State of the University Address

President Nathan O. Hatch
Thursday, November 7, 2019

Good afternoon! Thank you for joining us in a conversation about the State of the University.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with so many of you here at Wake Forest. Theodore Roosevelt once said that, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I might add, that prize becomes even more precious when it is done with colleagues with as much talent and mutual goodwill as we find on this campus. Thank you.

This afternoon, I will offer some brief remarks about the overall arc of the past year. The rest of our time together will focus on two larger topics, and I have asked leaders of those areas to join me in conversation. Those two topics are the President’s Commission on Race, Equity, and Community; and the impact of our successful billion dollar capital campaign, Wake Will Lead.  I like very much your being able to hear directly from those working in these areas.

I have often read works by professor and theologian Henri Nouwen, and I am intrigued by his description of hospitality. “Hospitality,” he wrote, “means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring others over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

When I spoke to entering first year students this year, I focused on this more radical sense of hospitality, and I used the figure of Abraham, a biblical figure who has been an icon of hospitality in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, entertained unexpected visitors who turned out to be angels unawares.

I shared four depictions of this event, which is recounted in both Genesis and the Qur’an, with our students.

One is Rembrandt’s most famous etchings of this event, permanently held in the National Gallery in Washington, D. C. In Rome today, there is a 5th century mosaic about the hospitality of Abraham. Probably the most famous Russian icon of all time, by 15th century painter Alexander Rublev, is titled “The Hospitality of Abraham” and depicts the same scene of the three angels partaking of Abraham’s abundance. And in the 20th century, the renowned Jewish artist Marc Chagall’s “Abraham and the Three Angels” depicts the same scene.

What do I mean by calling for Wake Forest to be a culture of hospitality? Nouwen has noted that hospitality is too often watered down to mean “soft sweet kindness, tea parties, bland conversation and a general atmosphere of coziness.” But hospitality is not a sentimental affair – or just a clique of friends hanging out together.

No, hospitality, restored to its original depth, the kind for which Abraham is honored, is a more difficult and more costly virtue. Rather than merely socializing with friends, it is reaching out to those who may have no friends, to those who do not feel at home, to those who may feel vulnerable or suspect. Hospitality comes from the same root word from which the word “hospital” comes. It implies a place of safety and refuge for the stranger or person in need. Hospitality means extending welcome to those who, for whatever reason, may feel that they are strangers.

This is a compelling idea of what the Wake Forest community can be – a place where all are welcome and free to share themselves with others. We have become a more diverse community in recent years and that path needs to continue. But we also need to be a community where those historically on the margins – persons of color, members of the LGBTQ community, international students, or anyone with unorthodox views of whatever sort – are welcomed and affirmed. We need people not on the periphery but all as an integral part of the mosaic that is Wake Forest.

In our sharply combative world, we have an opportunity to be different; our goal should be for this community to be counter-cultural to the polarization that is rampantly dividing us. While we are far from meeting that ideal, we are actively working to become better.

Series of Speakers

One way is by learning from others. As you know, this year our speaker series is inviting guest speakers to campus to share their perspectives as we consider topics surrounding race and equity.

In September, we heard from former mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu. In October, we learned from British-Ghanaian philosopher and cultural theorist Anthony Appiah. And this spring, we will hear from novelist Jesmyn Ward, NBA veteran player Kyle Korver, and author and public intellectual Cornel West.

We have also had several other engaging speakers visit campus this fall – including Corey Walker, David Wallace-Wells, Bill Kristol, Kiese Laymon – and are planning for others – including a joint conversation between the chair and vice chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Richard Burr and Democratic Senator Mark Warner, next week. I highly encourage all of us to continue to engage with these guests.

From the Ground Up

Perhaps one of the most moving acts I have seen at Wake Forest happened this fall.

A few weeks ago, on Hearn Plaza, many in our community came together, offered the best of their talents and skills, and collaborated to illuminate and lift up one another. If you were at From the Ground Up, you saw how the arts not only engaged and inspired us, but uniquely provided an opportunity to shine a light on members of our community who are often not as visible.

Julie and I watched and were amazed, moved and challenged by what we experienced. Our Facilities and Campus Services Department is among the largest units on campus, and yet these workers are often seen as “supporting cast” members of our community. What I experienced through From the Ground Up was a profound sense of the reality of their work, of their pride in what they do, and in the dignity they bring to their work – whether it is groundskeeping, locksmithing, carpentry, mechanical, plumbing or any other number of tasks. These individuals are every much as responsible for the success of our students as the rest of us.

My thanks to the many people who made this inspirational and creative experience happen – starting with the more than 70 Facilities and Campus Services staff members, as well as iPlace (Interdisciplinary Performance and Liberal Arts Center); Forklift Danceworks and its founder and artistic director Allison Orr, a 1993 Wake Forest graduate; Professors Christina Soriano and Cindy Gendrich and their talented students; Vice President for Facilities and Campus Services John Shenette, and many, many others who played a role in this magnificent performance. Thank you for all of the time and effort, patience and courage that you invested into that special moment for our community.

Celebration of Indigenous People

On Monday, we had another opportunity to honor our commitment to having a more inclusive campus. In conjunction with Native American Heritage Month, representatives from the North Carolina Tribal Nations led us in a celebration to honor indigenous people. As part of that ceremony, we unveiled a plaque in Tribble Courtyard honoring the land on which Wake Forest University now resides and the land on which the original campus resided.

New Leadership

This year, I have also been delighted to welcome a number of new leaders into our community.

Jane Aiken was appointed as Dean of the Law School. Dean Aiken comes to Wake Forest from Georgetown University Law School.

Jonathan L. Walton was appointed as Dean of the Divinity School. Dean Walton comes to Wake Forest from Harvard where he was Dean of the Memorial Church.

Eric Maguire was named Vice President for Enrollment. Eric formerly served as vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Franklin & Marshall College.

Ashley Hairston was named Associate Dean for Academic Advising in the College. Ashley comes to Wake Forest from Elon University, where he was associate professor of English and of law and humanities.

John Currie was appointed as Director of Athletics. A Wake Forest graduate, John was most recently Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics at the University of Tennessee.

While we are on the subject of athletics, let me salute the success of a number of our teams this fall, specifically our women and men’s golf teams. And let me extend best wishes to our 7th ranked men’s soccer team and our 19th ranked football team as they take on games with Virginia Tech this weekend. And, our 20th ranked women’s field hockey team is playing right now in the ACC tournament.

Residential College Model

As we create a place where all feel welcome, we must continue to be deliberate in shaping the Wake Forest experience.

The work of the recent President’s Commission for First Year Experience resulted in several actionable recommendations to enhance the work we do to create meaningful community for our students. Two of their suggestions – expanding the First Year Experience 101 course and pursuing the residential college model – shared very similar goals.

This fall, a team from Wake Forest visited Dartmouth College, which three years ago instituted a residential college model that assigned all entering students to one of six colleges – or neighborhoods. We found this a compelling model for social life, one that grounds students over four years in a definable social community with ample activities organized by faculty, staff and students. Houses promote intellectual engagement, community and continuity – something students long for. They are led jointly by a house professor, who lives nearby, and by residential educational professionals.

It also is a model that does not require rebuilding residence halls or restructuring dining facilities. In this model, a wide range of faculty and staff would be invited to participate in the programs and activities of a given college unit. For our students, the best comparison would be something akin to Hogwarts.

We are thinking through the various elements of what a residential college would look like on our campus. A steering committee is studying these matters and in the next few months will make recommendations about how best to move forward.

College Academic Commons

We are also currently in the midst of researching and planning for a new College Academic Commons that will help support the mission of the College and strengthen the experience of our first and second year students.

Let me first share with you the rationale behind why this new facility is needed, and then I will explain where we currently are in this project.

First, we need more space for the academic enterprise of our liberal arts college. Our faculty has grown in the last decade, and we currently have 22 faculty who have to share offices.

Additionally, the College Academic Commons will be filled with learning spaces that are interactive and flexible – ready to accommodate the dynamic delivery of education in the 21st century. This proposed space will set a new standard for highly effective learning with inviting, comfortable spaces that will facilitate thoughtful conversation and study, and nurture our deep commitment to relational teaching and learning.

We imagine that this space will house many of our humanities departments. The humanities, more than any other single area of knowledge, contain the core lessons that Wake Forest wants all of its students to understand. Humanities are at the heart of our institutional mission. We must underscore, not retreat, from their importance.

The College Academic Commons will become a home for all of our students in their first two years. This building will be a crossroads especially for first years and sophomores, who we know are a group in need of a strong sense of belonging as they find their footing in college. These students will be taking their key liberal arts courses in this building and will be among their faculty in the classroom.

The capstone of this building – hopefully the top floor – will be a Learning Commons, a place that students and faculty can gather for conversation in an intimate and relaxed setting. This central intellectual and social hub will be the home of our Program for Leadership and Character and other scholarship programs such as the Magnolia Scholars. This space can host regular discussions, debates and lectures.

We have chosen the architect for this building, Robert A. M. Stern, who also designed Farrell Hall. As of now, we have created a central planning group and several working groups, made up of students, faculty and staff, investigating what it would mean to construct this new academic building.

You can see in the campus diagram on the screen the proposed placement for this facility on Davis Field. By extending Wake Forest Road, the idea is that it be on an axis with Reynolda Hall and with Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

This is a complicated project, with many moving parts, and I am so grateful for the thoughtful planning, input and time offered by members of the faculty, the Dean’s Office, facilities, operations, advancement and others.

Academic Experience

Looking at our academic enterprise, there are many exciting ventures that are enhancing the student learning experience. While I cannot highlight all of the outstanding work of our faculty, I do want to point out a few areas of growth and interest.

  • Wake Debate

Wake Forest has long enjoyed a premier Debate Team. We won the national championship in 2008 and are a three-time ACC debate champion in recent years. Our director, Jarrod Atchison, and his staff are doing a tremendous job.

We are delighted that this fall the debate program has received a $5 million endowment given by Wake Forest alumna Megan Medica, in honor of her late husband John Medica, an alumnus and a distinguished trustee. John, an internationally recognized technology executive, passed away two years ago. John and Megan, who met at Wake Forest when Megan was pursuing a master’s in communications and John an MBA, have been long-time friends and supporters of the debate program. We are grateful that that this distinguished program will now be made even stronger and will honor a man whose life made such a difference and whose friendship we will always cherish.

  • Leadership and Character

Wake Forest has long been a place known for its efforts to form leaders who embody intellect and virtue. On this foundation we have been building a program in Leadership and Character – a theme wonderfully illustrated in the fall edition of the alumni magazine. I believe combining intellect and character can be a defining characteristic of Wake Forest graduates.

This fall, we welcomed our first class of 10 Leadership and Character Scholars. These students receive a full scholarship to Wake Forest, along with special opportunities for leadership and character development.

Recently, these efforts have been bolstered by three major contributions. A grant of $3.4 million from the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis will greatly enhance programming over the next three years, including additional faculty, course development grants, retreats and broad university discussions around this topic. I am grateful to Michael Lamb and his team for leading these efforts.

The University has also received two other significant contributions in this area: $2 million from BB&T will create four undergraduate scholarships in this area; and a $2 million investment from Allegacy Federal Credit Union to support our efforts in Leadership and Character in the School of Business.

  • Business Analytics Program

In the last 20 years, big data analytics has become a dominant tool in almost every sector of our society. Big data analytics examines vast amounts of information to uncover hidden patterns and correlations. It is seen as critical in fields from healthcare and the life sciences to marketing and finance, from sports analytics and package delivery to criminal justice and national security. These skills and techniques have even become essential in the process of recruiting and enrolling college students.

I am delighted that three years ago we launched our one year MS in Business Analytics program, ably led by Jeff Camm, the Inmar Presidential Professor of Business Analytics. Enrollment has grown year-to-year since the beginning of the program. We started with 37 students and now have nearly 90 students. Our graduates have had outstanding job placement.

In May 2018, the program was launched online for working professionals. We currently have 75 students and expect a steady state of 150 students. Even before they graduate, 10 students have landed new jobs in analytics just by being in the program.

And we are just now launching the Center for Analytics Impact, whose mission includes research and continuing education focused on the impact of analytics. Current members are Procter & Gamble, Hanes Brands and Ralph Lauren.

  • Engineering

In 2017, we launched our Engineering program. Under the leadership of Olga Pierrakos, our program, rooted in and informed by the liberal arts, has heightened the sights of other institutions and become a model to emulate.

Currently, we have 10 full-time faculty and more than 150 students enrolled throughout the first three years of the program. This year, about 50 juniors have become the first engineering majors at Wake Forest. And within this inaugural cohort, half have participated in study abroad, half have participated in undergraduate research, and a third have done industry internships.

The underrepresentation of women in science fields – particularly engineering – has long been a matter of concern. But at Wake Forest, 63 percent of our tenure-track faculty are women; the national average is approximately 16 percent. And 40 percent of our engineering majors are women; the national average is less than 20 percent.

I am delighted in how this program continues to grow and emerge as a leader in how to approach engineering education.

Feedback from Community

This past year, our community engaged in the WakeListens survey – a best practice for good organizations. Nearly 1,700 faculty and staff shared about their Wake Forest experience. Hearing the feedback, we learned that we some things well as an institution and determined some areas where we can improve.

As we heard this feedback, we can begin making appropriate adjustments. In the coming months, each division will start the work to address their specific areas of improvements. Strengthening our areas will be up to each of us, and I thank you in advance for your efforts to make Wake Forest better.

In that same spirit of improvement, we convened the Child Care Advisory Committee last year, which explored ways the local child care challenge impacts Wake Forest families. Over the past few weeks, you have had the opportunity to fill out the Child Care Needs Assessment.  I trust this assessment will help us determine needs and opportunities for the many families in our community.

Commitment to Community

Even as we seek to be a hospitable community within the borders of this campus, we are also members of the greater Winston-Salem community. We have a responsibility and commitment to our neighbors to partner with them and improve the city we all call home.

Freedom School

For the third year, Wake Forest’s education department, under the leadership of Assistant Professor Dani Parker Moore, hosted Freedom School, a summer program for elementary and middle school students aimed at strengthening children’s reading skills and closing achievement gaps. The Wake Forest program, part of a national initiative developed by the Children’s National Defense Fund, served 100 students in grades 3 through 8.

Freedom School is staffed by college students and recent graduates, and through Campus Kitchen, provides breakfast and lunch to participants. Student-athletes also lead afternoon enrichment activities.

This summer students in the Freedom School made dramatic gains in reading achievement. There was an average increase of 1-year in instructional reading levels and 86 percent of students maintained or gained instructional reading levels. Being on a college campus also gives these young students more opportunity to imagine themselves attending college.

Boston Thurmond Community Network

Wake Forest continues to work alongside a number of on community revitalization efforts through the Boston Thurmond Community Network. Recently, the board made the decision to align with the nationally known Purpose Built Communities Network. Winston-Salem became the 21st community to join Purpose Built Communities. This network focuses on the intertwining of three separate approaches to community revitalization within a specific neighborhood: accessible mixed-income housing; an educational pipeline of excellence from birth through grade 12; and community health and wellness. I am pleased that the Boston Thurmond Community Network Board now includes substantial representation from neighborhood.

I also would like to thank Sylvia Oberle for all of her efforts over the last three years in envisioning a project of this kind. At a time in which she was supposed to be enjoying retirement, she threw herself unreservedly into community development. All of us are grateful. Last month, the board also appointed a new Executive Director, Regina Ford Hall.

Office of Civic and Community Engagement

This year, we launched the Office of Civic and Community Engagement under the leadership of Marianne Magjuka. Our new satellite office on Bridge Street makes the office more accessible to our community partners.

One element of this office is the Civic Scholars program. In May, we graduated our inaugural class of Civic Scholars. These students, committed to engaging with the community, link together their academics, direct service and leadership development through a capstone project.

This year, Victoria Latham (’20) will create a strategic plan for the creation of a young adult affinity group at the Salvation Army. Carla Pena-Vega (’20) will develop a strategy for Pre-K Pop-Ups, helping to provide accessible, affordable Pre-K education to the children in our community. And Zak Amen (’20) will use his research around homelessness in Winston-Salem to develop a curriculum for residents of shelters to use a computer lab to search for jobs, permanent housing and other resources.

This is one example of the many ways our students are reaching out into this community, creating meaningful partnerships that pair their education and enthusiasm with existing organizations who are working to solve real needs.

While I have offered only a brief recap and look ahead, I want to spend our remaining time together focusing on two larger topics: the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community, and Wake Will Lead. I have invited the leaders of these areas to join me in deeper discussion about each topic.


To view the conversations on the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community with José Villalba, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, and Erica Still, Associate Dean for Faculty Recruitment, and Wake Will Lead with Mark Petersen, Vice President of Advancement, and Michele Gillespie, Dean of the College, please visit the Office of the President’s website where you can find the video recording.

Categories: Speeches