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University of Mobile board elects Charles W. Smith Jr. as president

Charles W. Smith Jr.

MOBILE, Ala. – The University of Mobile Board of Trustees today (March 21) elected Charles W. Smith Jr. as the 6th president of the Baptist university founded in 1961.

Prior to coming to the University of Mobile, Smith served as senior vice president for Institutional Relations and assistant professor of Christian Leadership at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College in Kansas City, Missouri.

Smith and his wife Ashley are originally from Montgomery, Ala.

“My wife and I are thrilled to be coming back home to Alabama to join the University of Mobile,” Smith said. “Thanks to President Burnett, his leadership team and countless others within the UM family, this university is stronger than ever and poised for even greater effectiveness. The University of Mobile is grounded in God’s Word, driven by a compelling vision, served by a world-class faculty and staff, and cherished by the UM family. I look forward to linking arms with the countless faculty, staff and supporters who make this place so special.”

During his 11-year tenure at MBTS, Smith oversaw a variety of functions, including the offices of enrollment management, advancement, alumni relations, church partnerships, student and resident life, marketing and communications, financial aid, dean of students, and student success.

He also co-founded the For The Church conference and resource platform, and established the For The Church Institute, a growing suite of free online classes serving thousands of students around the world. As an elected faculty member, Smith also taught various business and leadership classes at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels, including designing and overseeing Midwestern’s Ph.D. in Christian Leadership. During his time in Kansas City, the institution experienced record success, with enrollment growing from 1,100 to more than 5,200 students.

‘Proven leadership’

Terry Harbin, chair of the UM Board of Trustees, said Smith embodies the values and vision that are fundamental to the University of Mobile, which enrolls more than 1,900 students and offers associate to doctoral degrees in more than 75 academic programs.

“Dr. Smith’s proven leadership, commitment to faith-based higher education, and passion for developing the next generation of Christ-centered leaders make him the ideal choice to guide the University of Mobile into a future where we not only continue to excel in our academic and spiritual missions, but also expand our influence and impact on the global stage,” Harbin said.

Fred Wilson, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, said the university launched a nationwide search for a visionary leader in October 2023 and unanimously recommended Smith to the UM Board of Trustees on March 21.

“After a thorough and prayerful search, it became clear that Dr. Charles Smith was the person God has prepared to lead this institution,” Wilson said. “His impressive background, exemplary leadership qualities, and commitment to academic excellence and spiritual calling have prepared him to lead the University of Mobile into its next chapter of growth and success.”

Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions said Smith has experience and expertise that will serve him well in his new role.

“I believe he is a man of high integrity,” Lance said, “and I predict a bright future for the University of Mobile under his leadership.”

David S. Dockery, president of the International Alliance for Christian Education and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called Smith a “multi-gifted leader,” adding: “His convictional Baptist and evangelical beliefs will serve the university well and will be well received by churches in the region.”

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College,congratulated the UM family for choosing “a proven leader.”

“I could not be happier for Charles Smith, the University of Mobile, or my hometown of Mobile, Ala.,” Allen said. “A promising institution is receiving a proven leader, and I anticipate both will flourish in the years to come. Midwestern Seminary sends Dr. Smith and his entire family to UM with every best wish, and every expectation of God’s blessing on their lives and work in the season ahead.”

Lonnie Burnett retiring

Smith steps into the university’s top leadership post on May 6 as Lonnie Burnett, UM’s fifth president, retires after five years in the role. A 1979 graduate of the University of Mobile – then Mobile College – Burnett served over 20 years at his alma mater, rising through the ranks from adjunct professor to become president in 2019.

In addition to guiding the university through the challenges of a global pandemic, Burnett implemented new academic programs, defied national trends of declining enrollment, oversaw nearly $3 million in new construction and renovations through existing funds and fund-raising efforts, renovated College Woods Center as an event space for the university, and ensured the financial stability of the institution.

In his final act as president, Burnett will deliver the commencement address on May 4 and award diplomas to over 300 graduates in an outdoor ceremony on the university’s Great Commission Lawn.

Burnett said, “Lynne and I welcome Charles and his family to the University of Mobile family. We wish them a long and successful tenure.”

‘Common bond’

Smith said he and Ashley “could not be more excited to be stepping into this new season of leadership at the University of Mobile. We had a peace about the opportunity from the very first call with the Search Committee. Even over the phone, I could sense a common bond and desire to maximize all that God has for the University of Mobile.

“Over the past several months, our excitement has only grown. Dr. Burnett has done a remarkable job over the past five years and is eager to help us begin a new season of leadership. Local churches are strong and supportive, regional businesses are committed to our students, and the Alabama Baptist Convention is stronger than ever. I look forward to connecting with the UM community in the months ahead and stepping into a bright future together.”

Underscoring the importance of Christian universities, Smith said, “Virtually every day we meet men and women whose lives were radically changed in college. Places like the University of Mobile shape minds, move hearts, identify gifts, cultivate friendships, strengthen communities, and launch lifelong careers. But even more important, Christian universities like UM encourage and equip students to follow Jesus.

“Over the past few months, I’ve seen UM faculty and staff mentor students and describe how God’s good design not only informs their field of study, but their entire lives. These are the things we feel called to give our lives to, which is why we are so excited to be joining the University of Mobile family,” Smith said.

The Smiths have three daughters, Ellie, Annie and Susie.

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  • University of Mobile Staff