Netherton resigns as Carson-Newman president

James S. Netherton, president of Carson-Newman College since 2000, announced his resignation Feb. 16, effective June 1, to become executive vice president for administration and finance at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., on Oct. 1.

Netherton told the Baptist & Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, that he made “a commitment 40 years ago to follow God’s will to the best that I can discern.”

“In recent days I became convinced that the opportunity afforded to me at Mercer is what God would have me to do and I am excited about it,” Netherton said.

Netherton has been under pressure at Carson-Newman for several months.

Faculty at Carson-Newman College adopted a resolution Oct. 5 by a 129-71 vote stating “that we the faculty do hereby declare that we individually and as a whole have no confidence in President Netherton and respectfully request the board of trustees to act for the health, well being, and future of the college.”

According to an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel Feb. 15, the faculty no-confidence vote prompted college trustees to hold “listening sessions statewide for faculty and staff, alumni and others” to explore various issues related to Netherton’s leadership at the Tennessee Baptist-affiliated college, such as a declining enrollment and financial pressures since 2000.

Netherton, however, noted that new student applications for next fall are up 80 percent and could signal a record freshman class next fall.

Netherton refused to speak badly of the faculty. “I love this faculty. They have been doing good things,” he said.

Netherton also told the B&R that he has enjoyed “the strong support of the board of trustees” and that despite the disagreements that have been made public “there are a lot of people who believe in what we have accomplished and would like to see me continue.”

In the last four months some positive things have happened that “showed we are on the right track and that a lot of good things are happening here,” he said.

Among those things were a record fundraising month in December 2006 and a $55 million capital fundraising campaign that surpassed its goal one year ahead of schedule.

During his tenure at Carson-Newman, the college restructured and strengthened its relationship with the Tennessee convention, created innovative new academic programs, constructed and renovated several buildings and has begun construction of a new academic facility for business. The college also has developed a campus master plan and acquired real estate adjacent to the campus for future expansion.

C.T. Cozart, chairman of the trustees at Carson-Newman, accepted the announcement of Netherton’s move to Mercer with mixed emotions.

“While we are very happy for Dr. Netherton to accept this wonderful opportunity for advancement, we will certainly miss both him and his wife, Patricia, at Carson-Newman.

“His numerous contributions will be positively felt by this campus for generations,” Cozart said.

Ironically, the faculty’s vote of no confidence last fall caused Netherton to receive inquiries from “four or five” institutions to seek if he would be interested in a career move.

One of those inquiries came from Bill Underwood, president at Mercer. The two men had worked together when both were affiliated with Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“This [change] was not so much being moved from something as it was being drawn to something,” Netherton told the B&R.

Reflecting on his seven years as head of the college, Netherton feels the school accomplished several of the goals he had when he accepted the presidency.

He specifically noted the relationship with the TBC. Before his arrival, Carson-Newman had revised its charter to elect its own trustees.

“We made it clear that we are focused on Christ and are unapologetically Baptist,” Netherton said.

“We’ve done a lot of great things here and Carson-Newman is poised to do even more great things,” he said.

Netherton wants to help make the transition as smooth as possible. “We’ve got three and a half months to work to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.”

Cozart said the C-N trustees will meet March 2 for a special meeting during which he will appoint a search committee and chairman.

“Our search committee will be comprised of representation from the board, faculty, alumni, and others,” Cozart said. “This board has spent several hundred hours in the past few months listening to key stakeholders of Carson-Newman College,” Cozart added.

Lonnie Wilkey, a South Carolina native, is editor of the Baptist & Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.