News Articles

Union’s Dockery to transition to chancellor in ’14

This article was originally posted Jan. 15, 2013.

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP) — David S. Dockery will transition from president of Union University to the role of university chancellor no later than July 2014, and Union trustees will immediately begin the process of searching for his successor as president.

“I am hopeful and prayerful for a good, smooth, joyful and positive transition,” Dockery said. “God has blessed the work of our hands and manifested His favor to this university time and time again during these past 17 years. I am confident that we will continue to see God’s grace made known to Union in the future.”

The announcement comes in the middle of what ultimately will be a three-year transition process at the Jackson, Tenn., campus. Dockery, 60, began talking with the executive committee of Union’s board of trustees in the fall of 2011 about the need to start succession planning for the university’s future, at which time the board approved a five-member succession planning team. Dockery said discussions with that team and with other members of the board have taken place regularly since then.

Union trustees will appoint a search committee in the near future and will retain the services of an executive search firm to provide counsel in the transition process. As chancellor, Dockery will continue to serve Union as an adviser for the board and the new president for the next several years.

The search process is expected to take about a year.

“David S. Dockery’s accomplishments at Union University are unsurpassed,” said Norman Hill, chairman of Union’s trustees. “Although much of his work is visible in the form of buildings and numbers, his greater work is in the hearts and minds of the thousands of students and myriads of others that he and his administration have influenced through the years. He has had Union’s best interest at heart in everything he has done as president for the past 17 years.

“With this decision he is once again taking care of the institution by initiating a transition process at a time that he has deemed appropriate for the institution and his family,” Hill continued. “We praise God for David and Lanese Dockery and believe the Lord still has much to accomplish through this beloved couple at Union University.”

At the time of his transition in 2014, Dockery will have served as Union’s president for 18 and a half years, approximating the tenure of president Robert E. Craig as the longest among Union’s 15 presidents since its founding in the 1800s.

The list of Dockery’s accomplishments is lengthy.

Under his leadership, following 15 straight years of enrollment increase, Union has more than doubled in size, growing from a fall enrollment of 1,972 to 4,262 in 2012. Donors have increased from 1,600 to 6,000 annually.

The budget has expanded from $18 million to more than $90 million per year. The university’s net assets have grown from less than $40 million to more than $110 million.

One of Dockery’s first priorities upon his election as president in December 1995 was to cast a vision for what Union University could become — a vision that included his desire for Union to reclaim and advance the Christian intellectual tradition. Early in his tenure, the university adopted a set of four core values: Excellence-Driven, Christ-Centered, People-Focused, Future-Directed. Those core values have provided the framework for the work of the university over the past 17 years.

He developed five key strategic plans (for 2001, 2005, 2010, 2012, 2015) that have guided the university’s work during his tenure.

Dockery’s administration presided over major development of the Union campus — including such buildings as White Hall, Jennings Hall, Providence Hall, Hammons Hall, Miller Tower, the Fesmire Field House, Carl Grant Events Center, Bowld Commons and several student housing facilities. Union added campuses in Germantown and Hendersonville, Tenn., and the Olford Center in Memphis during Dockery’s presidency, and the school’s athletics program transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division II candidacy.

Academically under his leadership, Union launched the School of Pharmacy, School of Theology and Missions and the Institute for International and Intercultural Studies in addition to new undergraduate programs in engineering, social work, graphic design, ethics, political science, athletic training and organizational leadership, among others. The university also began about a dozen master’s degree programs and five doctoral programs, in intercultural studies, theology and missions, education, social work, nursing and pharmacy.

“By any measure, David Dockery’s presidency at Union University has been the most laudable illustration of leadership success in Christian higher education,” said Greg Thornbury, dean of Union’s School of Theology and Missions. “Many will rightly praise him for Union’s phenomenal enrollment growth, outstanding academic markers and advances in local, regional and national stature.

“But all of this would not be nearly as important had it not been for his vigilant sense for and keen articulation of the university’s distinctive mission,” Thornbury continued. “In my opinion, these characteristics flowed from him being who God gifted him first and foremost to be: a theologian of the first order. By connecting a vision for Union with the great Christian intellectual tradition, he connected the institution he served so ably with something worthy, something noble, something permanent.

“In an age unfamiliar with the concept, we confess that we are profoundly in David Dockery’s debt.”

Dockery guided a major institutional rebuilding made necessary by a tornado that struck Union’s campus on Feb. 5, 2008, causing about $40 million in damage and leveling most of the university’s student housing. Dozens of students were trapped inside collapsed buildings as rescuers worked for hours to free them. Several sustained serious injuries, but nobody was killed.

“The first 36 hours were the most challenging 36 hours of my life,” Dockery said about the disaster. “My theology about angels and my theology about the providence of God carried me through that first 36 hours. I have a deep sense of God’s providence. It moved from theoretical to reality. It was all we had to hold on to.”

Though plunged into immediate uncertainty about the university’s future, Dockery led Union through a rebuilding process in which thousands of donors and volunteers came to Union’s aid.

“Out of the rubble across this campus I am praying that we will see renewal,” Dockery said during that time. “We lost the buildings, but we did not lose the Union spirit.”

Other achievements by Dockery during his administration include:

— beginning Union’s annual Scholarship Banquet, which has brought such influential national and international leaders as George H.W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, Laura Bush and Colin Powell and raised about $5.5 million for student scholarships.

— starting the Union Forum luncheon lecture series, with speakers including Fred Barnes, Bill Kristol, Clarence Page, Ross Douthat, Norah O’Donnell, Margaret Carlson, David Brooks, Robert P. George, Stephen Carter and several others.

— establishment of the Hundley Center, Vocatio Center, Office of Disability Services and Office of Student Success.

— increasing the graduation rate from 55 percent to 67 percent, which has resulted in more than 13,000 students who have graduated from Union during these years, approximately 65 percent of all living Union alumni.

— moving from a second-tier ranking in the regional college division of the U.S. News & World Report annual college rankings to a top-tier recognition among the regional universities in the South (Union ranked 14th in the South in 2012).

— recognition of Union by “First Things” as one of the top 12 Protestant institutions in the country.

— selection of Union by the “Chronicle of Higher Education” as one of the best universities to work for in the nation.

— development of Union’s mission and identity statements and statement of faith.

A prolific author and editor, Dockery has written or edited several major books on Christian higher education and Baptist history and heritage, including “Renewing Minds,” “Shaping a Christian Worldview,” “Faith and Learning,” “The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking,” “Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal” and “Southern Baptist Identity,” among others.

He served as chairman of the board for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, as well as serving on the board for Christianity Today International and Prison Fellowship. Dockery was a member of four recent committees and task force teams in the Southern Baptist Convention, and has spoken at major conferences and lectureships at dozens of churches, state conventions, colleges, churches and seminaries.

Dockery also has been an active participant in local programs and organizations. He was named Jackson’s Man of the Year in 2008 and was the recipient of the William D. Smart Racial Reconciliation Award from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 2012.

Samantha Adams, a public relations senior from Glendale, Ky., said when she came to Union “I was surrounded by effects of his leadership — Union’s strong commitment to keeping academic excellence while upholding the Christian faith; a thriving, growing campus; and scholarships to make a solid education available to people from a variety of backgrounds.

“While at Union, I have realized his leadership extends far beyond Union’s campus,” Adams added. “He has set an example to students for being a peacemaker among Christians, a reconciler between blacks and whites in the South and a humble student of God’s Word.”

Walton Padelford, longtime university professor of economics, described Dockery’s leadership as “extraordinary” and said his vision for Union –– including improving Union’s academic quality, improving theological education and moving the university into the Christian intellectual tradition –- was vital to the university’s success and growth.

“When parents visit me with their prospective students, and we’re talking about Union, many times I will say that this is the best time for your student to be here,” Padelford said. “We’re living in the golden age of Union.”
Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

    Read All by Tim Ellsworth ›