2011 State of the University

The Tension Between Tradition & Innovation

President Nathan O. Hatch discusses the roles of tradition and innovation in continuing to develop Wake Forest experience, as well as the successes and challenges associated with our journey as a Collegiate University.

Let me begin by thanking the faculty senate for inviting me to speak today and to Michael Hughes for his gracious introduction. And many thanks to all of you for taking the time to be here in Wait Chapel.

I want to take just a moment to address the acts of vandalism that occurred on our campus early last week. As I stated in my message to the Wake Forest community, the language and slurs that were part of this incident were hateful and demeaning. Such acts are intolerable and completely inconsistent with the values we hold. Let me say how proud I am of your response to this act. The “moment of solidarity” on Manchester Plaza this noon was but one example of this community — students, faculty and staff — coming together to denounce intolerance and discrimination, and using this as an opportunity to come together to listen and learn. I know this challenge will prompt all of us to re-double our efforts to make sure that every member of the Wake Forest community feels, and is, respected, welcomed and included.

We who are privileged to work in colleges and universities face an interesting challenge. How do we balance tradition and innovation as we think about teaching the leaders of the next generation?

On the one hand, we relish tradition, as do our graduates. At Wake Forest, we cherish the same kind of personal interactions and intellectual engagement that Ed Wilson describes so eloquently about the Wake Forest he knew a half-century ago. We see ourselves rightly as passing on a wonderful legacy of learning and engagement. And certainly Wake Forest graduates want us to continue to uphold the kind of Wake Forest experience they remember and cherish. They are acutely sensitive to even minor change on campus — as we found when we changed our logo, reworked the signage for Greek life on our residence halls or decided to increase our enrollment. Our student leaders today are working hard to renew Wake Forest traditions — and that is a worthy thing.

On the other hand, a place like Wake Forest is expected to be on the cutting edge of innovation and creativity. We are called to prepare leaders for a world that knows dizzying change. In the last ten years, we have seen companies, such as Google and Amazon, revolutionize the world of print and books as we know it. Students with iPads anywhere on this campus have literally a million places in the palms of their hands — with access to far more information than the vast resources of a great university library. The way students connect and learn using social media, too, is vastly different than in previous generations. And we are called to prepare them for leadership in a world that demands innovation — in science, technology and medicine, as well as in government, the professions and corporate life. If Wake Forest is only a safe and protective cocoon, our students will be ill prepared for the dynamic, multicultural and increasingly interconnected world that they will face after graduation.

Today I want to reflect on the state of the University against the backdrop of this tension: tradition and innovation. I do so because I think, as a community, we have had some success in integrating tradition and innovation — or at least keeping them in creative tension.

By doing so, by renewing Wake Forest in a grounded way, I think the University today has achieved unparalleled momentum. We have drawn upon what is best about our tradition — a passion for intellectual engagement, for genuine community, for a concern for doing things right and making an impact in society. We have taken these values as our North Star — what we call the Collegiate University — then asked how can we be more creative and innovative in making them alive and real for students today. We have been able to communicate with some effect our distinctiveness and expand our reach to attract students and faculty who share these purposes.

Today, in this place of tradition and innovation, I would like to share with you a number of areas where we have made progress and where some of the challenges lie ahead.

As you know, we have been working from a strategic plan developed to guide our academic progress. We have made substantial progress toward achieving a number of these goals.

In the last six years, we have expanded our undergraduate student body and used those resources to invest principally in people — in faculty, staff and scholarship aid for students. Over the last six years we have invested new tuition revenues in salary support on the campus by more than $60 million and student financial aid by more than $20 million. Our overall institutional financial aid has increased over five years by almost 68%, from $24 million to $40 million.

We committed to building academic programs of nationally recognized excellence and to providing greater opportunity for interdisciplinary work. We have launched six centers and two institutes. We are developing new mentoring programs and the Office of Personal and Career Development (OPCD). The merger of the Schools of Business is not only complete, but as their new home rises not far from here, the MBA and undergraduate programs as well as the new MA program are also rising in their respective rankings.

We set out to enhance faculty distinction. To that end, we have developed competitive faculty salaries, enriched faculty development programs and prepared a strategic plan for enhancing technology campus-wide.

We continue to attract a talented, diverse student population today and are building exceptional leaders of character and service. We have increased need-based financial aid, grown our admissions staff and created a beautiful new welcome center. As a result, our student population is more talented and diverse than ever.

We recognized the vital importance of creating a richer sense of community on campus and launched Campus Connections to increase information sharing among staff members. We enhanced the offerings available through the Professional Development Center. And we created a campus-wide sustainability program that has earned us national recognition.

These represent not just significant investments by the University, but also true dedication and exceptional work by many of you. And as you know, there is much work in progress and much work yet to be undertaken before we can consider the strategic plan a success. However, the quality and substance of what has already been accomplished is certainly proving to be well worth the effort.

In thinking about tradition and innovation at Wake Forest, let me talk about the faculty, staff and programs that are being developed to support and honor the Teacher-Scholar Ideal. First, we have invested substantially in our core, recruiting the finest teacher-scholars. This fall, mixed in with the familiar faces around campus, you’ve likely noticed 53 new faculty members across the Schools and College. We are thrilled that these extremely talented individuals are here and will give fresh voice to the long conversation that has taken place within these halls. To learn more about the new faculty members, I encourage you to visit the Provost Office website for a virtual introduction to each of them.

We have reaffirmed and updated our commitment to student advising and mentoring. Perry Patterson, Associate Dean for Academic Advising, and his team have revamped academic advising services to more appropriately serve the mission of a Collegiate University. In addition, our new Magnolia Scholars Program, under the direction of Nate French, has enhanced support for first-generation students.

We have also moved to address a major crisis that, in the last five years, has confronted recent college graduates, particularly liberal arts students. Finding jobs worthy of their education simply is no longer a given. A Wake Forest degree is no longer an automatic ticket to a fulfilling professional position. Our graduates today are coming of age in an economy that can easily crush even the best and the brightest. In this context, I am pleased that we have been able to invest in the Office of Personal and Career Development — and have been able to raise significant new resources for its realization. Here we see a deep concern with student welfare — manifested in fresh and innovative ways. These efforts are on behalf of our students and in defense of the liberal arts in a time when students will naturally flock to vocational educations if not carefully mentored toward a more comprehensive educational experience.

The Office of Personal and Career Development has been brought together in one location — a specially designed, contemporary space in Reynolda Hall to enhance student-faculty engagement and collaboration. Andy Chan and his team have successfully engaged 1,300 first year students in using OPCD services through new student orientation. Students can also take one of three half-semester courses offered in partnership with the Department of Counseling to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to make the transition from college to career. Looking forward, OPCD staff continues to meet with faculty one-on-one to explore further partnerships, offer training and develop programs to educate faculty advisors on core career resources. Next April, the OPCD will hold a major national conference on the theme, “Redefining Success: From Liberal Arts to Careers in the Twenty-First Century.” The keynote speaker will be Condoleeza Rice.

Under the direction of Dean Steve Reinemund, the Business Schools have also greatly expanded their efforts to ensure that the graduates of all of our programs have every opportunity for worthy employment.

The consolidation of Wake Forest Baptist Health is complete — a monumental achievement led by CEO Dr. John McConnell. And we welcome a new dean of medicine, Dr. Edward Abraham. In line with our strategic plan, we are discussing plans for closer collaboration between the School of Medicine and the Reynolda campus, particularly in the area of biomedical engineering. The effort will lead to greater opportunities for research and undergraduate development. Early next year, Wake Forest Biotech Place will open its doors downtown in Piedmont Triad Research Park. This $90 million project has transformed what was a massive tobacco production plant into a gleaming, state-of the-art laboratory facility that will house our Department of Biomedical Engineering. What a powerful emblem of innovation transforming the physical and economic landscape of our community.

Wake Forest continues to become more a more attractive option for undergraduate students. We are averaging 35,000 visitors to campus each year, a strong indication of the interest prospective students and parents have in this great place. We are blessed with a wonderfully diverse and academically strong class of 2015. Eighty-three percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class, and 22 percent are from North Carolina. And our students are more diverse. The percentage of minority students in the first-year class rose to 22 percent, up from 16 percent in 2007.

I am deeply grateful to those serving on our Provost Search Committee that has been hard at work. Our search continues, and we are pleased to have an extremely talent-rich pool of candidates from which to choose — both outside and inside the University. We expect to be able to make that appointment before the end of the first semester, although it is not clear exactly when the new Provost would assume office. While that search continues, we are deeply grateful for the admirable work and leadership provided by interim Provost Mark Welker and his team.

Over the last 50 years in Winston-Salem, Wake Forest has crafted a campus with a very special sense of place. It resembles the powerful sense of community and grace of the old campus and draws graduates to return, not only for sporting events and class reunions, but also for highly symbolic, almost spiritual, ways. Our new welcome and admissions facility, the Porter B. Byrum Welcome Center, is a wonderful blend of Wake Forest tradition and contemporary sensibility — and let me thank Martha Allman for all her work in the details of making it such a special place.

I hope that all of you have had an opportunity to visit Reynolda Hall and experience firsthand the renewed sense of purpose of this great building. Reynolda Hall has served as a gathering place for students, faculty and staff since the founding of this campus. It has facilitated the exchange of ideas and fostered creativity and innovative leadership. The new spaces throughout the building are designed to build exceptional engagement between faculty, staff and students and to further strengthen the University’s commitment to the liberal arts and service to the broader communities around us.

The construction of Farrell Hall is progressing on schedule. Besides the obvious and considerable impact that it will have on faculty-student engagement in the Schools of Business, opening Farrell Hall will create a ripple effect across the entire campus—freeing up much needed space for faculty and academic programs.

The College will gain Kirby Hall that will become a new hub for the social sciences, and the Law School will gain the entire Worrell Center. In making that transition, the Law School intends to refurbish parts of the building into order to make the entire space more integrated.

As our needs for fine arts and performing arts spaces have expanded, we now have an opportunity to preserve the uniqueness of the Scales Fine Arts Center while improving it in significant ways—creating a more engaging perspective for the other parts of the campus.

We also continue to move forward to enrich our vibrant campus in other ways. The Barn opened this fall and is proving to be a positive addition to student life. I am thrilled to see the Barn being enjoyed and used by our students. As we look to a three-year residency requirement for our students, we are planning for additional residence halls for upperclass students. Our hope is to begin construction of one new hall in 2012 to come online in fall 2013. We are also exploring ideas for new student social spaces on the Hearn Plaza, most likely a new dining venue.

The most glaring weakness in our facilities for students — and one that has distressed them 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. The latest thinking is to make the renewal of Reynolds Gym a fundamental part of a new fitness and wellness center. If we proceed in that direction, the plans would also include in an adjoining facility new academic space for the Department of Health and Exercise Science.

I also want to call attention to the Charlotte Campus of the Schools of Business. In early 2012, they will be moving into their new location in the heart of Charlotte. This is significant for the Schools of Business, naturally, being one block from Tryon and Trade Streets. But, it also increases the Wake Forest presence in Charlotte and provides opportunities for use of this facility by programs outside of the Schools of Business. Charlotte is the largest city in the country without the presence of a nationally ranked university; and we welcome the opportunities it affords Wake Forest.

Two athletic projects also deserve mention. A marvelous new tennis complex opened this summer with the inaugural Winston-Salem Open. The complex and tournament represents a superb collaborative effort from local organizations and the University. This premier tennis facility will also give fresh momentum to our men’s and women’s varsity tennis programs and will provide us the opportunity to become a major center for amateur tennis development.

Our new golf complex, which was just recently named in honor of Arnold Palmer, offers a true state-of-the-art facility for our golf teams. At the recent dedication, it was wonderful to link past and present in the presence of Arnold Palmer, other senior golfers, and the latest stars in the Wake Forest golf firmament, Bill Haas and Webb Simpson.

I want to conclude today with two words: one of encouragement, the other of challenge.

Despite the continued volatility in the economy, last year we experienced the best fundraising year in Wake Forest history, as we received more than $90 million, including the largest cash gifts ever made to Wake Forest, from Mike and Mary Farrell and from Porter Byrum. Our capital campaign is still young, and many of its most compelling ideas are still to be developed, but I am happy to report that we are off to a great start — with more than $150 million in commitments received so far.

As we look forward to the next phase of our Capital Campaign, I want you all to realize the important role that you have. You, the faculty, staff, administration, and students of Wake Forest are the very best ambassadors of this campaign. Your experiences, hard work, commitment and vision comprise the stories that make the Wake Forest story compelling. This is your campaign — our campaign — and all are invited to participate, ask questions and share ideas. Our ambitions simply cannot be achieved if we do not raise substantial new resources for financial aid, endowed chairs, centers and institutes, international programs, student development, and new facilities.

As we face the future, our challenge is to do what Wake Forest has so often done in the past: re-double our efforts to make progress in the face of constrained resources. A central plank of our strategic plan was a careful plan of enrollment growth, and this has allowed a flurry of needed improvements, salary increases and new initiatives to happen. Our resources will be more constrained moving forward — in the absence of the tuition of additional students.

I have never been more optimistic about Wake Forest’s momentum and more hopeful about its future. What will be required from all of us is shrewdness, determinism and pulling together — all important strands in the tapestry of Wake Forest history. 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. You and I need to re-double our creativity to make this happen.

Let me conclude by saying how grateful I am to all of you for your hard work both in embodying the very special heritage of this place and in dreaming and innovating for its future success.

Categories: Speeches