The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

1980s

Our man in Bahrain

Roebuck-at-HearingAfter serving in some of the hottest spots in the world — Libya, Iraq, Syria and Israel — William Roebuck’s (’78, MA ’82) next posting might seem like a day at the beach for the career diplomat.

In July, President Obama nominated Roebuck as the next U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain, an archipelago in the Persian Gulf with about 1.3 million people. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Roebuck’s nomination last month, but he still awaits confirmation by the full Senate. (Bill Roebuck was confirmed by the Senate in November and began his posting in Bahrain on Jan. 8, 2015.)

Testifying before the foreign relations committee, Roebeck summed up his impressive 20-year career: “I have spent most of my career posted in the Middle East … fostering political dialogue, providing support for elections, helping governments address the threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism, promoting and protecting human rights, and encouraging regional security efforts between neighbors.”

Roebuck follows in the footsteps of at least two other alumni. Jeannette Wallace Hyde (’58) was ambassador to Barbados and areas of the West Indies from 1994 to 1997. The late Graham Martin (’32) was a career diplomat who served as ambassador to Thailand and Italy and was the last U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam before the country’s fall to North Vietnam in 1975.

“Bill” Roebuck, 58, grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and received a George Foster Hankins Scholarship to Wake Forest. He wrote for the Old Gold & Black and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in English literature.

As reported on the news site, AllGov.com, and in his State Department biography, Roebuck served in Côte D’Ivoire during a stint with the Peace Corps and taught English in Saudi Arabia. After earning a law degree from the University of Georgia, he joined the Foreign Service in 1992. In the two decades since, he’s become a well-traveled and respected diplomat.

He was a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv for several years before moving to Damascus, Syria, where he served as acting deputy chief of mission. After a short stint in Washington, he went back to the Middle East as deputy political counselor at the embassy in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.

Roebuck was sent to Tripoli, Libya, in early 2013 as chargé d’affaires — the top U.S. diplomat in the country in the absence of an ambassador — several months after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Most recently, he was deputy assistant secretary of state of Egypt and Maghreb Affairs, based in Washington.

While Bahrain doesn’t attract the headlines of its Middle East neighbors, Roebuck isn’t likely to have much time to spend at the beach. He’s sure to be tested as he and the U.S. government push back against the Bahrain government’s human-rights record and targeting of opposition groups.

Fitting for one who spent his college days studying literature, Roebuck occasionally writes poetry for the Foreign Service Journal. Bahrain’s leading English newspaper, the Daily Tribune, even described the “new amby” as a poet. Roebuck once penned a moving tribute to his late friend, Chris Stevens, which reads, in part:

“I think back to that long night last September: the frantic phone calls,
 The unreliable shards of information, the series of urgent plans drawn up and discarded, The crushing news, And no time to mourn, then or later.”

— Kerry M. King (’85)

The penguin that’s proud to be a Deacon

Deacon, and his brother or sister -- keepers still don't know the sex of either penguin. Watch a video  of the penguins.

Deacon, at left, and his unnamed brother or sister — keepers still don’t know the sex of either penguin. Watch a video of the penguins. Photos courtesy of Greensboro Science Center.

We know plenty of alumni who name their dogs Deacon, but a penguin named Deacon? That’s something we don’t hear every day, or ever for that matter.

Just down the road at the Greensboro Science Center there’s a new African penguin chick — one of two hatched in late August — that was recently named Deacon. In a story on the penguin chicks, the Greensboro News & Record took note of the unique name: “A Science Center patron bought naming rights in honor of a friend — and faithful Wake Forest fan — who died of ALS.”

The newspaper article didn’t mention the name of that faithful Wake Forest fan. But we knew it had to be Pete Moffitt (’84), who lived in Greensboro before dying of ALS in August 2013. Pete was indeed a huge Wake Forest fan and a friend to many here on campus.

A quick look at his wife’s Facebook page confirmed the penguin connection. Susan Gunter Moffitt (’86) posted a photo and this message several days ago: “Here is the newest member of the Moffitt family. Welcome Deacon! We are truly honored by this offering of friendship and love! Pete would be so moved by your thoughtfulness Washburn family.”

Deacon Taken September 10

When I called Susan Moffitt to learn more, she was still filled with gratitude to the Washburn family. The Washburn family — the Washburns and Moffitts have been friends for years — purchased the naming rights to the penguin. She didn’t know the penguin’s name until Jess Washburn made the announcement last week at the Science Center. (The second penguin is still unnamed.)

Washburn explained why he chose the name to honor his friend: “Pete was a passionate, devoted Wake Forest fan. Through winning and losing seasons, Pete was a die-hard. He rarely missed a game and always kept the faith!”

Deacon the penguin has a good Wake Forest lineage. In addition to Pete and Susan, Pete’s father, William E. Moffitt (’52), and late uncle Robert Moffitt Sr. (’58), are also alumni. Pete and Susan’s twin daughters, Mary Layton and Hastings, are high school seniors who are considering Wake Forest. (An athletic scholarship and the Moffitt Courage Award at Wake Forest are named for Pete Moffitt.)

Susan was on a mission this morning, searching for a “Proud to be a Deacon” pin to stick on the penguin. No, not the real penguin, she assured me, but a stuffed penguin much loved by one of her daughters, whose room is filled with penguins. How special is that?

— Kerry M. King (’85)

Martha Allman: Study affirms test-optional policy for admissions

On Tuesday National Public Radio’s Eric Westervelt broke the story of an unprecedented, longitudinal study challenging the value of standardized tests in the admissions process. Bill Hiss, the principal researcher and former dean of admissions at Bates College, told NPR that “this study will be a first step in examining what happens when you admit tens of thousands of students without looking at their SAT scores.”

The study found “trivial differences” in examining the college performance of students who submitted standardized test scores for college admission and those who didn’t. The research suggests a better predictor of college success is the student’s high school GPA. Wake Forest, whose test-optional policy began with the freshman class of 2009, was one of the 33 institutions studied. (This year applications are holding steady compared with last year: approximately 11,000 but with a difference: a 25 percent increase in those applying early decision, a definite uptick.) I asked Dean of Admissions Martha Allman (’82, MBA ’92) to discuss the study’s findings and what they mean for Wake Forest. Here’s our edited, condensed interview. 

Dean of Admissions Martha Allman

Dean of Admissions Martha Allman

Maria Henson: For people who have not read the study, describe its main findings.

Martha Allman: The study was done by Bill Hiss, the former dean of admissions at Bates College, one of the first colleges to become test-optional. He’s done a lot of research and recordkeeping on test-optional. He expanded his research to 33 different test-optional colleges including state schools, private schools, arts schools, historically black schools. It’s a very broad look and longitudinal. It basically shows there is virtually no difference between submitters and non-submitters in their college years. That’s the main finding.

Henson: Was Wake Forest one of the schools studied? 

Allman: Yes. We did provide data, and I spent a lot of time on the phone talking with Bill Hiss about this.

Henson: Why did you want Wake Forest to make the change to test-optional? 

Allman: In 2008 we began really paying attention to research out there about use of the tests. (Sociology professor) Joseph Soares on our faculty had done a lot of research himself on the biases of the SAT. We felt that this was a way that we could really broaden our applicant pool to attract more socioeconomic and racial diversity and also look at students who perhaps were star high school students — stars academically — but were not applying to Wake Forest because of our average SAT scores.

Henson: Did you do your own admissions tracking after the policy took effect? 

Allman: Yes and continue to do so. We found the same thing that the study found: there is virtually no difference (in college performance). When we went into the test-optional decision there was concern from the faculty, from students, from alumni that this would lessen our academic nature, that we would no longer draw really strong students, that we would become less competitive, that the students would not do as well, that we would have higher attrition. And none of that has proved to be the truth at all. As a matter of fact, last year we had more students graduating with honors than possibly we have had in Wake Forest history. We’ve not seen attrition increase, and we don’t see any differentiation between the submitters and the non-submitters. That’s the big news.

Henson: What has been the long-term trend line concerning submitters and non-submitters applying to Wake Forest? 

Allman: It’s been pretty consistent. Between 25 and 30 percent of the students not submitting. We do ask students to submit after they enroll. Some do. Some don’t.

Henson: I talked to a junior who said her guidance counselor told her Wake Forest would not let you in if you didn’t submit scores. As she put it, the thought would be there is something wrong with you. 

Allman: It’s not true at all. I think even for students who submit we probably pay much less attention to that than we did in the past. We saw this from the first year and continue to see students who have extremely high SAT scores who don’t submit (scores), saying, ‘Philosophically, I love what you’re doing and I want you to judge me on my academic merits, not on my test.’ That’s really exciting to see those students.

Campus tour for prospective students, 2011

Campus tour for prospective students, 2011

Henson: What has been the effect on campus and in the classrooms? 

Allman: We have more students who are eligible for Pell Grants, more first-generation college students and more racial minorities. All of those things have increased.

Henson: How might this study change the admissions process throughout the United States?

Allman: I think one of the exciting sentences that I read in the study was (to paraphrase) ‘With the increasing number of really high quality colleges becoming test-optional — private, public and a variety of schools — families may be reaching the point that they decide to forgo the whole testing process.’ That was a very shocking thing to read in print, but actually a very exciting thing and suggests that we may be on the cusp of a real culture change. Historically, SAT scores have been equated with intelligence. Studies and studies are showing that that isn’t true. And here we have wonderful, empirical evidence that students at selective schools perform just as well without a standardized test as they do with the test.

I have long bemoaned the students who have spent so much time in test prep, so much money and so much energy in test strategy. They could be doing other things. They could be more involved in school, more involved in fine arts or other kinds of important extracurricular and talent activities. Now this may open the door to say perhaps we have put too much emphasis on it, and we need to dial it back and concentrate on other academic issues.

Henson: What will be your next “bold move” as dean of admissions?

Allman: Admissions has to be continually nimble. We never know how the landscape is going to change and how we need to adjust. I think we need to continue to be attuned to what’s going on in the world of admissions and the educational landscape. Certainly we’re very interested in the whole area of access, making sure that first-generation college students, students who have not had a lot of the privileges of other students, have access to Wake Forest. The Magnolia Scholars Program — and the growth of that program — is a testament to that. Making our campus more international is one of the things we’re moving toward, with students coming in from China, India and Western Europe. It’s diversity writ large.

Henson: Does that mean that the Wake Forest a lot of us attended and knew is over?

Allman: I think there are common threads from when you and I went to school and (Provost Emeritus) Ed Wilson (’43) went to school to these students entering Wake Forest that hopefully will never change. The whole idea of Pro Humanitate is, I think, stronger than ever with this generation of students. (And the idea) of service, of social justice issues, of international kinds of issues. The whole student-faculty relationship — the closeness — is something that separates us from a lot of our peers. Students are drawn here because of that. Students live here, and faculty live close by, and there’s close community interaction. It’s been treasured since the time Wake Forest was founded and still is. There may be cosmetic changes in the way the campus looks. It has certainly grown. We’ve added new buildings, and the people always change. We reflect more of what the country looks like now, but the fundamental character of Wake Forest is still there, and it’s very, very strong.

Henson: What have I not asked you that you wish I had? 

Allman: The emphasis on academic excellence. I think that was the greatest worry — that we were making it easier for people to get in and that was going to affect the classroom and our graduates. That hasn’t been the case at all. We continue to attract a really competitive applicant pool. We have not scared away students. In many ways it’s considered more selective because the process has all these subjective factors: we interview students, we have an application that is more in-depth than most any of our peers and we get good press about that. Guidance counselors tell us that the admissions process is a good reflection of what Wake Forest is — that it is intentional, personal and individualistic, focusing on the whole person, not just the quantifiable.”

Joni James (’89), a Pulitzer finalist

The 2012 Pulitzer Prizes announced this week failed to include a prize for fiction or editorial writing, but for finalists in those categories there is still cause for celebration to be named among the top three contenders for the awards.A Wake Forest alumna was among them. The Pulitzer board cited the work of Tim Nickens, Joni James (’89), John Hill and Robyn Blumner of the Tampa Bay Times as an award finalist “for editorials that examined the policies of a new, inexperienced governor and their impact on the state, using techniques that stretched the typical editorial format and caused the governor to mend some of his ways.”

Here’s an excerpt from an editorial critical of Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s record on open government: “The reality is that the administration has a high number of public records requests from the public and the media because it is so secretive in the way it conducts public business. This is not about newspapers. This is about the public’s right to be informed about the business of the state and the importance of transparency as a check on government.”

Joni James ('89)

A native of North Carolina, James is deputy editorial page editor of the Tampa Bay Times. Her list of newspaper stops along her career path includes the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel and The Wall Street Journal. She joined the Tampa Bay Times in 2003 and its editorial board in 2008.

The other Pulitzer finalists in the editorial writing category: journalists from Bloomberg News, who wrote about the European financial crisis, and the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press for an editorial campaign that resulted in the state’s first reform of open government laws in 35 years.