‘The Honor of a Lifetime’

This university is a better place because of Dr. Lonnie Burnett. – Senior faculty member Dr. Ted Mashburn

Sometimes it is the little things that say a lot about a person. Each May, on the Friday morning before Saturday’s graduation ceremony, University of Mobile President Lonnie Burnett, his wife Lynne, and about 10 faculty members from the College of Arts & Sciences gather in front of Weaver Hall
where 3,500 white folding chairs are stacked on pallets. Armed with specially cut PVC pipes and string to measure spacing between the rows, Burnett leads the 5-hour operation to set out chairs on the Dr. Fred and Sue Lackey Great Commission Lawn – then follows that up by leading students in graduation practice.

Lonnie and Lynn

What started as a cost-saving measure has become one of many examples of how UM’s 5th president has thrown himself into the challenge of leading his alma mater, setting the institution’s sights on making the UM experience different, personal and exceptional.

“One of the really amazing things about Lonnie is that he is a tireless worker who seldom asks anyone to do anything he hasn’t already done,” said longtime faculty member and humanities professor Dr. Ted Mashburn. “From overseeing building renovations to developing academic programs to complying with accrediting agencies to simply moving chairs for the graduation ceremony, Lonnie has always been down in the trenches doing the heavy lifting. There is so much admiration I have for Lonnie Burnett.”

Mission Accomplished

As Burnett closes out his tenure as president on May 30, 2024, he does so having accomplished the goals he set out to achieve when the UM Board of Trustees unanimously elected him president on Nov. 22, 2019, following a six-month stint as interim president.

Accomplishments during Burnett’s five-year tenure include:

• Providing a quality academic, spiritual and social experience for students
• Defying national trends of declining enrollment
• Ensuring financial stability
• Paying down over $5 million in debt and increasing cash reserves
• Increasing faculty and staff salaries
• Strengthening positive relationships with

Alabama Baptists
• Overseeing nearly $3 million in new construction and renovations through existing funds and fund-raising efforts
• Renovating the College Woods Center as an event space for the university
• Implementing new academic programs including the Associate Degree in Nursing and new master’s degrees in the College of Arts & Sciences
• Starting the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program which has expanded and continues to have a waiting list of prospective students.

Remarkably, these goals were accomplished despite a global pandemic that started four months after Burnett became president. In his final year, the university launched the Experience the Difference marketing campaign and is completing its SACSCOC 10-year reaffirmation process.

UM Board of Trustee Chairman Terry Harbin said Burnett “brought vision and clarity to the mission of the University of Mobile, while adding strength and stability up and down the organization. I know I speak for the entire Board when I say the university has been served extremely well by his time as our president.”

The Next Chapter

Burnett resists the term “retire,” noting that his retirement after 25 years as a teacher in the Mobile County Public School System led to the start of his 20-year University of Mobile career where he served as professor of history, executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, associate vice president and president. Along the way, he compiled an impressive scholarly research record that includes two books published through the University of Alabama Press. He continues to be active in the community, where he has served as a member of the Saraland City School Board since 2011 and was named to the 2017 All-State School Board by the Alabama Association of School Boards.

Among his final duties as president, Burnett will deliver UM’s commencement address on May 4. He will stand on the podium on the Great Commission Lawn, with Weaver Hall behind him and the 3,500 chairs he helped to set out in front of him. As he congratulates and challenges UM’s newest graduates to pursue God’s calling for their lives – a calling that the University of Mobile has prepared them to fulfill – among the Class of 2024 may be a future UM college president in the making, taking the first steps that will lead to what Burnett says is the most remarkable accomplishment in his career.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve my alma mater in this role,” said Dr. Lonnie Burnett.

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.

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