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Dockery to trustees on Union’s future: Stay the course

Union President David S. Dockery speaks to trustees April 4. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)
Union President David S. Dockery speaks to trustees April 4. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

JACKSON, Tenn.April 5, 2013 – Union University President David S. Dockery encouraged university trustees to maintain the institution’s course in church connectedness, scholarship, accessibility for students and commitment to its mission as they transition to a new president in the near future.

“Union University has been the recipient of God’s ongoing blessings and favor in ways that are hard to describe,” Dockery said in an April 4 address. “We pray that God in his grace will continue to rest his favor upon us and bless the work of our hands.”

The address during a trustee banquet in the Carl Grant Events Center came the night before the trustees’ spring meeting, in which they approved a $93.5 million budget. As part of the banquet, trustees presented Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, with Union’s M.E. Dodd Denominational Service Award. Dockery also introduced John Netland as Union’s new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

But the address from Dockery – in what could be his last formal address to the Union board as president – was the moment of historic significance for the university. Dockery announced in January his plans to transition to the role of university chancellor no later than July 2014. At that time, 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 in Union’s history.

A search committee is in the process of finding the next Union president.

Dockery reminisced about his tenure at Union that began more than 17 years ago. Since then, he has spoken at hundreds of Southern Baptist churches in West Tennessee and has been a graduation speaker at numerous West Tennessee high schools. The accomplishments of his administration at Union are lengthy, as the university has more than doubled in size and seen its annual budget more than quadruple.

“Union’s programs in engineering, theology, English, music, political science, nursing, pharmacy, the sciences and dozens more are thriving, enabling a generation of students to carry out God’s call on their lives in dozens of spheres, shaped and guided by a Christian world and life view,” Dockery said.

Dockery opted not to provide a “state of the university” report for trustees, but instead highlighted five key strengths that he considered to be especially important during his tenure – areas that he said trustees would do well to stress going forward.

Union’s first strength, Dockery said, was its connection with churches of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. Union provides theological education to more than 150 bivocational pastors, helping to strengthen those congregations directly, and Union graduates serve in multiple leadership positions in churches, denominational agencies or simply as committed church members.

“Union University, like other Christian colleges and universities, will not be able to maintain their distinctiveness apart from an ongoing relationship with churches,” Dockery said. “Church connectedness is not something that can be taken for granted. It’s an intentional priority and must remain such at this institution.”

Secondly, Dockery cited Union’s commitment to both serious scholarship and student accessibility, stressing that the two must be held together. Union has tried to recruit the best faculty possible and strong scholars in their field, Dockery said, while at the same time making sure that quality education can become more accessible and available than ever through extension campuses, adult studies degrees, its keystone program and other opportunities.

The development and leadership of the Board of Trustees, including the development of the important trustee policy manual, and Union’s growth in intercultural and international efforts have been two other key areas of advancement, Dockery said.

The most important achievement, however, has been Union’s commitment to its core values, confessional and convictional beliefs, identity and mission, Dockery said -- a commitment has served as the anchor to all of what Union has become.

“We live in a world where the church and the culture care very little about historical orthodoxy,” Dockery said. “What we offer, however, is different at Union University. We offer education that is grounded in the pattern of Christian truth that has been passed on through the church for the past 2,000 years.

“Contrary to the kind of indifference that exists all around us, Union is committed to developing a generation of leaders who are called to boldly embrace the truth of the Christian faith. We recognize that we’ve been given a body of truth to pass on to the next generation.”

Dockery said Union’s goal is to produce students and graduates who would be “convictional, cooperative and compassionate.”

“Union’s serious commitment to reclaiming the Christian intellectual tradition is not merely about creating a pious context where we talk about spirituality,” Dockery said. “It’s about the kind of serious Christian thinking that is necessary to engage the secular culture, to lead in this world.”

Prior to his address, Norm Hill, chairman of the Union trustees, presented Davis with the Dodd Award, the highest denominational service award Union gives. It is named for the man who was a Union alumnus, served as president of the SBC and who was the father of today’s Cooperative Program, the method by which Southern Baptists pool their resources to fund their mission efforts.

The award is given annually to a leader within the SBC who displays excellence and leadership in Southern Baptist life, as well as friendship and commitment to Union University. Past recipients have included Jimmy Draper, Adrian Rogers, Morris Chapman, Frank Page, Thom Rainer, Jerry Rankin and R. Albert Mohler Jr., among others. Union trustees select the award’s recipient each year.

“Randy Davis has brought a new spirit to Tennessee Baptist life, a new vision for evangelism and missions and a greater sense of cooperation,” Dockery said. “He embodies much of what the M.E. Dodd Award stands for in terms of commitment to Union University and dedication to the ideals of the Cooperative Program.”

In accepting the award, Davis said that while many organizations have core values, he knows of no institution that exemplifies and lives out its core values like Union.

“The Cooperative Program is as much of a vehicle that is needed today, if not more so, than the day it was started,” Davis said. “I appreciate the opportunity to serve our churches. I appreciate the opportunity to be affiliated with Union in any kind of way.”

Dockery also introduced Netland as Union’s newest dean. Netland, who has been an English professor at Union and chairman of the English department since 2008, spent 20 years as an English professor on other Christian college campuses. He has a doctorate from UCLA and a bachelor’s degree from Biola University. Netland succeeds Gene Fant, who moved into his current position as Union’s executive vice president for academic administration.

On April 5, trustees approved the $93.5 million budget, an increase from this year’s $92 million budget. The university’s budget was $18 million when Dockery began as president and has grown each year during his administration.

Trustees also heard a report from Fant and Rich Grimm, senior vice president for enrollment services, on Union’s three-year strategic plan, “Illuminating Minds: Union 2015.” Fant and Grimm reported that all major aspects of the Union 2015 plan are about 90 percent complete, and that all of the plan’s objectives can be finished by this time next year.

Trustees re-elected Hill as chairman, while selecting Chad Wilson as vice chairman and Lisa Rogers as secretary.

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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