• President, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Trustee, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California

Last year Nathan O. Hatch was tapped to be president of Wake Forest University. A Presbyterian layman, Hatch had previously spent 30 years on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, including the last nine years as provost.

In December, In Trust's editor, Jay Blossom, asked Hatch about his transition from Notre Dame to Wake Forest and about his service as a trustee of Fuller Theological Seminary, which has its main campus in Pasadena, California.

I think your wife moved to Wake Forest with you? Is that right?

Yes. Julie and I met as students at Wheaton, and we married in 1969. We have three children, all of whom have gone to Notre Dame. Our oldest son works in health care. A second son worked in investment banking in Chicago for five years, and has just started an M.B.A. at Duke. And our daughter is a junior at Notre Dame, majoring in history and theology.

How did you get involved as a trustee at Fuller?

Rich Mouw [president of Fuller Theological Seminary] has long been a good friend, and he asked me if I'd be willing to serve as a trustee. I had long admired the way the Fuller trustees operated. Max De Pree, another friend, was a longtime trustee. It seemed to me that they had a great trustee tradition, and it was something I was happy to be a part of.

What is it about the way the board works that is successful?

The board tries to think strategically and work creatively with the administration to say where the institution should go. They have a long tradition of interacting with faculty and students. It is also a very collegial board. They take their responsibility very seriously, and yet they know the boundaries between a board and an administration. There is also a sense that the institution has a responsibility to its trustees, to try to enrich their lives as well.

Tell me a little bit about the role of Wake Forest's trustees in your selection and appointment. I assume the search committee that hired you had some trustees?

The chair of that committee was the chairman of the trustees, and a majority of the members were trustees, along with representatives of the faculty and administration.

Have you gotten to know a little bit about how the trustees work at Wake Forest?

I have. They have very healthy modes of operating. The chair of the trustees alternates every two years, and that's worked very well. In that sense, the process of lining up who will be the next chair is a collective form of leadership. The system here seems to work very well.

Are there Baptist seats on the board?

There are not -- there are no religious criteria for trusteeship.

What comparisons can you make between the trustees at Notre Dame and the trustees at Wake Forest?

Their sizes are similar. Wake Forest has 44 active trustees. Notre Dame has approximately 50. Wheaton [College in Illinois, where Hatch previously served on the board of trustees] had 20 trustees. At Notre Dame and Wake Forest, much of the work is done in committees.

The same committees? How many committees?

Their committee structures are similar -- academic affairs, business operations, student affairs, advancement. Both have an executive committee, but the Wake Forest executive committee is more robust. Both devote a day essentially for committees and then the next day for the plenary session. At the executive committee meeting at Wake Forest, all the chairs of the respective committees meet and go over the key issues. That provides a great interface.

At Notre Dame, the executive committee was empowered to meet between meetings -- typically by telephone -- to do business such as appointing a new officer. Whereas here, that committee is more an integrator of what's coming out of the committees. At Fuller, at least in recent years, the executive committee meets in between meetings, and it tries to frame issues for the larger board.

Is there one way that gives the board more authority and another that gives some of that power over to the president?

Those kinds of structures in and of themselves don't necessarily hand the power to the president or keep it with the board. It has to do with the personalities involved and what kind of roles a chair of the board assumes. The critical element is the relationship between the president and the chair of the board. What is crucial is the understanding by the chair of the board and the respective committee chairs about the nature of their engagement in the institution.

At Wake Forest, with the board chair changing every two years, you have a lot more relationship-building to do.I think that is very positive. The sense of the functioning of the board is a more mutually understood thing because there are a number of people who have done it or a number who will do it. In a 20-year period you're going to have 10 different chairs. Whereas at Notre Dame, people were elected for three years and typically served for two terms. So in a 20-year period you might have three chairs. Both have strengths and weaknesses. It has to do with the culture of the board and the individuals involved. Notre Dame has had a tradition of very strong, good board chairs.

Can we talk for a minute about Theodore Hesburgh [president emeritus of Notre Dame]? Why is he so universally acknowledged as a great president?

Father Ted has remarkable gifts. He was in many ways the face of American Catholicism as it emerged into the mainstream in the '50s and '60s. He has stature, grace, poise. Father Ted has always seen his role principally as that of a priest. He's deeply interested in people. He remembers people and their names. People feel graced by engaging Father Hesburgh.

Is that a personal charisma that just is unique to him? Or is it something that can be emulated?

I think he has personal charisma, but he has also acted in ways that have amplified his presence and influence.

That's like Billy Graham.

I think of the two in very similar terms. They both are immensely gracious people. By instinct, they think the best of people, and they think of bringing grace and tact to a situation -- not conflict. They respond to others with kindness and compassion.

And I assume he was a great fundraiser for the university.

Yes, he was. It was more the principles that he stood for, which engaged people to give. One of the great stories is the late Joan Kroc, who was not a Catholic and had no previous relationship with Notre Dame. She heard Father Ted speak about peace once and was drawn to his message. She met him only briefly afterwards, but later she called him and said, "I'd like to start a peace studies institute at Notre Dame," and gave $6 million. And then she gave another $6 million for a building. She became very close to Notre Dame and to Father Ted over time, and in her will she left Notre Dame $50 million. That all came about from hearing Father Ted speak about peace.

Fundraising is a big part of the job of any university president.

It's a responsibility that has to fall to the president. Presidents need a lot of help, but they're responsible for fulfilling the mission of the school. For any institution -- but particularly for a private institution -- that takes resources.

Max De Pree's article "Pull Up Your Chair: A Concise Guide to Leading a Board into Creative Community" appeared in the Autumn 2001 issue of In Trust.

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