Introducing the 4th President of University of Mobile:
Timothy L. Smith, PhD, PhD, CRNA, APRN
On the morning of April 11, 2016, the University of Mobile Board of Trustees gathered in Harrigan Center conference room on campus for a meeting that would set a new course for the future of the 54-year-old Baptist college.
The first word from the meeting came at 11:51 a.m. by way of a text from Board Chair Fred Wilson: We have a new President!
By unanimous vote, Dr. Timothy L. Smith became the fourth president of University of Mobile.
Soon after, Wilson and outgoing president Dr. Mark Foley introduced Smith and his wife, Penney, at a press conference in Harrigan Center. Later, they were welcomed at Ram Hall with a standing ovation from students, faculty and staff.
“I stand here grateful and humbled by the decision made earlier today by God and the Board of Trustees,” Smith told the UM family. “My wife, Penney, and I are overwhelmed with God’s grace, your hospitality, and the opportunity to partner with you in advancing University of Mobile as a Christ-centered educational institution that honors God in equipping students for their future profession.”
Earlier, Wilson described the new president as “a tireless worker and a great visionary with a broad range of experience. Dr. Tim Smith will be a president for every constituency of the university.”
Smith, 52, holds two PhDs, two master’s degrees and is licensed by the South Carolina Board of Nursing and the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. He has extensive experience in Christian higher education and the field of healthcare education. Most recently, he was provost of Anderson University in South Carolina. Previously, he was dean of the School of Nursing at Union University in Tennessee.
Smith said he is coming to the University of Mobile to listen, collaborate, partner and build.
“The University of Mobile has a great foundation, with many building blocks already above the foundation. I believe there are huge opportunities to serve the community and partner with so many organizations. My methodology in leading as president will be a very collaborative approach. I want people inside the institution and externally to know that I’m coming in to listen; I’m coming in to collaborate; and I’m coming in to partner,” said the new president.
Smith’s first official day was set as May 16, but he was already at work immediately after the announcement, meeting with academic deans, vice presidents, student leaders, and community leaders. At a lively, laughter-filled informal meet-and-greet in Bedsole Commons, the bow-tie-wearing new president posed for photos with several similarly attired faculty and students. Flanked by Dr. and Mrs. Foley, the Smiths immediately started finding common ground and building relationships with each person they greeted.
“I am a very relational type of president,” Smith told a reporter who asked what his first day on the job would look like. “I am interested in meeting people. I want to sit down and I want to hear the stories and about the lives of the faculty, the staff and the administration. And in that, I want to understand where they have come, and where we can partner together and move forward.”
Asked to list his top three goals, Smith told reporters, “No. 1 is to continue the theological emphasis that has been established here. No. 2 is to examine the academic programs and determine what needs to be revised, to be strengthened, to develop new programs. No. 3 is the process of looking at fiscal resources and continue to strengthen those, and partner with the community and allow us to serve the community while our students gain excellent opportunities, through internships or other partnerships.”
A Visionary Leader
Smith has a reputation as a visionary leader with business acumen, and as a developer of academic programs with an ability to enhance revenues while providing a strong educational process.
As dean and professor of the School of Nursing at Union University, he grew the program over nine years from approximately 400 pre-nursing and nursing students and 17 faculty/staff to 747 students and 55 faculty/staff, becoming the largest faith-based nursing school in the nation. He founded the Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice that included a nurse residency program for five hospitals.
As provost at Anderson University, he was responsible for day-to-day operations of a school with an enrollment of 3,200 – over twice the size of UM. While there, he led the effort to establish the university as a leader in the health sciences, and worked with administration and faculty to expand other educational programs to meet the needs of the region.
His wife, Penney, is a healthcare administrator consultant, serving as chief quality officer and helping hospitals with healthcare regulatory compliance. The couple has two children: daughter Ashley Wainscott, 24, who lives in Jackson, Tennessee with her husband, Alex; and son Blake Smith, 21, a junior at Clemson University studying engineering.
Foley announced in October 2015 that he would be stepping down as president, noting that an important aspect of his presidency was to prepare for a successful and seamless hand-off of leadership.
“Marilyn and I are delighted to welcome Tim and Penney to the University of Mobile family,” said Foley. “We have invested 18 years of our lives into this special place, and I can think of no better person to lead the university to even greater things than Dr. Tim Smith.”
Foley served as president from 1998-2016; Dr. Michael A. Magnoli, a member of the first graduating class of Mobile College, was president from 1984-1997; and Dr. William K. Weaver Jr., founding president, served from 1961-1984.
Smith holds a Ph.D. in leadership and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, both from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; a Ph.D. in nursing (anesthesia) from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Graduate College; a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, College of Nursing; a diploma in nurse anesthesia from the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine; a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Memphis State University, and a diploma in nursing from Baptist Memorial Hospital School of Nursing.
His dissertation for the Ph.D. in leadership was “A Study of Factors that Predict the Success of Christ-Centered Higher Educational Institutions: A Mixed Method Study.” His Ph.D. in nursing dissertation was on “The Evaluation of Auditory Evoked Potentials and Psychological Priming Techniques as Indicators of Implicit Memory Formation During General Anesthesia” with an emphasis in anesthesia with foci in neuroanatomy and physiology. His thesis for the M.S.N. was on “Effect of Propofol and Desflurane on Recall During Anesthesia.”
Smith has held a variety of academic positions, from assistant professor to provost. At the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, College of Nursing, from 1997-2004, he rose from assistant professor to associate professor and director of the nurse anesthesia program. At Union University from 2005-2014 he started as associate professor and dean of the School of Nursing, rising to professor and then executive director of the Center for Excellence in Health Care Practice.
He joined Anderson University in 2014 as vice president of strategic initiatives and special associate to the provost, becoming provost in 2015. Since 2014 he has served as adjunct professor in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He is the author of numerous scholarly articles as well as book reviews and research abstracts.
Clinical Positions and Licensure
Smith has been licensed by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists as a nurse anesthetist (CRNA) since 1992. He is licensed by the South Carolina Board of Nursing as a registered nurse (RN) and an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) since 2014. Previously, he was licensed by the Tennessee Board of Nursing as an APRN and RN.
He worked as a cardiovascular intensive care registered nurse in Memphis, Tennessee, at Baptist Memorial Hospital Central and Methodist Hospitals Central. Later, he was a CRNA, RN and physician assistant with Medical Anesthesia Group and Cardiovascular Center, both in Memphis. He also served as a CRNA with Anesthesiologist Associates and also Anesthesia Consultants, both in Chattanooga.
Answering God’s Call
Smith said he will focus on building upon the heritage of faith at University of Mobile, while working toward even stronger academics with continued growth in the spiritual formation of students.
“When I looked at University of Mobile, what I saw very quickly and what I heard very quickly is that it is an institution that it is rock-solid in its faith on God’s Word, in that we depend on Him and we are led by Him as we continue moving forward. My experience in academia is that there are a lot of changes you can make in an institution, but if an institution has wandered from its faith, it is very hard to bring the institution back to that.
“University of Mobile has such a strength in the intentionality of its faith-based approach to Christian higher education. That’s the No. 1 thing that attracted me,” Smith said.
Both Anderson University and Union University are Southern Baptist-affiliated schools, like University of Mobile. Smith said serving in Christian higher education “has been a calling on my professional life for several years. This is why I went back to seminary, to continue to strengthen my understanding of Christian world view.”
Trustee chair Wilson said prayer was at the heart of the presidential search.
“So many prayers have been lifted for all of this process, both inside and outside the university. The committee prayed that each one of us would be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and not our own, individual thoughts and perhaps desires. There were 10 committed, but independent, Christians chosen for the search, and if we worked at this task through our own human strengths and weaknesses, it would have been difficult to reach consensus. With all 10 dedicating themselves to follow God’s lead, He clearly directed us to Tim Smith as His candidate. Reaching Tim as the unanimous choice was the result,” Wilson said.
Presidential Search Committee Chair Terry Harbin agreed.
“God did the whole thing. We just tried to listen. It’s just absolutely clear that Dr. Tim Smith is God’s man for this time. I could not be more thrilled,” Harbin said.
Harbin said the committee recommended Smith for three primary reasons.
“He is unbelievably well-qualified through his academic preparation. Secondly, he has practical experience. He has done in other places what we need done at the University of Mobile. And thirdly, he has demonstrated humility. A man who has accomplished what he has accomplished in life to come in and be a down-to-earth, Christ-centered servant is amazing,” said Harbin, who is past chair of the UM Board of Trustees and market president of BancorpSouth Bank in Mobile.
“We saw in Dr. Smith an absolute commitment to academic excellence in faculty, staff and students. I think the bar will be raised significantly,” added Harbin.
The Smiths are members at Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, SC, where he served as guest teacher in the Life Group while focusing on the development of care groups throughout the church. Previously, he has taught young married classes at church and led annual mission trips to the Dominican Republic.
About the Selection Process
The 10-member Presidential Search Committee was assisted by the executive search firm JobfitMatters, a nationally recognized company specializing in higher education and the non-profit sector. Committee members included alumni, pastors, faculty and staff, and also represented the fields of higher education, business, real estate, banking, and law.
The search process included extensive interviews and surveys with students, faculty, staff, alumni, community leaders, denominational leaders and trustees to develop a list of key characteristics of the ideal president. Those four critical leadership benchmarks were:
- A faithful servant-leader
- Fundraising and growth strategist and spearhead
- Executive leader, steward, wise decision-maker
- Peacemaker, influencer, educator, community builder.
Search Committee chair Harbin said 38 candidates applied for the post, and the committee interviewed six. While any of the final six would be well qualified for the job, Smith was the unanimous choice to recommend to the Board.
“He is a collaborative team leader who knows how to give people the opportunity to succeed, and he is able to make the tough decisions. He uses team members to develop a vision, and he is able to cast a vision and get out there and make it happen. He has a demonstrated track record of successful leadership,” Harbin said.