2013 Commencement Speaker
Nathan O. Hatch
Dr. Nathan O. Hatch became Wake Forest’s 13th president July 1, 2005. He had previously served for nine years as Provost at the University of Notre Dame, where he also was the Andrew V. Tackes Professor of History.
His time leading Wake Forest has been characterized by achievements on four fronts: 1) clarifying Wake Forest’s mission and strategic plan, 2) assembling a remarkable team of leaders, 3) making significant realignments in business and medicine to better position the University, and 4) undertaking bold initiatives to make standardized tests optional for applicants and to develop new programs to educate the whole person.
The strategic plan, approved by the Board of Trustees and embraced by the college community, strengthens Wake Forest’s position as the nation’s premier “collegiate university.” “This is an exciting time for Wake Forest,” Dr. Hatch says. “We have a rare opportunity to integrate an undergraduate liberal arts tradition with the vitality of a research university.” Toward that end, he raised more than $10 million in a Presidential Trust for Faculty Excellence to ensure that Wake Forest can recruit and retain outstanding teacher-scholars.
Additionally, Dr. Hatch has completed a master planning process to ensure the physical development of the campus is aligned with the University’s strategic goals. That plan also takes on important challenges in making the campus more sustainable.
Dr. Hatch has also assembled a remarkable team of academic and administrative leaders. Throughout his academic career, he has been drawn to challenges that involve people and building organizations. “A university is a very complicated organization in modern society,” he notes, “and it is critical to have outstanding leaders in all spheres, from academic programs to athletics, from investments to student development.” Most recently, Rogan Kersh, a Wake Forest alumnus and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, has joined the senior administration as Provost in July 2012.
Under Dr. Hatch’s leadership, Wake Forest has also completed two major integration projects. Wake Forest’s separate undergraduate and graduate business programs have been combined into one under the leadership of Steve Reinemund, and major funds have been raised for a new home for the school, Farrell Hall, which is currently under construction.
He has also been instrumental in merging Wake Forest University Health Sciences and North Carolina Baptist Hospital—each with revenues of some one billion dollars—into a single entity with common management. Another outstanding leader, Dr. John McConnell, has been recruited as CEO of the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
Dr. Hatch has also undertaken bold steps to make the Wake Forest experience more personal and to challenge students to live an examined and purposeful life. A student can apply to Wake Forest without standardized tests, but all applicants are encouraged to have a personal interview. He has also established the Office for Personal and Career Development under the leadership of Vice President Andy Chan. The mandate of the office is to develop mentoring programs, course offerings, lectures, and retreats that will help students think through larger questions about how one’s deepest values should shape professional choices.
Dr. Hatch is an active leader in American higher education and in local and community affairs. He served on the board of the American Council on Education, and he is currently the chair of the Division I Board of Directors of the NCAA (announcement | profile). He is the immediate past chair of the board of directors of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. He has also been very active in community development in Winston-Salem. A board member of the United Way of Forsyth County, he also served as Chairman of the 2010 United Way Campaign.
Often described as affable, approachable and a lively conversationalist, Dr. Hatch has established a strong rapport with students; he can occasionally be found taking a coffee break with them at Starbuck’s in the Z. Smith Reynolds library or having lunch in the Pit. He made an early positive impression when he arrived at his student-sponsored Inaugural Ball on the back of a motorcycle driven by the Demon Deacon.
He and his wife, Julie, a former public school teacher, have three children: Gregg, a 1997 graduate of Notre Dame, is a hospital administrator in Seattle, WA; David, a 2000 Notre Dame graduate, received an MBA degree from Duke University in 2007 and works in finance in Charlotte, NC; and Beth, a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame, is working on a Master of Divinity at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. The Hatches also have five grandchildren. In the spirit of Wake Forest as one big family, they have opened up the “garage” of their home as a lounge and meeting place for Wake Forest students.
Dr. Hatch grew up in Columbia, S.C., where his father was a Presbyterian minister. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, he received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and held post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities. He joined the faculty at Notre Dame in 1975. He was named provost, the university’s second highest-ranking position, in 1996; a Presbyterian, he was the first Protestant to ever serve in that position at Notre Dame.
He is regularly cited as one of the most influential scholars in the study of the history of religion in America. He received national acclaim for his 1989 book, The Democratization of American Christianity, in which he examines how the rise of religious groups in the early 19th century helped shape American culture and foster democracy. The book was chosen in a survey of 2,000 historians and sociologists as one of the two most important books in the study of American religion. He is also the author or editor of seven other books on American history.