Nathan Hatch's inaugural address calls for 'A Community of Learning' at WFU

By Jacob McConnico
October 20, 2005

Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch praised the university for its commitment to liberal arts education, character development and diversity, and outlined three facets that will shape the school as "a vibrant learning community, one that weds knowledge and experience," during his presidential inaugural address in Wait Chapel Oct. 20.

Murray Greason (left), President Nathan O. Hatch and Ed Wilson (right)

The nearly 20-minute speech, "A Community of Learning," delivered to an audience of approximately 2,000 at a 3 p.m. installation ceremony, called for the university to strive for a learning community committed to recruiting and sustaining good faculty, a diverse community that welcomes people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds, and a community of service and faith that keeps moral formation as an important element of a liberal arts education.

"Let us then rekindle Wake Forest's finest tradition, a face-to-face community, grounded in the liberal arts, passionate about professional education, and committed to living out the values we profess individually and as a community," said Hatch, who took office as the university's 13th president July 1 after serving as provost at the University of Notre Dame. "The modern university, increasingly specialized, chips away at learning as a shared enterprise. It will take sustained effort to make the university more than an intellectual shopping mall."

Hatch said Wake Forest is poised to meet the challenge of educating young people who find themselves in a world that places sometimes divergent demands on them for professional success and public service.

"Above all, students today long for one thing – to narrow the gap between the ideals we profess and the lives we lead," Hatch said. "They are looking for models of how to integrate the often incoherent facets of their lives as reflective persons, as aspiring professionals, as consumers, as family members, as sports fans, as volunteers and as good citizens. Can we at Wake Forest manifest a moral coherence in our common life, as we debate and learn, celebrate and play, break bread and pray together? Can we confront differences – political, ethnic, and religious – with trust and mutual forbearance? And can we balance high standards of performance with a deep appreciation for each individual?

"I am confident that Wake Forest can build this kind of learning community at the highest academic level," Hatch said. "That is our heritage, our identity, and our greatest opportunity. To this end, I pledge my best efforts. Working together, we will sustain and enhance that heritage which makes the name of Wake Forest noble and dear."

Hatch's insights came at an installation ceremony that brought official delegates from more than 115 universities and colleges across the country. Guests and members of the university community filled Wait Chapel to hear Hatch's inaugural address and an opening invocation by the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, who led the University of Notre Dame for more than 30 years as president.

In addition, greetings were offered to Hatch by Harry B. Titus, professor of art and president of Wake Forest's University Senate; Reginald Mathis, president of student government at Wake Forest; Nancy R. Kuhn, president of the Wake Forest Alumni Association; Harold L. Martin Sr., chancellor of Winston-Salem State University; Allen Joines, mayor of Winston-Salem; and North Carolina first lady Mary Pipines Easley, who earned her undergraduate and law degrees at Wake Forest.

Easley, who welcomed the Hatches to Wake Forest and North Carolina on behalf of Gov. Mike Easley and the residents of the state, said the inauguration of President Hatch "is a day of promise and new horizons."

"It is here, amidst the tradition of the 'Wake Forest Way' that you belong," Easley said. "We know that your vision and leadership will guide the university to discover new ways to inspire bright young minds, to engage the world and to face the future with sure-footed confidence."

During his opening remarks, Hatch noted that he and his wife, Julie, were pleased to welcome more members of their family to Wake Forest than have ever been assembled in one place. He praised his and Julie Hatch's parents for being "models of love, understanding and service," and he thanked his wife for supporting his decision to move to Wake Forest after 30 years at the University of Notre Dame.

President Nathan O. Hatch and his wife, Julie

The installation ceremony, which was not open to the public, was simulcast in Brendle Recital Hall in the university's Scales Fine Arts Center. It was also webcast live on the Wake Forest Web site and has been posted on the Web. A public reception on Hearn Plaza (the Quad), outside the chapel, was held immediately following the ceremony.

In his address, Hatch also recognized the efforts of his predecessor, Thomas K. Hearn Jr., by saying that during his tenure "Wake Forest has enhanced the quality of its faculty and students, constructed marvelous new academic facilities, invested in research infrastructure, advanced its standing in professional education, sustained intercollegiate athletics at the highest level, and served as a leader in information technology."

Hatch acknowledged Wake Forest's commitment to giving back to the local community and stated his intention to maintain the university as a full citizen and good neighbor in the Piedmont Triad and in North Carolina.

"Twenty years ago it would have been difficult to imagine that Wake Forest University Health Sciences would play a leading role in creating a biotechnology research park," Hatch said. "This expansion of intellectual capital in the medical school can greatly assist this region's transition to a knowledge-based economy. Today this community still benefits from the wisdom of the visionary civic leaders who sought to bring to the Piedmont a small medical school and, later, its affiliated college and law school."

While Hatch outlined his goals for creating a vibrant learning community, he also acknowledged several challenges to this aim including the contradictions found in a society "that seems simultaneously to be more radically religious and radically secular."

"We live today in a nation and a world that is difficult to comprehend for students and professors alike," Hatch said. "Globalization may be flattening the world's economy, but it is also pitting extreme religious voices against the encroachments of the modern and the secular."

Hatch said that ethnic and religious diversity, while it is at an all time high, has not resulted in a society where people from different backgrounds associate with one another.

"Graduates also face a society more diverse than ever before – ethnically and religiously," Hatch said. "But it is not necessarily a more integrated society or one that has more things in common. More and more Americans choose to live in neighborhoods with others just like themselves. Radio and television, magazines and books, have become increasingly segmented. In politics many decry the collapse of bipartisan collegiality and the decline of the art of persuasion."

The challenge for Wake Forest, Hatch said, is to create and maintain a university that embraces all cultures, stays true to the tenets of a liberal arts education, prizes its educators and students and views its religious heritage not as a liability but as an asset.

"(Wake Forest) should be a place where faith in a variety of traditions is practiced intelligently and studied critically," Hatch said. "What a gift to our students, and to contemporary culture, if this campus can embrace respectful engagement between people of strong but differing beliefs, as well as those of secular conviction. America, and the world, is hungry for such dialogue."

Media Note: Downloadable photos and audio in .wav format from Hatch's inaugural address and a transcript of the speech are available on the News Service Web site at

WFU News Website Search