Embracing Change

April 28, 2022

From Wente's Desk logoAs we close in on the last day of classes and prepare for final exams, we also look forward to next month’s spring commencement celebrations. Commencement is always a special time on a campus, even with the creativity and flexibility needed for the past two years. For those who are graduating, it represents a significant transition in life. New graduates enter a season of change both professionally and personally — a season we usually greet with both excitement and apprehension.

Change has very much been on my mind recently. First, I experienced  profound changes in my own life this academic year, moving from Nashville to Winston-Salem and being inaugurated as Wake Forest’s 14th president. Furthermore, in addition to my own, Wake Forest underwent a number of important leadership transitions this year Matt King began chairing the Board of Trustees on July 1st, 2021, and this January, we welcomed Dr. Shea Kidd Brown as the new Vice President for Campus Life. And on July 1st, 2022, Dr. Annette Ranft will arrive as the new dean of the Business School. .

Change is continuing with our announcement earlier this month that Dr. Rogan Kersh is returning to the faculty after a decade of incredible service as Wake Forest’s provost. Dr. Michele Gillespie, Dean of the Undergraduate College, will become our new provost as of July 1st.  While we are conducting a national search for her successor as dean of the College, we are fortunate to have more leaders stepping up with Dr. Tony Marsh, senior associate dean of faculty, to be interim College dean and Dr. Monique O’Connell moving from department chair to associate dean of the faculty. 

Such changes are exciting, but also take careful planning and consideration. Some changes can also require special due diligence and have inherent challenges. For example, last month, we began piloting a new process to consider recommendations for honorific naming on Wake Forest University’s campuses. The current ad hoc Administrative Committee on Honorifics is focused on naming options for the two sections of Reynolda campus streets currently identified as “Wingate Road.”  This process will undoubtedly lead to change. This spring, our first student Sexual Misconduct Campus Climate Survey was conducted and the feedback and outcomes from this process will again lead to change.  I am also confident that further change will come from the commitment of the hundreds of faculty and staff who participated in last week’s outstanding Inclusive Teaching Conference. 

We have certainly encountered changes with the COVID-19 pandemic and continually adapted our policies and practices over the past five semesters based on the guidance of our public health experts, data and evidence.  Most recently, we deployed a targeted approach to mitigate the risk of COVID spread in a specific situation, and required indoor masking for staff, faculty and students in the law school. After ten days, conditions were assessed and the requirement lifted. This action marks another change — in our thinking around COVID-19 as we shift from pandemic to endemic strategies. 

Ultimately, all these types of changes will move us forward if driven by our mission and values, but at times they might also be stressful and complicated. In many ways, change is the only constant we can be sure about. So it’s how we approach change, not how we avoid it, that will distinguish Wake Forest. Together, we will learn how to “surf” the waves of change that we encounter  — restoring and energizing each other in our shared sense of purpose to lessen anxiety and weariness. We can use the power that change brings to act fully on our mission. At Wake Forest, this means cultivating leadership, knowledge, expertise, and character within ourselves and our academic community so that we have the support we need to achieve our goals and serve society. 

Thinking about change in this way — anticipating it, embracing it, leveraging it — and using it as a catalyst, will be at the heart of the inclusive process we will launch this fall to develop our future strategic vision. Through this, we will seek to better understand and then cultivate Wake Forest’s place in the world for the coming decades. Our shared values as an institution will bring us together to do this  important work. I’ll be writing more about our university strategic planning process in future blog posts and campus messages..

 At the end of this beautiful month of April and our spring 2022 semester, I wish everyone my very best with final papers and projects. And of course, I congratulate our outstanding students who will soon be graduating. I can’t wait to see you all at commencement!

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