State of the University

Thank you, James, for the invitation to speak today. And thank you all for being here.

Before I begin my State of the University remarks, I would like to offer a brief word in response to the presidential election.

What we have experienced in the last several months has been one of the most divisive periods in recent American history. It has brought out some of the least admirable traits of leaders and citizens alike. We, as a nation, and as a state, are deeply polarized.

All of this makes me want to redouble our own efforts at Wake Forest to be a diverse community where everyone feels welcome and affirmed and where we can build a diverse and caring life together. Many in our community feel upset, angry and alarmed about the election and its implications. I am committed to ensuring that Wake Forest is a community that embraces everyone – particularly those who feel marginalized or threatened. Here everyone needs to feel safe and welcomed – across the social, ethnic, national, gender and religious spectrum.

So whatever your reaction to the election results, we have a choice in how we treat one another. We are a community that profoundly values intellectual discourse and diverse viewpoints. Even more important, we are people who profoundly value one another.

Today and in the weeks and months ahead, we must live up to our ideals as a community. Our words and behavior affect those around us. We can use them to encourage and lift up others, or we can use them to harm and tear down. Our Wake Forest community is built on the foundation of mutual respect, kindness and honor.

In coming days, please join together in asking questions and having conversations, discussing our opinions and listening to those with whom we disagree. In doing so, we carry the spirit of Pro Humanitate in our hearts.


Now, if you remember, two years ago, I entitled my address at commencement “Swing,” having recently read the inspiring book by Daniel James Brown, “Boys in the Boat.” He tells the improbable story of how, in 1936, the eight-oar men’s crew team from the University of Washington came from nowhere to become the very best rowing team in the world.

Against all odds, these working class lads from the Northwest became the United States Olympic team; and, in Berlin, they took on the best from Oxford and Cambridge, from Italy and Germany. In front of Adolf Hitler himself and a crowd of 75,000 spectators screaming “Deutschland, Deutschland,” these young Americans, and their shell, the Husky Clipper, came from behind to win the gold medal.

In rowing, “swing” is a kind of “fourth dimension” – hard to achieve and hard to define. “Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. … It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of sync with those of all the others.”

There’s nothing like being on a great team. It can turn the rigors of work into a delight. To bond with others, in pursuit of accomplishing great things, is a rare privilege and a worthy prize.

I came upon the importance and the joy of teams almost by accident. In college and in graduate school, I had great friends but my work was pretty solitary. I was a serious history student and pursued that craft, of necessity, with solitary intensity.  No one was going to write a senior thesis, or later a doctoral dissertation, for me or with me – although I did have outstanding mentors along the way.

Two things changed my view of teams in a work environment. First, as a young historian, I fell in with a remarkable set of colleagues working in similar fields. We took on projects together and met in the summer, with our families, to read and criticize each other’s work. This scholarly community produced numerous conferences, published a set of articles and books – an impact not possible by working alone. This group provided challenge, encouragement, and a sense of common purpose – wonderful gifts for a young historian.

My first job in administration also changed my outlook.  A new dean of liberal arts recruited several of us as associates and invited us to be a real team, a tight circle. He challenged us: “Let’s work on big projects together. Let’s dream together. Let’s fix the problems of the college together. Let’s work really hard but actually enjoy working together.”

That spirit was what probably drew me into administration as a calling. I saw what could be accomplished, how different gifts and talents could blend and produce something greater than the sum of the parts. Great teams are not always easy to build. They are best not when everyone is alike and thinks like a group, but when they are genuinely diverse. As Steve Jobs suggested, the best teams are seedbeds of innovation: “Talented people bumping up against each other . . . working together they polish each other and they polish the ideas” – like beautiful stones coming out of a rock tumbler.

Today, I want to extoll the joys and the possibilities of teamwork I see in such evidence here at Wake Forest. As I review this past year and look ahead, I continue to be impressed at the remarkable teamwork that graces this community. I want to focus most of my remarks on two primary examples of such cooperative work, our transition to Wake Downtown and the Wake Will Campaign, but I would be remiss not to begin with other remarkable examples that I see animating this campus.

First, I note Rogan Kersh, our Provost, and the deans who have greatly increased their dreaming about and working together on projects – oars pulling in the same direction.   Thank you Michele Gillespie, Charles Iacovou, Gail O’Day, Suzanne Reynolds, Tim Pyatt, and Brad Jones.

I note the outstanding re-accreditation visit of the Southern Association of College and Schools. Literally scores of faculty and administrators worked together on that effort so ably led by Phil Handwerk, Kline Harrison, Christa Colyer and all of the deans.

I note the collaborative efforts that continue on campus climate issues and the dedicated work of colleagues such as Penny Rue, Adam Goldstein, Barbee Oakes, Lynn Sutton and Jose Villalba.

I note the extensive care and cooperation between Penny Rue and Campus Life, Regina Lawson and Wake Forest Police Department, and the Winston-Salem Police Department as they have worked and continue to address needs of campus safety.

I note the tremendous network of resources for students, staff and faculty wellbeing coordinated under the Thrive initiative led by Malika Roman Isler.

I note the great teamwork across administrative and academic units in choosing and beginning to implement a new Enterprise Resource Planning system, Workday, under the able leadership of Mur Muchane.

I note the great spirit of cooperation evident in the new and more accountable retirement plan for faculty and staff, which our finance and human resources teams implemented. My thanks to those who worked on these efforts led by Brandon Gilliland and Carmen Canales.

I note the continue integration of Reynolda House and Reynolda Village, and I want to thank Allison Perkins, Hof Milam and Ken Basch for their work together. (And by the way, if you haven’t seen the new event space, The Barn at Reynolda Village, it is clearly worth a visit – or planning an event).

I note the tremendous cooperation of our Office of Residence Life and Housing led by Donna McGalliard and our Facilities and Construction teams led by John Shenette. Their work in completely renovating entire residence halls during the brief span of the summer months is remarkable.

I note our varsity athletic coaches, who beyond building their own teams, go out of their way in supporting each other and broader goals of the athletic department.

I note our undergraduate admissions team, led by Martha Allman, who so effectively welcome prospective students to this campus, and the scores of faculty and administrators, many of them retired, who assist in interviewing applicants.

When we think of Pro Humanitate, we think appropriately of service in the community, the United Way Campaign, Hit the Bricks, volunteering at Cook Elementary, service learning classes. Without diminishing these efforts at all, let me also suggest that another great example of living for the common good is the teamwork we see everyday on this campus. We see colleagues committed to goals beyond their own self-interest and advancement, to larger purposes and projects, to other people – and most importantly, our students.  I am deeply grateful that that so many of you exemplify this spirit and convey in deed more than word the living reality of a community.

When I think of teamwork, two large initiatives come to mind: our transition to Wake Downtown and the Wake Will Campaign.

Wake Downtown

Sometimes when driving into Winston-Salem from the east, Julie and I take the First Street exit off of Business 40. We wind down into what we now call Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. We weave through those streets to see what has changed since the last time we visited. Wow, what ongoing transformation.  Sometimes it seems unreal, almost magical.

Six years ago, I recall walking through one of these abandoned factories seeing broken glass, twisted and rusty steel, a few discarded pieces of machinery. The place had the haunting feel and musty smell of a bygone era, soon to be forgotten. Its logical fate seemed the wrecking ball.

Today, I enter the same building, Wake Forest Biotech Place, and see a spectacular 7,500 square foot, four-story glass atrium. I see high tech labs, inviting commons and modern offices – in a style that is urban, modern and retro all at the same time. What a transformation.

Today, Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is home to more than 60 companies, more than 3,100 workers. It comprises over two million square feet of office, laboratory and educational space on its 145 developable acres. In addition, there are approximately 800 apartments and condominiums within or close by the Innovation Quarter. The historic Bailey Power Plant is now undergoing a $40 million renovation and a private developer has just announced a new residential, retail and parking complex with 340 residences and 800 parking places. In July, the Wake Forest Medical School opened its gleaming new Bowman Gray Medical Education Building; and in January, we from the Reynolda campus will dedicate our new Wake Downtown facility, the home of new programs in engineering and biomedical sciences.

Some of you know all that is happening with Wake Downtown; others have less details. The Wake Forest magazine published a wonderful article about it in their latest issue, and Politico recently wrote a lengthy feature about Winston-Salem’s transition from tobacco to technology.

A fair question to ponder is how in the world did this happen? In a mid-size Southern town, with marginal economic growth, how did such a profound transformation occur? The answer is found in three simple themes: teamwork, leadership and innovative risk taking.

Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is the direct result of tremendous teamwork and community spirit. Winston-Salem is a place where all sectors have come together for the common good – city and county officials, major corporations and foundations, and the higher education sector. All have worked mightily to transform the economic base of this area. All have been willing to invest, to work together, to compromise, to adapt and adjust – and do this over time, month in and month out, steadily making progress on complicated and often challenging issues.

There were also significant leaders willing to step out and take risks. People like Gail Anderson of the Chamber of Commerce, Professor Doug Maynard of our Medical School, and my predecessor, President Tom Hearn, commissioned experts in the 1990s to help plan a research park and launched the first efforts to make it a reality.

Then about 15 years ago, Dick Dean, the former CEO of Wake Forest University Health Sciences, took up this vision and had the courage to begin launching such an effort. He invested in two ways: in bringing Professor Tony Atala and his team from Harvard to build a national program in regenerative medicine, and beginning to assemble land across 200 acres of downtown Winston-Salem in an expensive and, what some might have said, a risky investment.

In 2005, Andy Schindler, the CEO of the Reynolds American Corporation, accelerated those efforts by donating to the research park 15 acres of land and a series of vacant tobacco factories and warehouses, including Bailey Power Plant. Working with many local advisors, Dick Dean was willing to risk millions of dollars to buy other property, to build infrastructure, to move roads and a major railroad line, and to leverage federal, state and local matching funds to make of all of this a reality. He was ably assisted by a team that included Doug Edgeton, Grayden Pleasants, Reid Morgan and Anita Conrad.

What we see today is also the vision of our partner Wexford Science and Technology and their gifted leaders. Wexford, whose mission is to create and develop vibrant, mixed use, amenity-rich knowledge communities, launched a plan in 2010 to use federal and state historic tax credits to convert old factories and warehouses into state of the art laboratories, classrooms and offices. Wake Forest Biotech Place, the first of these efforts, was dedicated in 2012. Because of tax credits, it was built for half the cost of new construction. This great formula – building a whole building for roughly half the price – has been the catalyst for all of these historic buildings.

In 2014, just over two years ago, this story began to involve the Reynolda campus. The Wake Forest Medical School, working with Wexford, made the decision to build a new medical education building in Innovation Quarter. As the Medical School designed their marvelous new space, Wexford reached out to the us at the Reynolda campus to ask if we had any use for the adjoining building.

We in the administration immediately started conversations with our partners at the Medical Center, with our Board of Trustees, with our science faculty, and with outside advisors about these possibilities. In a matter of months, rather than years – warp speed, I might add, for an academic institution – we determined that this was an opportunity that could not be ignored, a logical step for a University with a history of looking for places to play above our weight.

We moved forward to create Wake Downtown and new academic programming for at least four reasons. First, this set of programs offers Wake Forest undergraduates the opportunity to focus on biomedical science and technology, the most cutting edge and dynamic field of study in contemporary society. Second, this step brings together, for the first time, the Reynolda Campus and the Medical School into a durable, authentic programmatic collaboration. Third, developing these programs also give us a wonderful opportunity for real innovation in teaching and learning – and for the first time opens a Wake Forest education to engineering intents. Finally, this initiative supports the ongoing economic transformation of Winston-Salem into a city built on healthcare, medicine, analytics, technology and education.

In January, just about two months from now, Wake Downtown will welcome its first undergraduate students. Eighteen courses are planned, mostly in science but also in education, entrepreneurship and social enterprise, communication, library sciences, history, and politics and international affairs. Provost Rogan Kersh and the Dean of Winston-Salem State, Corey Walker, will be jointly teaching a course for students from both institutions. Our admissions office is also actively recruiting students to enter Wake Forest next fall to pursue specific degrees in engineering and biomedical sciences; and we expect that number to grow to about 350 students over four years.

Teamwork has been the watchword for moving these efforts forward. I am grateful to our science faculty for all of their hard work in designing these new programs, and to all of the College faculty for their careful assessment. I am grateful to academic leaders like Rogan Kersh, Michele Gillespie and Rebecca Alexander for their wisdom and determination to build something new. I am grateful to scores of other administrators, coordinated ably by Emily Neese, for working on a myriad of issues from furniture and computing, to security and transportation, to student wellbeing and counseling. Finally, I am grateful to our Medical School and its leaders, John McConnell and Ed Abraham, and to many of their faculty who have been wonderful partners in this mutual endeavor.

Wake Will Campaign

It is because of the spirit of teamwork that we have reached another historic moment for Wake Forest.

Over Homecoming weekend, we celebrated the success of Wake Will: The Campaign for Wake Forest. With a goal of $600 million, that campaign challenged us to dream of what might be possible – who Wake Foresters could become – if we created opportunity. We wondered how lives might be transformed if we educated the whole person. And we imagined how this community might be strengthened if we inspired excellence.

For three years, our alumni, parents and friends turned those words into deeds. More than 50,000 friends of Wake Forest invested in a campaign that has raised $625 million. Two years before our projections predicted, we surpassed our historic goal, and the results are evident on this campus.

I am deeply grateful to all those on this campus who have invested in making this possible – first of all to Mark Petersen and the entire staff of the Office of Advancement who have told our story so well, engaged our alumni and friends so compellingly, and coordinated all of our efforts so effectively. I am also grateful to all of the deans and the faculty and other administrators who have taken time from hectic schedules to articulate the need, travel to events, entertain guests on campus, and ask alumni and friends to participate. Wake Will, in its range and in its success, has been very much a team effort.

Because of Wake Will:

  • Approximately one third of the entire campaign will go directly to student financial aid; and already, $14 million of new financial aid has been distributed. We have received major gifts for first-generation scholarships and middle-class scholarships.
  • We created 327 new scholarships because of Wake Will, and 622 students have received financial aid from funds created by the campaign.
  • Wake Forest is 21 percent less expensive for students receiving need-based scholarships than it was two years ago.
  • We have realized a 5.4 percent decline in average debt burden for all student loans.
  • In the Law School, we’ve seen a 54 percent increase in scholarship recipients.
  • Ten Presidential Chairs were created to recruit and retain outstanding faculty.
  • 40 new academic department funds were created.
  • Nine classrooms have been redesigned to enhance productivity and collaboration.
  • 563 students have had their research funded by URECA – the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Center.
  • At the Brockway Recruiting Center, we have added 1,200 on-campus job interviews in the last three years.
  • At the OPCD, we average 21 career-counseling interviews per day.
  • We have seen a 36 percent increase in annual giving to the School of Divinity from in the last five years.
  • Wake Forest parents are ranked first in the nation for parent giving.
  • Our campus is being transformed and renewed. We have built Farrell Hall, the Law Commons in Worrell Professional Center, a new home for Health and Exercise Science, the Sutton Center, and McCreary Field House. And the long-awaited remodeling of Reynolds Gym into a modern wellness facility is well under way.

Through Wake Will, we proved who we are. Now, it is time for us to look to the future and prove what we can do because of who we are. It is time that Wake Will Lead.

Because of the incredible support of our dedicated alumni, parents and friends, Wake Will Lead in higher education by investing an additional $400 million in the Reynolda campus, raising a total of $1 billion in one decade. We must make the most of the momentum, excitement, teamwork and leadership that we have here and now, so we will continue to aggressively pursue philanthropy.

Wake Will showed us our strengths in higher education. Wake Will Lead, which extends our campaign, positions us to assume a leadership role in some of our signature areas.

To raise a banner that “Wake Will Lead” is not mere rhetoric. It is a solemn pledge to take what is good and make it distinctive and truly impactful. It is to hold ourselves to even higher account so that others, apart from our own self-assessment, will take note and say, “Wow, in those areas Wake Forest has become a leader.”

I am a firm believer that Wake Forest, as never before, must underscore our distinctives, not try to play catch-up to someone else. We need Wake Forest to be superb in certain areas – those we can be deeply passionate about and actually do better than anyone else. What might be some of those signatures?

  • To become the best at combining quality academic programs in a community where people genuinely care for each other. To seriously attend our scholarship and our students. To pursue the engaged liberal arts.
  • To become the premier face-to-face residential college experience, a diverse place where students learn the art of conversation and engagement.
  • To become the best at preparation for life after college.
  • To prepare students for a global society that requires intercultural competence.
  • To become a center for educating worthy professionals.
  • To become a place known for efforts in leadership and character.

The path that Wake Forest has chosen, as a collegiate university, is an unconventional one in that we are lifting to prominence some themes to which other universities give less attention. The dominant genes of the academy today have to do with academic ranking, the recruiting of stars, the prestige of faculty and students, the ranking of departments – intellectual excellence that can be measured, pure and simple. These dominant genes ignore or mask other values, such as the importance of community, the mentoring of individuals, the education of the whole person, the building of real face-to-face community, the responsibility of character as well as intellectual formation. I think it is important to recognize that, in these ways, we are cutting against the grain.

Finding a team with “swing” is rare and elusive. Yet it is an ideal worth pursuing. The right kind of team can achieve things unimaginable for you as an individual. The teamwork – the swing – that we have achieved across the University inspires us to redouble our collaboration and creativity.

George Pocock, a major figure in turning the Washington rowing team into gold medal champions, was a great judge of character and motivation. He understood that success has as much to do with spirit, will and mutual trust as it does sheer brawn. The Washington team had plenty of strength and willpower to operate their shell. But there was another quality, the most important one, that Pocock sought in each of his men: “the ability to disregard his own ambitions, to throw his ego over the gunwales, to leave it swirling in the wake of his shell, and to pull, not just for himself, not just for glory, but for the other boys in the boat.”

As we anticipate what is next for this University, know that you are not the only one rowing; we are all pulling for Wake Forest. Our commitment to each other, our students and our community will be what leads us to be like the 1936 team, who “shrieked with delight when that swing came in” and experienced a moment they would never forget.

Categories: Speeches