Southern Adventist University has chosen former Union College president David C. Smith to succeed long-serving president Gordon Bietz at the end of the current academic year.
The Collegedale, Tennessee-based university made the announcement after conducting a 10-month nationwide search.
“On Feb. 10, Southern Adventist University’s board of trustees unanimously voted to formally invite David C. Smith, PhD, to serve as the school’s 26th president,” it said on its Facebook page on Friday. “After much prayer, Smith has accepted the position.”
Smith worked as professor and chair at Southern’s English department for 17 years in the 1980s and 1990s, leaving in 1998 to serve as president of Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, for 13 years. He returned in 2011 as senior pastor for Southern’s campus church. Before his appointment as president, Bietz also served as pastor of the Collegedale Church.
“I am honored to follow Gordon Bietz, who has provided Southern with 19 years of distinguished leadership,” Smith said. “I look forward to partnering with God and all who are associated with Southern to see how He will make a special school even more special.”
Bietz said Sunday that his overall impression of Smith was “very positive.”
“He has experience and a pastor’s heart,” he said by e-mail.
Lisa Clark Diller, a history professor at Southern Adventist University, described Smith as a sharp thinker and good communicator.
“He is a servant-leader, whose good humor and strong communication skills are effective for building community in the organizations he leads,” said Diller, who took classes from Smith as an undergraduate student at Southern. “He shares his own spiritual journey with candor and that has … helped create a thriving culture of prayer and Christian testimony.”
She said his ability to teach undergraduates effectively is the same skill he uses to create trust and shared passion within the entities he has led.
“These are the same gifts of imagination and sharp thinking he will bring to bear on the challenges of leading a university in the climate of higher education that we all operate in — helping us make the case for Christian education on a residential campus,” she said.
Bietz announced in April 2015 that he would retire in May 2016, saying he felt that the time was right because that the university was in a strong position going forward.
Enrollment has doubled to more than 3,100 students since Bietz took the helm in 1997, and the university has implemented nearly $80 million in construction projects, including student apartment complexes, a wellness center, and a new nursing building.
The university, founded in 1892, also saw its budget doubled under Bietz and its academic programs, particularly its graduate studies program, have grown. While the university offered just a few graduate classes in 1997, today it has 13 master’s degrees and a doctorate degree in nursing practice.
Bietz told the Adventist Review last April that his immediate plans in retirement were to spend more time with his family and grandchildren.
He said Sunday: “I will be doing some traveling, writing, and working with AACU — certainly enough to keep me busy.”
AACU is the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities.
Smith’s appointment comes as several Adventist institutions of higher education are seeing major changes at the top. Last month, Asia-Pacific International University in Thailand appointed veteran Adventist educator and administrator Danny Rantung as its new president, and the University of the Southern Caribbean in Trinidad and Tobago announced that it had begun a search for a new president. Andrews University, the Adventist Church’s leading university, based in Berrien Springs, Michigan, is seeking a new president after Niels-Erik Andreasen unveiled plans last August to retire.
A date for Smith to assume the presidency at Southern will be announced later, the university said.
“Though an exact start date has yet to be determined, Smith looks forward to working alongside president Bietz in the months leading up to his retirement,” it said.
Bietz said he expected the transition phase to last “a month or so.”