2020 State of the University Address

Greetings! Thank you for joining me for this year’s State of the University. I want to thank Professor Caron and the rest of the Faculty Senate for the invitation to share an update with you.

I would like to start today by expressing my deep gratitude to the Wake Forest community. The past nine months have been unprecedented — marked by a pandemic, civil unrest, a severe economic struggle and a divisive political environment. Through this confluence of events, this community has exhibited unbelievable resilience, creativity, teamwork, perseverance, patience, goodwill, and yes, sometimes even humor when the situation called for it. Many times, when you thought you had been stretched to the limit, we asked even more. And each time, you mustered the energy and ideas to continue. When it would be easier to surrender to circumstances, you put one another, our students and this community on your shoulders and carried on.

First, let me express my deep gratitude to the Wake Forest faculty for their resiliency in shifting their courses last spring, on a moment’s notice, to remote delivery. And this fall, they took on the equally daunting challenges of delivering excellent courses to our students in a variety of modalities. Faculty reimagined how to instruct and cultivate learning across new mediums while still developing the close relationships that are a hallmark of the Wake Forest education. Thank you for your diligence, creativity and commitment to our students — often when the challenges of the pandemic affected not only your professional life but also the wellbeing of home and family.

Let me also express gratitude to many other academic administrators in the College and the professional schools — to department chairs, those in the Office of Academic Advising, the Registrar’s Office and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching — and so many others. All of us were radically dependent on the reliable services of the staff and systems of Information Systems. Let me thank Vice President Mur Muchane and all of his staff for their superb work keeping us connected and for facilitating, I am told, over 200,000 Wake Forest Zoom calls during the pandemic.

I especially want to thank the remarkable leaders on the Reynolda Cabinet. They have helped bear the weight of significant decisions and coordinated the ways by which we were able to open our campus this fall. The toll this mantle of responsibility has taken on them is not lost on me. Our University owes a debt of gratitude to these adept and compassionate leaders. A special word of thanks also to the University Scenario Planning team, led by Dean Charles Iacovou, which laid out the architecture for the Our Way Forward plan — a plan, I might add, that has worked with remarkable success. And thanks to the Faculty Advisory Committee that provided superb advice along the way.

Likewise, there are people at every level of this University who have gone beyond their job descriptions, raised their hands to volunteer, stepped up when the moment called for it, sacrificed time with their families and labored deep into the night to ensure that we could offer the Wake Forest experience to our students. You did this without a playbook. Staff reinvented nearly every aspect of campus life while continuing to value the people that make this place so special.

I am grateful to the talented staff of Student Health Service, led by doctors Cecil Price and Joanne Clinch. They deserve a 21-gun salute, as does Dr. Chris Ohl from our Medical Center, who has provided sage advice throughout these months. A special thanks also to others like Kriss Dinkins, who led a team managing compliance and contact tracing; the data review team that monitored our progress and populated our COVID-19 dashboard; and those who faithfully cleaned classrooms, labs, residence halls and dining facilities. Vice President John Shenette and his whole team in Campus Facilities showed tremendous dedication, flexibility and goodwill throughout.

Thanks to Matt Clifford and his staff in Residence Life and Housing who in the spring managed the herculean task of removing, shipping and storing thousands of individual student rooms and belongings and coordinated an efficient and safe move-in process this fall. The pandemic has required extraordinary efforts by the staff in Procurement Services, led by David Reese, in securing testing, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. A special word of appreciation to the staff of Wake Forest Deacon Dining Services who made constant adjustments during the term to offer quality food in safe and efficient ways on and off campus.

I am also deeply grateful to Vice President Dedee Johnston, who in the early weeks of the pandemic, stepped in to lead our Office of Human Resources. She and her team have done a tremendous job in handling with care and concern the array of complicated issues that our employees have had to face during this stressful time. The COVID pandemic has also presented the University with a wide range of legal, compliance, and liability issues, and I am grateful to our Legal Department led by Reid Morgan, Dina Marty and Anita Conrad.

I am grateful to our Counseling Center, our campus ministers and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Our varsity coaches and staff in the Athletic department superbly managed intercollegiate athletics this fall with great sensitivity to the safety and wellbeing of student athletes.

I could go on and name almost every office in the University — and that is what is remarkable and deeply moving. In all of this, I have never seen such effective and sustained teamwork demonstrated. Wake Forest has always been a place of strong community where faculty, staff, administrators and students, worked to take care of the whole. But the efforts in the last nine months have been extraordinary, and for that, I will always be grateful.

The result is that, in the face of considerable odds, students learned, grew, strengthened friendships, discovered their passions and found ways to serve one another and the community. In the unknown and unfamiliar, we continued to do what we do best — educate future leaders of character.

Throughout the last nine months, we have worked as much as possible to keep employees whole. We redeployed staff where we could and, for staff who were furloughed or had their hours reduced, we were able to take advantage of Federal unemployment benefits and payroll deduction credits to sustain incomes through September. Unlike many institutions, we have been able to avoid reducing our retirement contributions to this point. The people of Wake Forest have gotten us through this tenuous time, and we have tried our best to provide for the economic and personal wellbeing of this community.

We still have challenges ahead — including starting and completing the spring semester successfully; operating in a season of growing and threatening levels of the spread of the virus across the nation; anticipating what a vaccine might mean for our community; and understanding the long-term financial and resource implications of operating in a pandemic. Our work does not end with the completion of this term. After our holiday reprieve, we will return and work with might and main to continue to fulfill the calling of this community.

The greatest and most profound message I can offer today is my humble gratitude. Being part of this community — in these times — has been among the greatest blessings of my life. While hardships abound, there is a depth of purpose and a keen sense of ownership within this community that surpasses description. This commitment to Wake Forest and the values we share make this institution strong; it is what binds our foundation and what raises our sights. Please know, each one of you has my deep appreciation for all of your efforts this year. And I look forward to serving beside you in the months ahead.

WHY I BELIEVE IN WAKE FOREST

As we continue to navigate the pandemic, face issues of race and equity, and respond to the economic needs that are on the horizon, we will have challenges ahead — particularly in the spring term, before the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine. But I am fully confident that we will weather the storm of this pandemic — and more than that. I have never been more confident of our mission and our people — faculty, staff, students, administrators, trustees, alumni, parents and friends. This community has a surprisingly strong sense of what its mission is and the kind of collaborative efforts that are required to fulfill those aspirations.

For the remainder of our time together, I would like to share some reflections about why I believe in Wake Forest — its purpose, its people and its promise for our community and world — now and in the days to come.

First, I believe in Wake Forest because it is a place that is academically superb and deeply personal. It exudes excellence without pretension. Faculty here take students seriously, one by one, and are dedicated to authentic conversation and face-to-face interaction.

For years, national rankings have recognized the efforts of our faculty to cultivate exceptional learning experiences for our students. The teacher-scholar model is invaluable to the enrichment of an academic community, and those who carry the title of teacher-scholar honor the responsibility of educating the next generation.

We have much to be proud of on the academic front.

This spring, the first graduates with an engineering major will graduate from Wake Forest. We have rooted that curriculum in the liberal arts, and our inaugural cohort of engineering students have studied abroad, participated in undergraduate research and completed industry internships. We look forward to following the progress of these students to see how they will contribute to their communities in the future. Additionally, it is exciting that all of the students on campus now have only known a Wake Forest that includes Wake Downtown and our academic programs housed there.

We have also seen growth in our areas of study, which now include a major in Environmental Science, and Environment and Sustainability studies. This Environmental Program provides an interdisciplinary approach to the study of human-environmental interaction. It is designed to prepare our students for careers in environmental sciences, law, public health, public policy and public administration.

In July, Corey D. B. Walker joined our faculty as the inaugural chair of the African American Studies program. Professor Walker has served as a consultant to our Slavery, Race and Memory Project, and edited the volume of essays titled “To Stand With and For Humanity,” released this summer. It is our hope that our African American Studies program will become recognized for its intellectual exploration grounded in the arts and humanities and sustained by the vibrant collaboration of students and scholars across our community.

Additionally, we have launched the Center for Research, Engagement and Collaboration in African American Life, led by Associate Professor of Religion and Culture Derek Hicks. This center will serve our academic efforts with students and scholars while collaborating with the greater Winston-Salem community. Its connection to the external community will include applied research work along with reinforcing local partnerships with houses of worship, schools and nonprofit organizations.

In August, Wake Forest received the largest grant ever received for the humanities when the Honesty Project, led by Christian Miller, received $4.4 million from the John Templeton Foundation. A team of Wake Forest researchers are collaborating with colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University to address fundamental philosophical questions and explore the science of honesty. Professor Miller also had an op-ed in the New York Times last month discussing the honesty of students.

We are also witnessing exciting momentum in our law and divinity schools. With her dedication to scholarship, advocacy and the expansion of justice, Dean Jane Aiken has brought remarkable energy to the Law School. And under the leadership of Dean Jonathan L. Walton, the Divinity School has been undertaking a substantial revision of its curriculum. It just received a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to help congregations become agents of justice.

And last month, we announced a new alliance between the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the Wake Forest School of Medicine with Charlotte-based Atrium Health. This enterprise creates a powerful new foundation that will advance our academic mission and further elevate the national reputation of our Medical Center and School of Medicine. Atrium will be committing as much as $600 million for academic purposes as part of this new collaboration, including a new $150 million academic endowment to fund additional education and research and a $70 million Academic Enrichment Fund to accelerate academic initiatives.

For Wake Forest, this ushers in a new era for expanded biomedical research and clinical trials, clinical care and medical education. With the creation of a branch four-year medical school in Charlotte, Wake Forest will now host two exceptional four-year medical school locations in our region. We will become one of the largest educators of physicians and other medical professionals in the state — immediately educating over 3,500 total students across more than 100 specialized programs each year — while reducing the shortage of doctors in rural and underserved urban communities. This new enterprise expands patient care to 42 hospitals and more than 1,500 care locations, reaching more than seven million people across North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, with nearly 15 million patient interactions annually. The impact for Wake Forest and the future of medical care and education in this region is huge and exciting.

Our commitment to being a deeply personal place extends to our Office of Personal and Career Development, where we have expanded the one-on-one experience into the college-to-career efforts. After students have explored their talents and passions in the classroom, Vice President Andy Chan and his team in the OPCD help them explore the vast ways to use those gifts to develop a vocation. Let me thank Mercy Eyadiel, Allison McWillians, Heidi Robinson, Mike Crispi and many others for their outstanding work this year in making all of their resources available to students by remote access. I am pleased to share that 94% of our Class of 2020 graduates are either employed or in graduate school — only 3% lower than in 2019 — and in the midst of a pandemic and current economic headwinds.

Wake Forest is a relational place, founded on the idea that each student deserves attention and investment. And people who come to this community do so seeking the kind of connection that drives us toward one another. I believe it is this commitment to building relationships and seeking excellence without pretension that is irreplaceable and will be what continues to drive the Wake Forest experience for years to come.

Second, I believe in Wake Forest because it is a place of opportunity committed to welcoming each individual with respect and building a culture where all voices are heard. While we have come a long way, Wake Forest must continue to broaden its doors of opportunity.

Frankly, we have not always been the welcoming community, but we are committed to making progress toward this end. We were an early adopter of test optional admission policies. Through the generosity of our supporters, we have raised more than $350 million for student scholarships in the Wake Will Lead campaign.

More than a decade ago, we started the Magnolia Scholars program to welcome and support first-generation college students to Wake Forest. Under the leadership of Nate French, that program is thriving and continues to expand.

We have worked to recognize and acknowledge the failings of our institution’s past. Kami Chavis and Tim Pyatt lead the efforts of the Slavery, Race and Memory Project, and they continue to share findings and help us understand our relationship to slavery and the slave economy. That work must continue.

An important facet of the work of the Slavery, Race and Memory Project is the examination of names that are in place at Wake Forest. The Advising Committee on Naming, co-chaired by Dean Jonathan Walton and former Board Chair and Trustee Donna Boswell, will affirm a set of principles and decision rubrics for renaming and contextualizing buildings, roadways, professorships, scholarships and other sites of honor at Wake Forest. They have divided this important work into several areas of focus: guiding principles to inform and define their work; historical research on existing names; and consideration of new names worthy of being honored on campus. Far from erasing history, this work seeks to offer a more expansive and inclusive narrative about Wake Forest’s history. And that work must continue.

As our country grapples with systemic racism and white supremacy, we are also working to address those issues at Wake Forest. José Villalba and Erica Still, along with the other members of the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community, have continued the work they began last year. In spite of the disruption caused by the pandemic, they published the committee’s recommendations and are working now to operationalize those recommendations. That work must continue, and it will take all of us.

This community belongs to all of us. It is not up any one person or group to bear the responsibility to welcome people into this family. Everyone must assume the role of making space for anyone who wants to learn, grow and contribute at Wake Forest.

Third, I believe in Wake Forest because it is a place that believes in educating the whole person, taking seriously the challenge of shaping intellect and character, forming students to lead lives that matter — in the spirit of Pro Humanitate.

Pro Humanitate — for humanity — is ingrained in this community. During the early weeks of this pandemic, our students, after being sent home, reimagined a way to hold Wake ’N Shake virtually in order to raise funds for cancer research. This fall, social distancing didn’t deter our students and community from participating in Hit the Bricks and raising a record amount of money for the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund. And just a few weeks ago, our students prepared Thanksgiving dinner for hundreds in our community.

Intellect and character are equally important in this community, and we have worked hard to weave them together.

Thanks to the support of major grants, we have seen significant growth in our Program for Leadership and Character. In the last year, the Program has welcomed the second cohort of Leadership and Character Scholars, significantly expanded its staff, offered course development grants to 30 faculty across the University, partnered with the Department of Engineering to infuse character throughout its curriculum, and increased its engagement with the Schools of Divinity, Law, and Medicine and the Sustainability Graduate Program. Additionally, in partnership with various schools and departments, the Program for Leadership and Character is organizing a major international conference on “Character and the Professions” in March 2021.

The best proof of our University-wide efforts to educate leaders of character is our students themselves. Each year, hundreds of them graduate and enter communities to contribute their gifts and talents. This year, we are especially proud that a member of the Class of 2021 was recognized for her efforts and named a Rhodes Scholar. A few weeks ago, Savarni Sanka, a Gordon Scholar and President’s Aide, was named Wake Forest’s 14th Rhodes Scholar since 1986.

Savarni, from Raleigh, is majoring in politics and international affairs and Spanish. She has also studied or done volunteer work in Spain, Morocco and Nicaragua. She has been a leader in the Student Association for the Advancement of Refugees. She plans to pursue a master’s of public policy and a master’s of science in refugee and forced migration studies at Oxford.

She has called her work with Winston-Salem’s migrant community one of the most rewarding parts of her college career. She has seen the “marginalization and silencing that migrant communities often face,” and she “wanted to be a part of building more equitable and just societies where everyone has access to opportunity and where everyone’s voice can be heard.”

Tom Phillips, who worked with Savarni, shared that “she is one of the two best, pure altruists I worked with in my 40 years at Wake Forest. Her every step and every act is engendered by a passion for learning and a need to serve.”

Intellect and character. Leading lives that matter. Pro Humanitate.

Finally, I believe in Wake Forest because it is a place of aspiration. It is an institution that strives to innovate and to be significantly better tomorrow than it is today. By never resting on our laurels, we have made it possible to be a place that is radically innovative and radically traditional.

In 2013, we boldly shared our vision for the Wake Will capital campaign with our greater community. We dared to outline our aspirations of how we could become a better and stronger community. And 60,000 alumni, parents and friends answered with more than 500,000 individual gifts of support. We have had remarkable support from more than 150 donors who gave a million dollars or more. But more than 70% of the gifts to the Wake Will Lead campaign were less than $1,000, showing the groundswell of support and enthusiasm for Wake Forest.

The Wake Will Lead campaign officially ended on June 30, 2020. Because of the pandemic, we have not stopped to celebrate the conclusion of the Wake Will Lead campaign — an effort that secured more than $ 1 billion for this community. But we see the effects in our everyday lives at Wake Forest. It is in the new faculty chair positions that have allowed us to recruit and retain outstanding teacher-scholars to our community. It is in the $350 million of financial aid that provide an opportunity for students to make Wake Forest their academic home. And it is in new academic buildings, departmental support and athletic facilities that enhance our campus experience.

All of those tangible outcomes of our campaign are notable. So much credit for this historic investment in the future of Wake Forest goes to Vice President Mark Petersen and his remarkable team in University Advancement. But I believe Mark would be one of the first to tell me that the most rewarding part of this work has been the relationships and support that we have seen within our community. Our alumni, parents and friends remain staunchly committed to the mission of Wake Forest. They are invested in our institution and want to see it thrive. Even with the campaign’s conclusion, a pandemic and a year of political and economic uncertainty, philanthropic support remains strong.

With the support of so many, we have been able to prove that Wake Forest can be an aspirational University that is equal parts radically innovative and radically traditional. I think of the work we have done to merge the business school into one entity and reimagined the MBA experience. I think about how we took the opportunity to create new STEM programs in old tobacco factories in Wake Downtown. I look at how we formed a new opportunity in Washington, D.C., for students to learn and work in the center of American politics. And I look at the program we started in Silicon Valley, Wake West, to expose students to that distinct entrepreneurial culture. And I think about how we have continued to realign our efforts in medicine, most recently with our partnership with Atrium Health.

In each of these instances, we looked at challenges we had and turned them into opportunities. I think that we are a better institution for having an engineering program rooted in the liberal arts. We are a better community for having our students learn from alumni, parents and friends in Washington. And we are going to be able to better serve our Winston-Salem community and neighbors across the state by growing opportunities in healthcare with Atrium.

Just last week, we announced another opportunity that will enhance our academic offerings at Wake Forest. The Board of Trustees has approved plans to establish a School of Professional Studies in Charlotte. Pending completion of a full market analysis and business plan, the proposed school will house innovative degree and non-degree programs, including certificates and other credentials, for working professionals. I have asked Charles Iacovou, Dean of the School of Business, to become the inaugural dean of this new school, our first since establishing the School of Divinity in 1999.

Looking ahead, it is this spirit of continuing to build on our values — strong academics, a personal approach to education, welcoming people into this community, combining intellect and character — that will allow us to lead higher education into the middle of this century. And it will be this leadership that will be needed now more than ever.

CONCLUSION

For more than 15 years, I have believed in Wake Forest — in its purpose, its people and its promise. I have been honored to lead along with all of you as we built and created, enhanced and developed, discussed and connected. And after what I have seen these past months, I have more reason than ever before to believe in the future of Wake Forest. This is a place that doesn’t settle; it is a place that strives to uphold its values and lead in profound ways. It is a place that I will forever consider home.

When I think back on these 15 years, I will remember new academic programs, the hiring and flourishing of great faculty, the Office of Personal and Career Development, efforts in diversity and inclusion, and a magnificent capital campaign. I will remember the Atrium collaboration, which takes academic medicine from something at risk to a long-term position of strength and flourishing. I will remember the repurposed buildings of Wake Downtown, beautiful Farrell Hall, the wonderful refurbishing of Worrell Hall by the Law School, the renewal of Reynolds Gym into a state-of-the-art wellbeing center, and the promise of the Academic Commons. I will recall a whole array of new athletic facilities and the times Julie and I exulted in Demon Deacon athletic triumphs — while forgetting the losses.

But what I will remember most about these years is all of you and what you have achieved over the last nine months. Yours is a great gift to all of Wake Forest, its faculty and staff, its students and alumni, its trustees and friends. Your concerted efforts in the midst of the storm is something long to be remembered and cherished. And there is something very Wake Forest about that. If we really are about Pro Humanitate — for the flourishing of people — then holding this learning community together under stress and pointing it forward is the greatest gift we can offer.

With this firm foundation, I have never been more confident in Wake Forest and its future. “The greatest adventure is what lies ahead,” J.R.R. Tolkien once said. I believe that fervently about this special academic community. This year of pandemic is lean, to be sure, but mark my words, given all you are achieving together, it will be followed by years of wholeness and plenty.

As you conclude the semester and enjoy the holidays, Julie and I wish you all the best. Though it may not be like years past, I hope you will find it a season of joy, love, peace and hope. And as you have time to relax and reflect, take stock of all that we have done here, together, against the odds and in the honorable spirit of Pro Humanitate.

Thank you and have a wonderful holiday.

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