Update on committee progress

The following is a message from President Nathan Hatch:

At the start of the fall semester, I established four campus-wide committees to foster inclusive discussion around particular aspects of Wake Forest University. I am grateful to the members of these committees who devoted countless hours in pursuit of a better Wake Forest. Through these committees, dozens of faculty, staff and students contributed to the following results:

Gwen Ifill will serve as our 2013 Commencement Speaker

The Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee, chaired by Provost Rogan Kersh, fulfilled three primary functions: to establish a more visible and transparent process for the campus community to submit names of potential commencement speakers, to help generate a list of possible choices, and to help inform and generate interest among graduating seniors (and others at Wake Forest) about our next commencement speaker.

The committee reviewed dozens of suggestions and researched several possible speakers before recommending Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” and senior correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour,” to deliver Wake Forest’s 2013 Commencement Address. I look forward to hearing Ms. Ifill’s remarks to our graduating class.

Penny Rue was appointed as the VP of Campus Life

For more than 30 years, Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Ken Zick has served Wake Forest with unsurpassed dedication and passion. Provost Kersh and I chaired a representative group of advisors in the search for Dean Zick’s successor. An extensive process led to one candidate who stood out among the rest as the right choice for Wake Forest.

Dr. Penny Rue, who currently serves as vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of California – San Diego, is nationally known for her creative leadership in strengthening campus communities. In July, Dr. Rue will arrive, bringing to Wake Forest a tremendous depth of experience and leadership across campus life, especially in the area of student well-being.

The Strategic Resources Initiative creates $6.1 million of recurring support for strategic priorities

The Strategic Resources Initiative (SRI) was formed to identify cost reductions and revenue enhancements to help fund student financial aid, faculty and staff compensation, and other University strategic priorities. A significant spur to our SRI effort, as the year progressed, has been the intensifying of downward pressures on tuition and other college costs, along with widespread public concern about American higher-education financing — concern that extends right to the White House.

With this backdrop, a 15-member working group reviewed a host of recommendations, many received from across our WFU community, and presented the results to a faculty-staff steering committee chaired by Provost Kersh and Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Hof Milam.

The committee considered a wide array of options across four broad categories: business processes, technology, procurement practices and employee benefits. A set of initial recommendations have recently been presented campus-wide, in forums with Vice President Milam and Provost Kersh; work continues to refine and finalize that set. Over time, the approved recommendations are expected to result in approximately $6.1 million in recurring savings that can be applied to the University’s highest priorities. Put into perspective, this is the equivalent of the University receiving a $120 million endowment that pays out 5% in perpetuity.

We approached a potentially divisive issue with the civility and respect of an academic community

Following controversial comments made by the President and COO of Chick-fil-A last summer, the Chick-fil-A Campus Dialogue Committee of students, faculty and staff was convened by Provost Kersh to facilitate dialogue and discussion about issues raised as a result of these statements and the presence of Chick-fil-A on campus.

I have been deeply gratified by the civility and respect I have seen displayed by all members of our community throughout our discussions on this very difficult issue. Many of you have attended our campus-wide forums, written to our suggestion box, and circulated petitions, all in the generous and open-minded spirit of the very best civil discourse, and for that I am truly grateful. I also want to assure you that the questions surrounding Chick-fil-A, and what it means to be a truly inclusive, welcoming, and humane community, have been discussed at every level of the university, among students, faculty, and staff as well as in the President’s Cabinet and among other senior administrators.

We have made tremendous progress in the past few years regarding issues of diversity and inclusion on our campus. For example, in the past five years, the percentage of students of color in our undergraduate student body has increased from 17.6 percent to 22.9 percent, and we have also greatly increased the number of first generation and international students on campus. We have addressed the needs of our Jewish and our Muslim students with the addition of chaplains for both. We have established an LGBTQ Center and a Women’s Resource Center. We are concluding an extraordinary year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the integration of our campus, the first private university in the South to make that decision. However, the Chick-fil-A discussions and the recent campus-wide Deliberative Dialogue on Diversity and Inclusion make plain that much more work remains to be done.

Our goal is a vibrant academic community that that allows people of different backgrounds and convictions to live and learn together. Wake Forest, like other universities, is a place where academic freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental, a place that encourages community members to give voice to their beliefs, whether progressive or conservative, radical or traditional. Unfortunately, this kind of community is increasingly rare in America today. We live in an age of polemics rather than persuasion; dueling communities speak largely to their own adherents rather than to those who may differ. At Wake Forest we must welcome real diversity of thought and cultivate the art of listening — even to those whose opinions we do not understand or appreciate. The greatest gift we can give our students is an ability to disagree in the context of civility and friendship. That is a balm that our nation and world desperately needs.

The campus-wide dialogue about Chick-fil-A is just one small part of this larger challenge. I do not believe that the removal of Chick-fil-A from our campus would ultimately further the important work that we must all do to build a more inclusive campus. Members of our community hold a wide variety of opinions regarding Chick-fil-A, and they are free to express those opinions in a variety of ways, including by refusing to patronize this establishment. But I fear that focusing our energy on removing a fast-food franchise, instead of on the difficult and essential work of creating a community that truly embraces each individual member and builds enduring connections between them, will distract us from the critically important enterprise that we must all undertake together.

In the coming year, I am asking our new Vice-President of Campus Life, Penny Rue, to look with fresh eyes at our campus climate and policies on LGBTQ issues. Our LGBTQ Center on campus is less than two years old, and under the direction of Angela Mazaris, has done remarkable work in support of members of our community. I look forward to recommendations of how this work can be even more thoroughly integrated into the life of our community.

It is my sincere hope that each and every one of you shares in this commitment, and will work together with me next year to build a Wake Forest where every student, faculty and staff member feels like they have a voice in our collective future.

I am grateful to the members of these committees for the time they devoted to their work and the results they produced. We are a better Wake Forest for their efforts.