JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (BP)–Samford University Provost James S. Netherton was unanimously elected Dec. 2 as the 21st president of Carson-Newman College.
The action ends a 10-month search to find a successor to Cordell Maddox, who has led the Baptist-related college in Jefferson City, Tenn., since 1977. Maddox will continue in his presidential role until Netherton, 52, assumes his new position Feb. 1.
“I believe that Dr. Netherton’s appointment is God’s gift to us,” said Jeanette Blazier, immediate past chair of the C-N trustees and a member of the presidential search committee. “I truly believe he has prepared this man to be here at this critical juncture in our history,” Blazier said. “You only need to consider his education, his experience and his commitment to God to see how well he fits what we were looking for.”
Even though Netherton’s recommendation came halfway through the search, Blazier said it didn’t take long for him to move to the head of the list. “Of all the candidates we looked at, Dr. Netherton matches up best with Carson-Newman’s needs.”
A mathematics professor who moved into administration in 1981 when he went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, from Armstrong Atlantic State University (now Armstrong State College) in Savannah, Ga., Netherton said he decided some time ago he wanted to work exclusively in Christian higher education.
At Baylor, Netherton served as vice president and chief operating officer until 1996 when he accepted the post of provost at Samford in Birmingham, Ala.
The new president said Carson-Newman’s heritage and future made the choice appealing. “As I have considered C-N’s history and mission, I have decided that this is the way I would have written the scenario if I had been given the opportunity. There exists here a commitment to academic rigor, scholarship and spiritual growth.”
A lifelong Baptist, Netherton said he believes his extensive experience at Baylor and Samford will serve him well in the days to come, particularly in light of recent developments between Carson-Newman and the Tennessee Baptist Convention over the selection of trustees.
Netherton was involved in transitions at both Samford and Baylor as they restructured their relationship with their respective conventions.
“Baylor worked through that and it never intended to be anything less than it had been. And I believe its Baptist witness is even greater because it is now voluntary and not mandatory,” Netherton said.
He added that Samford “had to put its relationship [with the state convention] back together [after a trustee selection dispute] and has been successful at being Baptist, unapologetically Christian and academically strong.” Netherton arrived at Samford during the middle of a process that would ultimately take some 26 months for an amicable resolution.
“It may be that two years is a minimum to work these kinds of things out,” Netherton observed.
Marvin Cameron, new chairman of the trustees at Carson-Newman who chaired the presidential search committee, said “the fact he [Netherton] had been at institutions which had revitalized relationships with their Baptist state conventions made him very appealing to our committee.”
Cameron, who described the search as “a prayerful, diligent and successful” process, said the committee also “loved the fact Netherton is Baptist to the bone.”
Netherton was raised as a Baptist and participated in the Baptist Student Union at the University of Mississippi, where he earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics. He served as chairman of the BSU’s student summer missions program there. Since then he has served in numerous church roles, including various committee positions as well as deacon, Sunday school teacher, Bible drill leader and choir director. He and his wife, Patricia, have two grown sons.
The fact the Nethertons are “committed Baptist Christians helped us understand even more that God was leading us to them,” Cameron said.
A native of Jackson, Miss., Netherton earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Virginia in 1973. He and his wife are members of Birmingham’s Brookwood Baptist Church.
During a news conference following his selection, Netherton stressed that he wants a positive relationship with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
“If you’re going to be a Baptist institution, the best way is to be in partnership with the state convention,” he said.
Netherton emphasized a partnership relationship. “I didn’t come here to move the institution away, but to perfect the work that has been started,” he said.
Netherton is well aware of the tension in the convention since trustees changed their method of trustee selection last year. In an effort to understand the issues, Netherton attended the recent TBC annual meeting as an observer.
He said he witnessed “much of the same anger that I saw both in Texas and Alabama.”
He noted he also “heard people with a warm spirit say we need to work this out. Those are folks I can work with,” Netherton affirmed.
He stressed he is eager to work through the appropriate processes “to perfect a mutually supportive relationship that the convention will be able to bless next fall.”
C-N’s new president said he “has great faith in Baptists and their ability to make decisions. As a group, we [Baptists] represent wonderful people who really want to work together in a way that pleases God. And even those who do not agree with or understand you are more often than not willing to dialogue and try to build a working union.”
The work of a Christian college, and particularly a Baptist institution, Netherton said, “is to give young people an opportunity to develop their God-given abilities. And we must do it excellently because a Christian witness must first represent quality. It should not be second-rate. It must be first-rate.”
TBC Executive Director James Porch said he welcomes Netherton “to the family of Tennessee Baptists as the 21st president of Carson-Newman College.
“Dr. Netherton comes to the presidency as a Christian teacher, friend of students, proven administrator and statesman whose ministry includes proven relationship building skills with Baptists.
“I believe he will, with the trustees, students, faculty and alumni of Carson-Newman, write a new chapter in the rich heritage of Carson-Newman that will include both desire and action to serve all Tennessee Baptists through the Tennessee Baptist Convention.”