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As a great university, Wake Forest is called to continually build upon our strong foundation and strive for excellence. Across the last four decades, we have been guided by several strategic plans with the most recent conceived between 2007-09. Each moved the University as a whole toward greater distinctiveness. We expect no less for our next chapter, as we look ahead to 2034 — 12 years from now — when Wake Forest University will celebrate its 200th anniversary. As we approach this milestone in the life of our Great University, it is imperative that we develop a clear vision and direction to further support our mission.  

I am pleased to announce that now — beginning today and through this next year — we will focus our collective efforts on how to frame our journey to 2034. Investing in this effort now will allow us to craft the strategic direction required to deepen and sustain our claim to greatness for our University into its third century. 

Based on my observations over the past year, there are several additional reasons for “why now?”.  The point at which our global community finds itself in history – navigating the uncertainty created by the pandemic on top of uncertainty about the role of higher education in our society — amplifies the need for Wake Forest to make clear its role in catalyzing learning, scholarship, leadership, and service for the betterment of humanity.  After all, Great Universities are founded to thrive on diverse viewpoints; to seek answers to new and complex problems; to champion creativity and inclusive excellence; and to inspire and foster the success of the next generations of leaders with integrity. 

Beyond these aspirational reasons, acting now will provide us with a framework within which we can make critical decisions, and better support our ambitions. Framing our priorities at this moment will also facilitate cross-university collaborations — indeed, radical collaboration — through more integration and alignment. I am confident we can accomplish much when we come together.

We began setting the stage for this strategic framework process last year, when I asked the question “What is expected of a great university today?”  The answers to this question — that Great Universities are called to be catalysts for good, and more specifically, to be catalysts for learning and discovery, access and opportunity, and innovation and society – position us to take action this academic year.  

How will the University’s new strategic framework, our vehicle for articulating Wake Forest’s future direction, be developed? We will use a process that is different from any Wake Forest has used in the past. Instead of engaging in strategic planning – which can too easily turn into generating lists of things to do — we will focus on framing a strategy to accomplish our vision and goals together. We must determine the right things to do, and not do, in order to deliver on our mission while navigating complex and challenging times. 

I am committed to this being an inclusive, collective process, and I know you join me in that commitment. The framework will be structured around a set of core themes that will emerge from the university community’s input. This semester, our university community will come together through cross-school engagements and other opportunities to provide direct input that will shape and refine our core thematic areas. These themes will be tied to our mission, but also to both current and aspirational attributes that make Wake Forest distinctive as a higher education institute.

To do this work during the 2022-23 academic year results in an ambitious timeline, but one I am confident we can meet through the deployment of a transparent, supportive structure. We will organize ourselves in a manner that invites a diversity of perspectives, facilitates collaboration, and promotes accountability and clarity.

Graphic of the Strategic Framework Process Organization
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Graphic of Strategic Framework Process Timeline
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For the structure, I am excited that Provost Michele Gillespie has accepted my invitation to chair the Core Planning Team, with two faculty vice-chairs. They will lead a representative faculty and staff group in the significant endeavor of translating the collective input on our distinctions into a focused set of themes, with our future vision at the center.  They will also work with and charge individual Thematic Working Groups that will take deep dives into each respective theme and bring back to the Core Planning Team an analysis of where we are currently and where we should focus forward in terms of our current, emerging and aspirational distinctions. Embedded in this work, I have charged Vice President Villalba to regularly convene with the Core Planning Team and with representatives from each of the Thematic Working Groups to ensure that best practices in promoting inclusive excellence are woven throughout the resulting cohesive, actionable framework. 

The Core Planning Team and Thematic Working Groups will be supported by a University Resource Group (URG) to be led by Senior Advisor Julia Jackson-Newsom and comprised of senior administrative and staff leaders. The URG is charged with defining our current and future capabilities and capacities in the domains of space, people and financial resources such that our final draft Strategic Framework is actionable. Vice President Mark Petersen will lead the Advisory Network, which will enable the input of our alumni and key supporters. This will also provide a mechanism for capturing the expertise in strategic thinking that rests within our Board of Trustees, and our Boards and Councils across the University.  

In regards to the timeline, one of our first goals is to share in November the themes which result from the collective input. The Thematic Working Groups will then launch their work which will continue through mid-spring, including additional opportunities for input by our university community. In late spring and early summer, the Core Planning Team will weave the thematic work together into an exciting new framework. 

Next week, I will announce the full composition of the Core Planning Team and the launch of the Strategic Framework website, which will have additional details about how all can contribute to this important effort. 

By embarking on a strategic framework process now, we have the opportunity to ensure we not only build on our strengths but that we also truly differentiate our role as a Great University. When we more fully leverage the power of our individual programs, we will have learning, living, and working communities – including the multiple locations and communities in which we have a presence – that are truly greater than the sum of our parts. Through this process, we will refine the Wake Forest experience and increase our impact as a Great University.  

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