The Baptists and the Building
This quadrangle was green with new spring, and I was here for an early and almost
solitary Sunday walk. As I entered, I was aware of the pitched chirping of birds. Looking
up, I saw that the quad had been invaded by a flock of goldfinches. By the scores—or
the hundreds—they flew like golden bullets through the trees or hung like nugget orna-
ments on every branch. The quad was magical. I was captivated and captured. The
goldfinches stayed and I stayed. . . . The watch on my arm warned me. I knew this poetic
conflict between duty and desire. I stayed until duty could no longer be deferred, and
rushed off. . . . Because I lack the poet’s muse, my art is but to tell the story. My message
is in the telling. Each must appropriate a meaning.
Thomas K. Hearn Jr., May 18, 1987;
Charge to the Graduates, Wake Forest University Commencement
he event in 1986, and arguably the seminal event of the Hearn years, was
the University’s formal break with the Baptist Convention of North Carolina.
Tuesday, November 11, 1986, more than 81 percent of delegates at the
annual meeting of the Convention voted for the break (2689 to 249).
Under the approved plan, Wake Forest was free to choose its trustees without
input or interference from the Convention, which had wielded veto power over the
nominations since 1923, maintaining that two-thirds of the Board of Trustees had
to be North Carolina Baptists. This change allowed the University to select a more
diverse group, and many alumni, formerly ineligible because of geography or creed,
could serve on the governing board. In exchange for its autonomy, Wake Forest would
no longer receive money directly from the Convention, losing $500,000 a year from
an annual budget of $163 million at the time.