Gene C. Fant Jr., a veteran Baptist educator, has been named the eighth president of North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C.
Fant, 53, who most recently served as provost and chief academic officer for Palm Beach Atlantic University, a Christian school in West Palm Beach, Fla., was introduced as “God’s man” for North Greenville by trustee chairman Bill Tyler at a 2 p.m. news conference Feb. 23 at the NGU campus. Earlier that morning, the school’s board of trustees elected Fant with a unanimous vote.
Tyler said the board selected Fant after evaluating nominations and applications from more than 60 qualified candidates. The search process was assisted by CarterBaldwin Executive Search of Atlanta, Ga., Tyler said.
Fant succeeds Jimmy Epting, who stepped down after 23 years as North Greenville’s president in January 2015. Randall Pannell, North Greenville’s vice president for academics, has served as the school’s interim president for the past two years.
“This is an historic time in the life of North Greenville,” said Tyler while introducing Fant. “In 1991 [when the college struggled with declining enrollment and financial duress], it was about survival. Today, it is about taking a Christ-centered institution with a very strong foundation and moving it into the future in order to equip students to go into the world and impact the kingdom. We are not looking back, we are moving forward.”
Fant said he was attracted to the position by NGU’s history of producing transformational leaders for church and society.
“Throughout my career, everywhere I go, I run into people whose lives have been touched by North Greenville University and its alumni, students, faculty, coaches and staff,” said Fant, who will assume his official duties in Tigerville on June 1. “I hope to build on that solid foundation of influence and extend it into new areas.”
“North Greenville’s Christ-honoring heritage has impacted our region and indeed the world since its beginning,” he said, “and I look forward to leading the university as we follow God’s calling on our shared lives.”
In describing himself as “the son of a Baptist pastor and the grandson of a Baptist pastor,” Fant said it is his “absolute, rock-solid belief” that state Baptist conventions and their affiliated institutions have both a synergistic relationship and a stewardship relationship. By way of illustration, he told the story of growing up in a home that also served as the meeting place for a young church. There was a baptistry in the garage, and “I knew the church that had paid for that baptistry,” he said. “My father taught me and cultivated in me that sense of respect.”
Likewise, Fant said, “we as an institution have a responsibility to the people who have sacrificed and … worked to do things … as a high and holy calling.”
“People are bringing their tithes and offerings and their gifts,” he said. There is a stewardship relationship that’s entered into there. We have a responsibility not only to continue those relationships but to find ways to enhance those relationships. I want to be a part of helping cultivate and foster those things.”
Prior to his two and a half years of service at Palm Beach Atlantic, Fant, a native of Laurel, Miss., spent two decades teaching and serving in leadership roles at three Southern Baptist-affiliated schools — Union University in Jackson, Tenn., Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss., and William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Miss.
At Union, where he taught English starting in 2002, Fant rose through the ranks to become executive vice president for academic administration and dean of the faculty, where he co-led the development of the Union 2015 Strategic Plan. At Mississippi College, he was an assistant professor of English, and he taught at William Carey University.
David Dockery, former president of Union University, described Fant as “a faithful Christ-follower, an ambassador for Christ-centered higher education, a reflective Christian thinker and a churchman of the first order.”
“I am confident … North Greenville will soon share my excitement about their gifted new president,” Dockery added. “I truly believe that good and blessed days are ahead for one and all.”
Fant earned a bachelor of science degree from James Madison University, a master of arts in English from Old Dominion University and a master of divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned a doctor of philosophy degree in English literature and a post-doctoral master of education at the University of Southern Mississippi. Additionally, he holds a certificate in educational management from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
He is a writer, speaker and lay preacher. He has written or contributed to nearly a dozen books and many academic and press articles (including guest columns for Baptist Press). He serves as a contributing blogger at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Vitae” and at First Things’ “First Thoughts.” His most recent book is “The Liberal Arts: A Student’s Guide” (Crossway). Other books include “God as Author: A Biblical Approach to Narrative” (Broadman & Holman Academic, 2010) and “Expectant Moments: Devotions for Expectant Parents” (with Lisa W. Fant, Zondervan, 1999).
Fant and his wife, Lisa, are parents to 18-year-old twins, Ethan and Emily. Fant’s father, Gene C. Fant Sr., is a retired pastor, and his mother, Mona Faith Fant, is a syndicated radio host, songwriter and country-gospel artist. Fant’s grandfather, the late Thomas Edison Fant, was an evangelist and pastor.
As a young boy, Fant and his family moved from Mississippi to New York, where his father planted nine churches in seven years.
North Greenville University was established in 1892 as a Baptist academy for northern Greenville County high school students. Today, as a liberal arts university, NGU offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in more than 35 academic programs and serves more than 2,500 students. North Greenville is one of three universities (along with Anderson and Charleston Southern) with historical ties to the South Carolina Baptist Convention.