White Paper I

The Collegiate University: Building Exceptional Faculty-Student Engagement

The first in a series of four white papers. Published Dec. 8, 2008.

“Being a student here means that you will be a member of a close-knit community with welcoming undergraduates and faculty. It means that a professor from your first year will still recognize you as a junior.”

Kate Rogers (’09)

“…there are many excellent colleges and universities poised to prepare you for whatever life brings, but I feel that Wake Forest stands out from the rest. The small class sizes allow you to interact with professors in a way that stimulates intellectual growth…”

Chris Jackson (’08)

“Wake Forest puts education of the student first; to me, this is the primary mission of higher education.”

Jacquelyn Fetrow, Reynolds Professor of Computational Biophysics
Dean, Wake Forest College

Long one of Wake Forest’s defining features, the interaction between and among superb professors and bright, enthusiastic students is the key to real learning and discovery. This principle has led the University to be deliberate in keeping class sizes small. Our faculty members’ engagement with students is not limited to classroom, studio, stage, or laboratory; Wake Forest students are challenged not only by course content, but are also mentored and encouraged to think critically in the intimate learning environment of the campus community.

In an increasingly impersonal world, our graduates have the great benefit of having frequently defended their ideas and opinions before their peers and professors, face to face, and of having presented papers at academic conferences. Many have worked side-by-side with faculty and staff on service projects in the local community and around the world.

Our Commitment to Teacher-Scholars

Wake Forest biology  professor Gloria Muday teaches her biochemistry lab in Winston Hall on Monday, October 13, 2008.

The impact of professors on students’ intellectual growth and character formation is striking. In planning to sustain and nurture this strong tradition and academic advantage, we recognize the centrality of recruiting and retaining faculty members who have the most to offer to the Wake Forest environment. For some years, we have accurately described them as teacher-scholars. They come to us from the best graduate schools and the most respected university departments in their disciplines. They are excited about learning and discovery, enriching the classroom experience with new knowledge that they and their peers at other institutions are generating. They view interaction with undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students as opportunity. They appreciate Wake Forest’s approach to education, and they successfully balance the demands of insightful teaching and rigorous scholarship.

Our dual expectation of faculty members is unusual, even countercultural, in higher education. We ask the best faculty members in the nation to approach their careers differently from their peers at other institutions. Many universities recruit top scholars but require little attention to teaching, especially at the undergraduate level. To ensure their success here, it will be important to offer strong professional development opportunities to those outstanding academics who choose Wake Forest.

Thus, Wake Forest can offer a richer academic experience than many of the institutions with which we compete for students; but our ability to hold onto and strengthen this asset is tied directly to our ability to recruit and retain exceptional faculty members. In recent years, University-initiated cost-saving measures have helped us make incremental progress in raising faculty salaries; yet other institutions with which we compete for faculty have, in many cases, leapt ahead because of transformational gifts for faculty support. A critically important strategy for Wake Forest, therefore, is to invest in superior faculty members who appreciate and endorse our philosophy of personal education, rewarding those who have dedicated themselves to our model and recruiting a new wave of legendary teacher-scholars. Investment in the best people yields incomparable results. This investment comprises the following strategic initiatives.

Our Commitment to Students

Wake Forest law professor Omari Simmons teaches class in the Worrell Professional Center on Wednesday, September 10, 2008.

The other, equally critical component of the academic equation is our student body; and our strategy for intensifying student engagement comprises both tradition and change.

We have long been committed to balancing rigorous standards of performance with deep appreciation of the individual. In recruiting our future students, we will continue to hold high expectations for their academic qualifications and for their interest in service to society, the enduring pair of characteristics that are longstanding Wake Forest distinctives. As more students from a wider range of backgrounds become interested in Wake Forest, we must be able to evaluate more individually a prospective student’s potential, and we must be ever more deliberate in identifying and recruiting those who most want to participate in the kind of educational environment that we value.

At the same time, we must also respond to the growing demand from prospective and enrolling students for greater representation of different viewpoints and experience-cultural and economic-in the student body and the faculty. These young people recognize that they will live and work in a diverse world, very different from their parents’ generation, and they expect that their undergraduate and professional educations will prepare them for it. More than ever, we are obligated to teach students to draw from other cultures and other perspectives as we teach them to think critically and to be leaders. Our definition of this effort includes economic and geographic diversity, gender and ethnicity, and a wide range of special skills and talents.

In initiating these steps, we must ensure that this University retains its unique personality as a welcoming, nurturing community, just as it did during the period when Wake Forest changed from a regional to national university. We want our students from all backgrounds, with varied interests and talents, to claim Wake Forest as beloved alma mater.

Along with the actions already cited to strengthen our faculty, the strategic initiatives that follow will enable Wake Forest to lead higher education in the strength of student engagement.

Our Commitment to Strengthen Faculty-Student Engagement

Wake Forest students pay close attention to Calloway School professor Terry Baker as he explains how to allocate earnings during his second session accounting class in Manchester Hall on Friday, July 25, 2008.

During the strategic planning process, a parallel campus master plan study was also in development to guide us in identifying the appropriate physical infrastructure to support these initiatives. To ensure optimal faculty-student engagement, we must provide excellent physical facilities for recruitment, student housing, teaching, and research, as suggested in the following descriptions.

Many of the strategic initiatives to build faculty-student engagement will be implemented by departments and schools in various ways too numerous to detail in this paper. The provost, working with deans, department chairs, and financial officers will present these initiatives to the campus as they are considered.

The second white paper on Wake Forest’s strategic plan focuses on a unique characteristic of the collegiate university: sustaining a tradition of opening new doors for educational opportunity.