WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — The Wake Forest University president whose tenure was marked in part by instances of racial tension announced Tuesday that he will retire when the current academic year ends next June.
In a message, Nathan Hatch called his 15 years leading the school “the adventure of a lifetime."
“I continue on in these next months with many of the same emotions that have driven my time at Wake Forest – excitement for what we can accomplish for our students, enthusiasm for the ways we can explore and innovate within higher education, and a strong belief in the core values that have anchored this institution," Hatch said in his announcement.
A news release said Hatch had planned to announce his retirement earlier this year, but he and Wake Forest’s board of trustees chose to postpone it as the school addressed the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hatch came to Wake Forest in 2005. A history professor, he had moved into administration while working earlier in his career at the University of Notre Dame.
Among Hatch’s achievements at the school, Wake Forest became the first nationally ranked university to adopt a test-optional admissions policy for undergraduate students. Also under his time, a scholars program has provided financial support and mentoring for more than 300 first-generation Wake Forest students.
In the past 10 years, more than a million square feet (92,000 square meters) of campus space was built or renovated, including four new residence halls, a sports performance center and a basketball complex.
In February, Hatch publicly apologized during Founder's Day for Wake Forest's past involvement in slavery, a move that followed a threatening email that caused the head of the sociology department to shut down his building and suspend classes for a week. A statement issued after his remarks noted that Hatch last year convened a committee to look at race issues and the legacy of slavery on campus.
Earlier in 2019, the school acknowledged its past yearbooks had included some blackface images. Days later, photographs of former Wake Forest students posing with the Confederate flag came to light. Two of those former students are now university administrators.
In 2018, a video surfaced of a white female student using a racial slur to describe her residence assistant. She later withdrew from Wake Forest. The 2018 fatal shooting of a Winston-Salem State student on Wake Forest’s campus led to a lawsuit by the victim’s mother. The lawsuit says minority students had raised concerns in 2014 that university police showed racism in handling events they hosted.
In 2014, an associate chaplain who’s black found a bucket of urine in front of his office, and a predominantly white fraternity canceled an off-campus party that critics said caricatured black culture.
Board chairman Gerald Roach will oversee a search for Hatch’s replacement. The search is expected to begin immediately.