiential leadership program for MBA students, and had done a similar thing at the University of Chicago.  Evelyn will be working on leadership programs for Wake Forest undergraduates, for business students, and for medical students and residents.

Challenges for the Story of Wake Forest in the Coming Year

I will mention two principal challenges for the coming year, although others could be mentioned such as continuing to build a durable financial model for the University, exploring opportunities in online education, and continuing to make student life vibrant on campus, challenging our students to live their values.

1. Provost Search
I am delighted that Mark Welker will be serving as Interim Provost.  Mark was appointed Vice Provost in 2010 and had served as an associate provost since 2003.  Mark is also William L. Poteat Professor of Chemistry.  As I announced to the campus community last month, Mark is an experienced and valued member of the Provost Office and I am grateful that he has agreed to take on this role.

Working with Mark in the Provost office will be Associate Provost for Academic Initiatives (and Professor of Law) Jennifer Collins; Associate Provost for Global Affairs (and Kemper Professor of Business) Kline Harrison; Associate Provost for Information Systems (and Professor of Physics) Rick Matthews; Assistant Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Barbee Oakes, and Assistant Provost for Budget and Planning Beth Hoagland.  I am grateful to these individuals, and to our deans, for their collaboration and good will during this transition time.  I have every confidence we will continue to experience the kind of academic momentum, creativity, and initiative during the weeks and months ahead that have become hallmarks of the Provost Office.

We have a great search committee and have defined the position and posted the prospectus on our search web site.  In May the committee had four listening sessions with faculty and staff.  The search committee has sent a message asking faculty and staff for nominations, and I have sent a letter about the position to a select national list of presidents and provosts.   Search consultant Lisa Prigohzy-Milius and I will be doing considerable searching during the summer.

2. The Capital Campaign
We have launched the quiet phase of our capital campaign and this year we stand at almost $100 million in commitments, including the two largest cash gifts ever received by the University:  the lead gift for Farrell Hall by Mike and Mary Farrell; and the recently announced gift of a portion of the Park Road Shopping Center in Charlotte by Porter Byrum, a gift that will greatly enhance student financial aid, our top campaign priority.

As with many things at Wake Forest, the framework is simple: we will support faculty, students, and campus facilities.  But the beauty and complexity — the distinctiveness — comes in the details.

a. Students

The Endowment for Wake Forest Scholars will provide student aid, particularly for the middle-class students whose families have built Wake Forest over the years, but who find themselves in the awkward gap between ability to pay and the availability of aid.  We want to close that gap so that we may continue to attract the best students and to see them graduate without burdensome student loan debt.

This year your generosity has made it possible for 46 Wake Forest scholars to receive $230,000 in aid that will eliminate private loan debt from their financial aid packages.  Most importantly, those 46 are exceptional students who we would likely have lost without this incremental aid.

b. Faculty

In our 2011 Spring Survey, 100% of responding students cited a relationship with a faculty member as being instrumental in their success.  I’ve heard the stories, many of them from people in this room.  Decades after graduation, Wake Forest alumni remember the faculty members who led them to a subject they loved or helped them surmount a great challenge.  In a surprising number of cases, that student and faculty member have remained friends and still check in with each other often.  The kinds of people who can produce new knowledge and define the cutting edge of their disciplines well enough to inspire passion in a subject and who can communicate with and care for students enough to be excellent mentors — these teacher-scholars need the very best support and resources we can offer.

The Presidents’ Trust will support our academic leaders in providing endowed chairs and professorships to recruit and retain the most talented faculty.  An endowed chair represents a magnificent gift to a university.  An endowed chair also is a very special gift to students because it brings another magical presence into their lives without adding a cent to tuition.  The endowment, not the regular University budget, supports the faculty member and it does so in perpetuity.

The President’s Trust will also support faculty in other ways:

  • It will support competitive grants that inspire our teacher scholars,
  • And it will support faculty renewal grants that create opportunity for teacher-scholars to concentrate on research and develop new courses and teaching techniques.
  • The President’s Trust is also critical to supporting centers and institutes that enable faculty members to work across disciplines to address the most pressing problems of our society.

c. Our Campus

As we create campus facilities, we are not just adding square footage.  Ask any Wake Forest alumnus and you will hear stories of the ways the places on this campus stick with you.  I am struck by the way that many alumni return to Wake Forest not just for homecoming and football games, but to reflect on important decisions and to show their children a place that has an inexplicable hold on their hearts.  I believe this happens because our campus is not just a set of classrooms, labs, and offices.  It is a fertile ground in which people and relationships grow.

  • Farrell Hall: Crews are working right now on the new Business school, which is being constructed with groundbreaking design techniques to create deep interaction among students, faculty, and staff.
  • Law: We also have great opportunity to offer the Law school much needed space; and we hope to refurbish part of the Worrell Center as the Schools of Business moves to their new home.
  • Fitness and Wellness Center: The most glaring weakness on our campus—and one that has distressed students for the last decade—is our lack of facilities for fitness, wellness, and recreation.  My own view is that this is not simply a convenience or a nice amenity.  If we believe in educating the whole person, then helping young people develop life-long habits of fitness and healthy living should be a priority.
  • Scales Fine Arts Center: As our needs for fine arts and performing arts spaces have expanded, we now have an opportunity to preserve the uniqueness of the Scales space while creating a more effective face toward the other parts of the campus.

The story of Wake Forest is one of opportunity and courage.  Wake Forest was never handed its future on a silver platter.  It is an institution premised on hard work and making the most of opportunities as they presented themselves.  What I find most compelling about this story are the common threads:  a deep commitment to students and their formation, a consistent linking of intellectual and moral virtues, and the building of a community that is human in scale.  These imply a commitment to excellence that is nuanced and deeply human.  I believe in Wake Forest and its story because students today and tomorrow need to find a home for these values as never before.

Categories: Speeches