November 14, 2023

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

I’ve been a faculty member working in administration for some eight years now, and I get my share of emails from community members about all kinds of issues.  I have never received more emails, and more jubilant ones at that, than after the October 30 Child Care Center announcement. These emails have been so heartfelt. One colleague wrote: “With so many things wrong with the world at present, it really is a joy to receive some good news about something that has been long overdue to improve our campus community.”  Another shared: “While I’m on the other side of this parenting journey now, I am so excited that we will be offering quality daycare–it is going to help so many people in our community.”  

While many of us have known about or participated in the sustained efforts of our colleagues to create a Wake Forest childcare facility that began in the late 1980s, I recently learned from some of our retired faculty that they had been working on the childcare front since the 1970s. This has been a long haul. So many of us have struggled across our careers with the parenting-professoring challenge, and that struggle has only worsened post-COVID with so few local childcare choices.  And yet childcare is an essential building block for a thriving community.  

Enormous gratitude is owed to everyone who has carried the torch at any point along this lengthy journey. So many faculty and staff never gave up, seeking childcare for the next generation of parents long after their own children were grown.  Most recently we owe special thanks to the Childcare Advisory Group, the Faculty Senate; Dedee Delongpré Johnston, Hof Milam, Emily Neese, Jackie Travisano and their teams; the Board of Trustees; and especially President Wente for their unwavering commitment that has brought us this close to the finish line. I cannot wait to see those childcare doors open.

Speaking of long-term community needs nearing fruition, I am delighted to share that we have made substantive progress on our university space strategy work (which has been occurring in parallel with strategic framing) this past year in collaboration with consultants Ayers Saint Gross.  This work has involved many campus partners, including the University Space Planning Group (USPG), the Capital Projects Advisory Committee and the University Priorities Committee. Our goal in the near-term is to produce a plan that rests on potential renovation and adaptive reuse of multiple buildings in the Reynolda campus core, because the University’s existing space needs, particularly in the College, are so significant. 

A first round conceptual space strategy has just been shared with the Board of Trustees. With their initial feedback in hand, we are sharing it with the Faculty Senate, the USPG, the Capital Projects Advisory Committee and the University Priorities Committee this week. We anticipate being able to share this conceptual strategy with all interested faculty and staff community members early next semester, with more detailed planning meetings for those engaged in potential first phases.

While space management is a challenge on nearly every university campus, our particular context for this work really matters. In addition to the serious academic space needs in the Reynolda core, we also face needs associated with our living and learning spaces, namely significant deferred maintenance in academic buildings and some residential buildings too. Wake Forest has done a terrific job remaining faithful to the original Reynolda Campus Larson Master Plan, including its living-learning vision, and at the same time we want to enhance the experience and quality of undergraduate education in the campus core as we approach our third century.  We want our space today to facilitate evidence-informed teaching; problem-solving, collaborative learning; and new paths in creative work, scholarship, and research. We are excellent teachers and mentors at Wake Forest; our learning spaces should support that work. 

The unique space challenges we face are, in many ways, a product of our success. Over the past 10 years, we have grown enrollment, and we have also seen changes in student demand – and not always in the places and programs we planned for or expected.  To meet these challenges, we’ve cut up one small class or conference room after another into office space and crammed crucial gathering and study space into narrow hallways and pass-throughs to accommodate the growth. We have also created new programs for which we have no new physical space. As a result, we have less research and scholarly inquiry and creative work space, and less space for collaborative learning and open gathering spaces, than one would expect for a University of our stature. We must be intentional and strategic to meet our space needs.

Meanwhile the pandemic taught us that there are new and effective ways we can get work done, particularly for our colleagues who do not work directly with students. And these new ways of working present new opportunities for how we allocate space. The pandemic also shifted dynamics in our real estate portfolio that have given us new space opportunities adjacent to campus to consider. 

While the past three years have shown us that online learning is important to our academic mission, the benefits of physical interaction in academic environments are real also. How a space is organized is a powerful determinant for the quality of the experience students and faculty have as a whole. The design of a university plays a crucial role in the practical, emotional, and intellectual life of students and professors. 

Our goal this past year has been to draft a near-term conceptual space strategy that supports our academic mission for our space resources. This goal is lofty and it is complex and it is comprehensive. And it is absolutely achievable with your advice and help. I am excited about the work we have completed, where we are today, and where we are headed.  I am eager to bring our potentially impacted faculty and staff into the next stage of this planning. Long-term will see us work together to update our Campus Master Plan. I remain grateful to the tremendous leadership and commitment of President Wente and EVP/CFO Jackie Travisano in pursuing this big picture, forward-thinking strategy, and all of your contributions, which will most assuredly take Wake Forest to the next level of academic excellence.  

Let me also take a moment to congratulate the Student Government Association which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Last night, I was honored to join SGA’s members and some of my colleagues at President Wente’s home to commemorate this monumental centennial. If you’d like a glimpse into the creation and history of Wake Forest’s SGA, I invite you to read the remarks I shared with this esteemed group of students.

Warm regards,