Bolivar’s Southwest Baptist University is preparing for a new leader to take the helm as the university officially announced its pick for its 25th president today.

Eric A. Turner was named SBU’s president-elect in a public announcement Tuesday, July 24, in the Davis-Newport Theater on SBU’s campus.

He will begin his duties as president-elect Monday, Aug. 6, and assume the presidency on Sept. 1, according to an SBU news release.  

Speaking before students, faculty, staff and community members, Turner said he and his family are “humbled, honored and excited to join the SBU family.”

Turner said he plans to build on the legacy and foundation of SBU’s board of trustees and the 22 years of service by retiring SBU President C. Pat Taylor, who he called his friend.

Getting a laugh from the audience, Turner said, “In earlier conversation, Dr. Taylor looked at me square in the eye, he pointed at me, and he said, ‘Eric, if you come to SBU, don’t mess it up.’ Duly noted, sir.”

Turner said those part of the SBU community “must live like we believe.”

He said his primary goal as he steps into the president role will be to “fiercely guard our mission statement.”

“At Southwest Baptist University, it is no secret we are unapologetically Christian in our approach and mission of being a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society,” Turner said. “Equipping students to have a biblical worldview and a responsiveness to the world they encounter is the most important thing we do to accomplish our mission.”

Turner said now is the time for SBU to ensure a “first-rate Christian education in and out of the classroom by developing new collaborations, friendships, partnerships, designed to accomplish our mission and secure our future.”

According to the release, Turner said he desires to ensure a first-rate Christian education in and out of the classroom by developing:

    •    New collaborations, friendships and partnerships;

    •    New degrees, majors and approaches to meet the needs of traditional and non-traditional students; and

    •    New strategies for students to be equipped for the workplace and with a biblical worldview education that is second-to-none.

“This is the time for SBU to be the exemplar Christian university throughout the Midwest and to be the university of choice for Missouri Baptists,” he said.

Hiring process

According to an SBU news release, Turner of Pocahontas, Arkansas, was unanimously selected as the university’s 25th president on July 20 in a special meeting of the SBU Board of Trustees.

“Dr. Turner has demonstrated success in higher education leadership,” said Don Fahrni, chairman of the SBU Board of Trustees, in the release. “We are excited for his family to join the SBU family.”

In his speech, Turner said the hiring process helped him and his family “clarify and articulate why the mission of SBU is preeminent in the world of higher education and society at large.”

According to the release, the nationwide search resulted in 25 potential candidates.

After prayerful and strategic consideration of 17 qualified applicants, four semifinalists were selected for in-person interviews, the release said.

A single finalist, Turner, was brought to campus July 16-17 and then recommended to and approved by the SBU Board of Trustees on July 20.

“Over the past few months, every interaction that I have had with Dr. Turner has been positive and productive,” Allison Langford, chair of the presidential search committee, said Tuesday. “He genuinely cares for people and has a down-to-earth yet professional approach to leadership. I look forward to serving SBU with him.”

Turner succeeds Taylor, who announced in January that he will retire Aug. 31 after 22 years as president. Effective upon his retirement, the Board of Trustees has given Taylor the honorary title of President Emeritus.

"SBU will be in great hands with Dr. Turner, and I expect a smooth transition of leadership," Taylor said. "His experience as a college president will serve him well. I couldn’t be more pleased."

Turner’s background

Turner, 46, is a current college president with a wide range of experiences and a strong calling for Christian higher education, the release said.

In his speech Tuesday, Turner said he has been committed “to ensuring student access to the life-changing experiences realized on college campuses” throughout his 21-year career in higher eduction.    

He worked in fundraising, academics and accreditation at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, for 17 years before becoming president of Black River Technical College in Pocahontas, Arkansas, in 2014.

At BRTC, Turner provided leadership and oversight for all areas of the college system. The release said his leadership included rectifying longstanding issues related to finance, accreditation and academics. 

He led the college to develop its first comprehensive strategic plan, as well as a comprehensive outcomes assessment plan.

Even in the midst of addressing these issues at BRTC, he remained forward-thinking, launching three new market relevant academic degree programs and creating community partnerships to further the college’s mission, the release said.

“I was excited for both Eric and SBU to learn of his appointment to the presidency,” said Jerol Swaim, president emeritus of Williams Baptist, in the release. “I have observed and interacted with him for nearly 30 years in a variety of settings as a church member, deacon, Williams student and a member of the administrative team at Williams. The 15 years we served together at Williams is a particularly meaningful and cherished time in my time as president. He is a classic example of the type of individual our Baptist colleges and universities strive to produce — individuals who live out their faith every day.”

Turner has an Ed.D. in higher education administration from Vanderbilt University, an M.A. in history from Arkansas State University and a B.A. in history and English from Williams Baptist University.

The release said he is active within Southern Baptist life as a member of First Baptist Church in Pocahontas and a board member for the Arkansas Baptist Foundation. He is involved in the community through local chambers of commerce and economic development efforts, as well as being a member of Rotary International.

“Eric has proven to be a principled leader within our board, denomination and state,” said Bobby G. Thomas, president and CEO of the Arkansas Baptist Foundation, in the release. “His leadership has been thoughtful and thorough in moving toward our established vision and mission. Along with natural gifts and talents, Eric has always shown commitment to the task at hand. He has been a true team player and has managed to foster positive discussions, which have led to the best possible outcomes.”

He and his wife, Barbara, have been married for 23 years. Barbara has worked at Williams Baptist University for 21 years, currently as the director of financial aid. They have a 15-year-old daughter, Emma, who will be a sophomore at Bolivar High School, the release said.

SBU is a private, four-year comprehensive Christian university offering more than 80 areas of academic study on campuses in Bolivar, Mountain View, Salem and Springfield. Founded in 1878, the university enrolls 1,400 undergraduate students in Bolivar with a total enrollment of 3,600.

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