Interview with Dr. Rogan Kersh, Wake Forest University Provost & Professor
By: Rachel Schwam
Dr. Rogan Kersh is not only Wake Forest’s Provost and a Professor of Politics &
International Affairs, but also, he is a Demon Deacon, Class of 1986. When I asked him why he
decided to return to Wake Forest after careers at other higher education institutions, he gave an
answer I am sure most alums can attest to: “Why did I ever leave?” He felt it was his calling to
work at the place that had shaped him as a person, and because of his deep love for this school,
he returned to help Wake Forest grow while ensuring that the tight-knit nature of the university
remained, as the Alma Mater says, “constant and true.” Kersh feels his position as Provost is a
challenge and an opportunity simultaneously, and his main wish for the school in the future is to
increase the endowment in order to provide more resources to students so all of their ideas can
come to fruition. Being a part of Wake Forest’s community means a lot to Kersh since he is a
graduate, and his favorite tradition at Wake Forest is the Lighting of the Quad; lights that
illuminate the trees leading up to Wait Chapel turn on to signify the beginning of the holiday
season. For him, it is like having Lovefeast outside, yet this event “embraces a whole array of
Wake Forest traditions,” such as music groups and religious groups. Who is his favorite Wake
Forester? His answer was simple: Mrs. Jenny Puckett. Here is more of the thoughtful and
inspiring conversation I had with the Provost:
Schwam (S): What were your favorite hobbies and extracurriculars while at Wake Forest?
Kersh (K): Hopelessly geeky though this may sound, I loved informal reading groups with
fellow students and faculty. These aren't around as much today, best as I can tell, but back in the
1980s-early 1990s, it wasn't at all unusual to sign up for what we'd today call a 'book club,'
sometimes but not always organized by a professor or two, and get together every week or two to
discuss what we'd been reading. No credit, no transcript notation, no special paragraph in
recommendation letters on our behalf: just shared intellectual engagement. My favorite of those
was an informal group on Tocqueville, loosely organized by then-cherished Politics faculty
members Saguiv Hadari and Don Schoonmaker, who each tragically died much too young. I still
have my copies of 'Old Regime and the French Revolution' and 'Democracy in America,' marked
up with insights from those inspiring gatherings.
S: What was it like being one of the first Reynolds Scholars?
K: A relief financially, first of all: I dearly needed a scholarship to afford college, and though
Wake was my top choice, other schools—especially UNC—were more attractive from a budget
standpoint. The Reynolds made my (personally utterly transformative) time at Wake Forest
possible. On campus, we initial four Scholars felt a certain degree of pressure to perform
especially well in classes. But—then as now—Wake was such a collegial, mutually supportive
place, that for the most part any special 'Reynolds status' wasn't noticeable.
I did have the immense benefit of getting to know faculty and administrators who served on the
Reynolds selection committee, like Professor Jim Barefield (History), Dean of the College Tom
Mullen, Provost Ed Wilson, alumna Kay Lord, and Director of Scholarships Tom Phillips. All of