Southern Adventist University (SAU), a Seventh-day Adventist school in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States, recently honored two of its former school presidents. Gordon Bietz and David Smith were awarded the title of president emeritus for their leadership and longstanding support to the school, leaders said.
President Emeritus Gordon Bietz
SAU’s Board of Trustees designated former president Gordon Bietz as president emeritus during its February 27, 2022, meeting in recognition of his dedication and service to the university.
“As Southern’s longest-serving president, Dr. Bietz played a huge part in shaping Southern as we know it today,” Ken Shaw, SAU’s current president, said. “We are pleased to recognize and honor Gordon for his Christ-centered leadership, commitment to Adventist education, and rich legacy of service to the Southern community.”
Bietz served as Southern’s president from 1997–2016. During his 19-year tenure, the university’s enrollment nearly doubled, campus facilities expanded to meet that growth, and the Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan that he spearheaded set a strong foundation for the institution’s ongoing success. Students and employees alike appreciated and respected Bietz, who once said, “I love people and hope that was reflected in everything I did. If you really care about people, they know it, they trust you, and they allow you to be their leader.”
When he became president, Bietz was no stranger to Southern. From 1981–1994 he served as senior pastor of the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists, located on campus. His Fenton Forest parables and thought-provoking sermons were popular as he ministered to the Southern community. He went on to serve as president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, providing leadership to the Adventist Church in the region surrounding Southern until becoming the university’s twenty-fifth president.
In October 2021, Southern held a ribbon cutting for the long-awaited Bietz Center for Student Life, named in honor of the former president and his family’s long-standing dedication to Adventist education. It serves as a brick-and-mortar reminder of Bietz’s legacy and his strong belief that students are the reason Southern exists.
President Emeritus David Smith
In recognition of his dedication and service to SAU, the university’s Board of Trustees designated former president David Smith as president emeritus during its February 27 meeting.
“It is our pleasure to honor President Smith, who dedicated nearly 30 years of his career to the Southern community,” Shaw said. “In every role, Dave’s love for Jesus, as well as the students, employees, and church members he interacted with, made a significant impact and leaves a lasting legacy.”
Smith’s long relationship with the institution began in 1981 as an English professor, serving 17 years teaching and then as department chair. His wife, Cherie, and their two daughters are graduates of Southern. After leaving the area to serve as president of Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, from 1998–2011, Smith returned as senior pastor of the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists, located on Southern’s campus — a position he held for five years.
During that time he served on the university’s board, gaining an intimate understanding of the institution’s finances, operations, and mission. In 2016, Smith was unanimously elected as Southern’s twenty-sixth president. During his five years as president, Smith emphasized growing Southern’s endowment fund to make Adventist education more affordable, while demonstrating a deep commitment to serving God and nurturing a Christ-centered environment on campus. Upon his retirement in May 2021, Smith said, “Southern Adventist University is God’s school. Its future is in God’s hands, not our hands. If we humble ourselves, if we pray, and if we submit to His will, God will deliver the future He knows is best for us and for those we serve. With each step into the future, we must learn to trust Him fully.”