Former Wake Forest University President Thomas K. Hearn Jr., who led Wake Forest from being a well-regarded regional college to one of the top national universities in the United States, died Aug. 18, 2008 at age 71.
Dr. Hearn served as president of Wake Forest from 1983 until 2005, the second-longest tenure in the University's history. He oversaw the development of Wake Forest from a regional, liberal arts Southern Baptist college into one of the nation's premier independent universities.
Dr. Hearn was an active leader in community and higher education organizations during his presidency.
He chaired the board of governors for the Center for Creative Leadership, a nonprofit education institution in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was chairman of the selection committee for the North Carolina Awards, the highest honor bestowed by the state. An early advocate of reform and accountability in college athletics and an original member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics when it was created in 1989, he was appointed chairman of the commission in 2005.
During his early years in office, Dr. Hearn negotiated a successful break with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina to secure the University's governing independence. In the late 1980s, he initiated the largest building program on the Reynolda Campus since the campus was built to solve a critical shortage of academic and student activity space. A Presidential Debate in 1988, and a second one in 2000, brought national attention to the University. Dr. Hearn's efforts to raise the University's national profile were recognized in 1994 when U.S. News & World Report shifted Wake Forest into the national universities category in its annual college guide. Wake Forest has ranked among the top 30 universities in the country every year since then.
In the mid-1990s, he led the trustees to adopt the "Plan for the Class of 2000" to enhance the undergraduate experience by offering smaller classes and first-year seminars. As part of the plan, Wake Forest became one of the first universities to offer laptop computers to every student, and the University became a leader in information technology. Throughout his presidency, Dr. Hearn emphasized the idea of the "teacher-scholar" ideal, and the faculty became better known in scholarship and research even while maintaining the University's reputation for excellence in teaching.
As the University's academic reputation grew, applications for undergraduate admissions increased by 75 percent from 1983 to 2005, and undergraduate enrollment grew from 3,100 to 4,000, primarily to account for the larger number of students studying overseas. The University undertook greater efforts to diversify the student body and attracted larger numbers of students from around the country and more minorities. Nine students were named Rhodes Scholars, and numerous others received Goldwater, Fulbright, Mellon, Luce, Truman and National Science Foundations awards.
Dr. Hearn stressed the importance of international studies, and by the end of his presidency, 50 percent of undergraduates studied abroad by the time they graduated, one of the highest percentages of any university. The University's third overseas study-house, Flow House, in Vienna, Austria, opened in 1999.
The University's financial picture improved significantly during his tenure. Annual charitable contributions increased from $12 million in 1983 to more than $57 million in 2004. The University's endowment increased from $124 million to $812 million during the same period. The $150 million Heritage and Promise capital campaign concluded in 1995 with $173 million raised. The Honoring the Promise campaign exceeded its $600 million goal shortly before he left office. The campaigns funded dozens of new professorships and hundreds of new merit- and need-based scholarships.
Dr. Hearn's commitment to community service began early in his tenure when he helped start and served as the first chair of Leadership Winston-Salem and Winston-Salem Business, Inc. He also served as chairman of the North Carolina Transit 2001 Commission and the Piedmont Triad Development Corporation. He is past chairman of Idealliance, a local economic development group developing a major research park in downtown Winston-Salem, to be anchored by a new campus for the medical school. His commitment to Pro Humanitate led to an explosion of student volunteerism and the start of organizations such as the Volunteer Service Corps and programs such as the annual "City of Joy" service trip to Calcutta, India.
To honor the University's Baptist heritage, Dr. Hearn advocated starting a divinity school, which opened in 1999. A building program in the late 1990s added an addition to Wingate Hall for the divinity school, and a new classroom building and residence hall. In 2002, Reynolda House Museum of American Art became affiliated with Wake Forest.
Under Dr. Hearn's leadership, the Calloway School of Business and Accountancy and the graduate and professional schools grew in national stature. The Calloway School ranked as high as 21st in U.S. News rankings of undergraduate business schools, and its accounting graduates regularly lead the nation in the percentage passing the CPA exam. The School of Law was ranked the nation's best value among private law schools in Dr. Hearn's last year as president. The Babcock Graduate School of Management expanded its program offerings on campus and began new programs in Charlotte, and now ranks in the top 10 percent of business schools.
Dr. Hearn forged a stronger relationship between the School of Medicine and the rest of the University; in 1997 the Bowman Gray School of Medicine was renamed the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. The medical school and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences joined with Virginia Tech in 2001 to establish a joint School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.
A native of Alabama, Dr. Hearn graduated summa cum laude from Birmingham-Southern College and earned a divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Vanderbilt. After teaching philosophy at William and Mary for 10 years, he returned to his home state in 1974 to start the philosophy department at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and was later named dean of the School of Humanities, vice president, and in 1982, senior vice president for non-medical affairs. He was 45-years-old when he was named Wake Forest's 12th president on June 23, 1983; he assumed office on October 1 and was inaugurated on November 4. He held honorary degrees from the University of Alabama, Tokai University and the University of Vienna.