ome eras in the life of an institution begin dramatically. Change occurs rapidly
and suddenly. Historically stable systems and settings are abruptly uprooted,
disturbance is felt immediately and from then on. At other times, modifica-
tions transpire quietly, almost unnoticed, at least initially. They are seen as benign; a
few notable personalities come or go, and ways of working shift slightly.
The beginning of what would become the twenty-two-year Hearn administra-
tion has been described both ways. Wake Forest University’s twelfth president was an
unknown outsider to most people in North Carolina, especially to those associated
with the institution. Hearn was a forty-five-year-old Vice President at the University
of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). He was swept into the Wake Forest presidency in
a flawed search process with a leak to the press. From the beginning, he had to prove
himself a man of all seasons, not just some.
The task was challenging. The institution was on the rise. Hearn’s predecessors
had been visionaries and excellent stewards of the college and the university into
which it grew. Faculty and staff were dedicated and caring. Students were smart and
engaged. The atmosphere of Pro Humanitate was supported by traditions and gener-
ations of graduates who literally invested their lives for the good of society. Modesty
and friendliness were part of the fabric of the University.
This book does not focus on the man, Thomas K. Hearn Jr., but on Wake For-
est University, its people, and its place in the world. As in any story, some characters
play a more prominent role than others, and certain events are more notable. Overall,
however, the reported challenges, struggles, triumphs, and changes and the people
who acted in them affect us now and will influence generations to come. As Gavin
Stevens says in William Faulkner’s novel Requiem for a Nun (1951), “The past is
never dead. It’s not even past.” The present and future of Wake Forest University will
continue to be shaped by what took place from 1983–2005.
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