Susan R. Wente selected as WFU’s next president

Wente will begin her role in July, when she is set to become Wake Forest’s first female president

Cate Pitterle and Aine Pierre

Susan R. Wente was named the 14th president of Wake Forest on Sunday after a months-long international search process.

Wente, a cell biologist by trade, is the provost and vice-chancellor at Vanderbilt University. She served as the interim chancellor of Vanderbilt from Aug. 2019 to June 2020 and will take on the role of Wake Forest’s president on July 1, 2021. She will be the first woman to lead Wake Forest.

“I think it was both the most expansive decision-making process that Wake Forest has ever seen for selecting a university president or, indeed, any top leader,” Provost Rogan Kersh said. “The breadth of consultation, the inclusion across multiple constituencies and the unprecedentedly strong faculty voice and academic leadership voice in this process is, I think, the way of the future for universities.”

Wente comes to Wake Forest with enthusiastic praise from all those with whom she has worked. Vanderbilt’s vice-provost for academic affairs, Vanessa Beasley, said that in her five-plus years reporting to Wente, she was most impressed by her boss’s solution-oriented approach.

“She’s very effective. She is very interested in ‘what is the question? What is the problem? How do we solve it?’” Beasley said. “She’s a very good person to say ‘here’s the solution I propose’ and then you walk through that with her.”

Beasley also told the Old Gold & Black that one of Wente’s greatest strengths is her desire and ability to listen to viewpoints across the spectrum of any issue. She is also passionate about equity in academia, making sure every student who wants to learn can succeed.

“One of the things her record shows is her commitment to diversity and inclusion among students,” Beasley said. “And making sure that, for example, first generation college students and students from underrepresented or historically marginalized groups have room to be themselves, but also that they have a sense of community and adequate support on campus.”

Wente also brings an “everyone deserves a spot at the table” mentality to the academic sphere. She deeply appreciates the importance of both humanities and social sciences as well as the hard sciences and mathematics.

“From my perspective as a humanities professor, she might approach problems from her own perspective as a scientist, but she also realizes there are other ways to look at problems,” Beasley said. “And frankly, [she] also understands that all those perspectives are equally valuable and that you need to have people representing those different paradigms thinking alongside you.”

She said one of Wente’s strengths is her dedication to meeting students.

meeting with students. She encourages students to invite Wente to events and make an effort to meet her.

“At Vanderbilt, [Wente] went out of her way to spend time with undergraduates. She spent time at first-year houses and had dinners, and that was really important to her,” said Beasley.

Wente’s colleagues are not the only ones with glowing reviews of the 14th president. Senior and Rhodes Scholar Savarni Sanka was impressed with Wente during her work on the Search Committee, on which she was the only student.

“We were initially impressed by her proven track record in areas of importance to Wake: she had ample experience managing medical center transition …  and a nuanced understanding of Wake’s position as a liberal arts institution, just to name a few things,” Sanka told the Old Gold & Black. “Then, as we had more opportunities to engage with Dr. Wente, we saw firsthand her warmth, genuineness, selflessness, and resolve. She embodies the spirit of pro humanitate and is uniquely poised to help the university seize the opportunities that lie ahead. I couldn’t be more excited to welcome her to the Demon Deacon family!”

“She has a deep sense of values and integrity and a deep commitment to the work of academic excellence, inclusive excellence and leadership and character,” said Kersh. “That is exactly what Wake Forest needs as we move into our third century.”

Gerald Roach, chair of both the Board of Trustees and the Search Committee, sees Wente as the right leader for the moment.

“Dr. Wente is the right person to enable Wake Forest to seize the opportunities before it,” Roach said in a Wake Forest press release. “Among a field of highly-qualified candidates, she stood out as a transformational leader and world-class academic who is committed to the personal connection and engagement that Wake Forest values.”