Underwood Begins Era as Mercer President


Published in the Macon Telegraph, Tuesday, July 4, 2006
By Jennifer Burk

Bill Underwood readily admits he has “lofty ambitions” for Mercer University.

But Mercer’s newest president also thinks those ambitions are attainable, he said at a news conference Monday in the R. Kirby Godsey Administration Building, which bears his predecessor’s name.

“Mercer University is already recognized as one of the finest universities in the South,” Underwood said, surrounded by portraits of former Mercer presidents. “I firmly believe … we can become one of the premier institutions in America.”

Underwood also has said he wants to increase Mercer’s endowment from $176 million to $1 billion within 10 years.

Although Monday marked Underwood’s first day in the office as president, he already was out on university business Sunday, speaking at a local Baptist church, said Rick Cameron, assistant vice president in Mercer’s Office of University Relations and Marketing.

Underwood said the transition to president was “smooth and seamless,” noting that Godsey has been particularly helpful with the change.

Godsey, who will remain at Mercer in an advisory position as chancellor, did not attend Monday’s news conference because he was on vacation, Cameron said.

Underwood comes to Mercer from Baylor University in Texas, where he most recently served as interim president. He also served as a law faculty member and the university’s general counsel.

His wife and two teenage children remained in Texas on Monday preparing for the move, he said.

About 75 people from the Mercer and Macon communities attended Monday’s news conference to hear from Underwood.

Fred Taylor, a second-year law student at Mercer, arrived early with his wife.

“I think it’s a historic moment for the school,” Taylor said, noting that Underwood is only the 18th university president in Mercer’s 173-year existence.

Taylor said it was significant for him to attend the conference because he is enrolled in law school and Underwood has a law background.

He said he hoped the new president would promote the Walter F. George School of Law and maybe teach a class or two.

Clarke Perry, a graduate student in the Townsend School of Music and a student worker at the University Center, said he hopes Underwood will further develop Mercer’s educational programs.

“I’m very excited,” Perry said. “I believe in seasons, and I think it’s a new season at Mercer University.”

Larry Brumley, senior vice president and Underwood’s chief of staff who worked with him at Baylor, said Underwood is “a very smart man.”

“He has the ability to break down complex issues,” Brumley said.

Mercer will benefit from Underwood’s passion for Baptist higher education, he said.

“I think it’s a great fit, for him and for Mercer,” he said.

To contact Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345 or e-mail jburk@macontel.com.

• Before being chosen Mercer University president, served as interim president at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, since June 2005
• Law faculty, Baylor University, (as assistant professor, associate professor, full
professor of law and Leon Jaworski Chair in Practice and Procedure and Master
Teacher) since 1990
• General counsel, Baylor University, 1997-98
• Trial lawyer, Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, Dallas, Texas, 1987-96
• Law clerk, for the Honorable Sam D. Johnson, U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Austin, Texas, 1985-1987

• Director, Heart of Texas Legal Services, 1995-97
• Director, Waco Habitat for Humanity, 1993-95

• Oklahoma Baptist University, 1982, bachelor’s degree
• University of Illinois College of Law, 1985, juris doctor

• Married, two children


Rick Cameron is senior assistant vice president for marketing communications. He is liaison for the Athletic Department and is known as the "Voice of the Bears" for his radio play-by-play of football and men's basketball games, as well as select women's basketball and baseball games.