MACON, Ga. (BP)–R. Kirby Godsey, 68, whose presidency of Mercer University has been marked by institutional growth and theological controversy, has announced his retirement at the end of June 2006.
One of the two books written by Godsey, titled “When We Talk About God … Let’s Be Honest,” caused an uproar that prompted the Georgia Baptist Convention, with which Mercer is affiliated, to create a special committee to look into his theological views. On several key doctrines, including the authority of Scripture, the seven-member committee concluded in September 1997 that Godsey’s views “deviate significantly from historic Baptist doctrine and are, in fact, considered heretical.”
Godsey nevertheless remained in his post with support from the board of trustees.
He became Mercer’s 17th president in July 1979, two years after joining the administration as executive vice president and dean of the college of liberal arts. He became the longest-serving president in the university’s history last summer and reached a similar milestone among Georgia’s current university presidents a few years ago.
“A part of the stewardship of the president’s office is to assure a smooth and orderly transition for the next administration,” Godsey said, according to a Mercer news release on his plans to retire in 2006. “While serving as the president and chief executive officer of Mercer has been the most important and defining work of my life and career, it is also my responsibility to work with the board in achieving Mercer’s highest and best future.”
When Godsey assumed office in 1979, Mercer had an enrollment of 3,800 students, according to the news release, which noted that Mercer now is Georgia’s second-largest private university, with an enrollment of 7,300 students at campuses in Macon and Atlanta, three regional academic centers and two teaching hospitals.
Mercer’s endowment has risen from $16.5 million to more than $176 million, including the largest gift in university history, $62 million, in 2002. Mercer’s budget has risen from $21.3 million to $173.8 million. More than 50 buildings have been constructed or restored during Godsey’s tenure.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools presented Godsey with its meritorious service award last year for his work with an accreditation review project which rewrote the standards and the accreditation processes for all colleges and schools in the southern region. In 2002, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) recognized Godsey as the Southeast’s CEO of the Year.
“Kirby Godsey is the most dynamic president in Mercer University’s history and perhaps in the entire state today,” James A. Bishop of Brunswick, Ga., who chairs Mercer’s board of trustees, was quoted as saying in the news release. “He has taken a good university and made it one of the best in the nation. His vision and leadership have reached well beyond the university, leaving an indelible imprint on Georgia.”
Godsey’s controversial book, When We Talk About God … Let’s Be Honest, was released in 1996 by Smyth & Helwys Publishing, part of the network of organizations surrounding the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship breakaway from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Godsey’s other book, “The Meaning of a Baptist University,” was released in 1997 by Mercer University Press.
The search for Godsey’s successor, which will begin next spring, will be led by longtime Mercer trustee and Augusta attorney David Hudson, according to the university’s news release.
The Baptist Press report on the Georgia Baptist Convention committee findings regarding Mercer President Kirby Godsey’s book, “When We Talk About God … Let’s Be Honest,” can be accessed at www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=3781.