Three things we learned from Provost Michele Gillespie’s first address

The provost outlines her vision for the future of Wake Forest


Courtesy of Wake Forest

As provost, Dr. Michele Gillespie is responsible for overseeing Wake Forest’s academics.

Ava Cofiell, Staff Writer

On March 23, Provost Dr. Michele Gillespie delivered her first address to WFU students and faculty as Provost — providing an eye-opening look into Wake Forest’s present and future. Here is what we learned:

1 – What the provost does

She began with the basics: her job description. 

Gillespie joked about her profession being “a great conversation starter … no one knows what [a provost] does.” As provost, Gillespie facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration between the undergraduate campus, school of divinity, business school, graduate school of art and sciences, law school, school of professional studies and Z. Smith Reynolds Library. Her goal is to create an academic environment where students and faculty can thrive.

We also learned what Gillespie is doing to navigate the current turmoil in the education field regarding wages, affirmative action and gender equality

“I have never been more conscious of public opinion of universities,” Gillespie said in reference to these issues. “As challenging as they are, I am confident that we at Wake Forest can overcome this.”  

2 – Wake Forest’s pressing issues 

Gillespie said that after a year of intentional listening and consideration of student and faculty concerns across Wake Forest’s schools, the most pressing problems at Wake Forest are the allocation of academic space, strategic framework and distribution of power across departments.

Citing the University Corporate Center, Gillespie acknowledged that the Reynolda campus is getting crowded. The COVID-19 pandemic proved that working from home is a possibility — leaving the University Corporate Center, a building only two minutes away from Wake Forest’s main campus, with 444,000 square feet of empty space for faculty. She announced that a comprehensive space plan is in the works.

In the past two-and-a-half months, Gillespie and other faculty members have also created a planning team that has been submitting drafts for review about their goals for the ideal student experience.  

Finally, she hopes to continue to build trust and communication between the university’s departments and schools. Gillespie shared that a new “Office of Institutional Equity” will enforce discrimination and harassment policies.

3 – Wake Forest’s plans to address inflation

Tracey L. Banks, president of the Faculty Senate and associate professor of legal research and writing at the Wake Forest School of Law, posed one of Wake Forest faculty’s most pressing questions: What is Wake Forest going to do about inflation, operation and faculty morale? 

In response to concerns about inflation, Gillespie admitted that inflation has put many Wake Forest faculty members in financial turmoil — especially considering the increase in housing costs in Winston-Salem since 2018. However, Gillespie explained that salary raises cannot be distributed without inciting tension between increased pay and higher student tuition. Therefore, administrators are considering alternative avenues for funding reallocation.

Concerning operations, many faculty members are calling for the renaming of Wait Chapel due to former Wake Forest President Samuel Wait’s connection to racism. Gillespie shared that feedback about renaming is being collected, and both a design firm and architectural firm have been hired for a possible renaming process.

Finally, Banks expressed faculty concern regarding disrespect in the workplace. Gillespie responded by describing the volatile environment created by the current political climate and COVID-19 and by inviting faculty members to share their experience with this discord.

In her concluding remarks, Gillespie expressed her hope that explicit communication will help the university’s academic goals positively impact students’ experiences.

“In the end, we will have to make hard decisions about our priorities and resource allocations,” Gillespie said, “but we want to work really hard to make what needs to be known explicit. We need to provide vision, leadership and support that advances faculty, staff and student academic excellence, inclusion and innovation across our schools and programs.” 

Banks, when introducing the Provost, labeled this first annual address an “opportunity to reflect as a community on what unites us — Wake Forest’s academic mission.”

Correction April 1, 2023: A previous version of this article contained a misspelling of Provost Michele Gillespie’s name in the headline and caption. Those errors have been corrected.