Seasoned Johnson University professor brings life to academics

Longtime Johnson University professor, L. Thomas Smith, Jr. is taking on a new role as the school’s new Chief Academic Officer. Smith has taught at the school for more than 20 years, and has been the dean of the school of Arts and Science for three years.

Smith hopes to put his years of experience to good use by mentoring new and upcoming professors.

“My role now is to enable those who teach to do their best,” he said. “It’s a payback to mentors who helped me and the resources they provided me that I now can give. It’s time for someone else to have their turn.”

Smith transitioned in November when he switched from teaching history and theology courses to being provost. Before this Smith spent his hours in a classroom.

He began his education at Milligan College in east Tennessee as an English major. He then transferred to Johnson to pursue ministry and preached for six years after completing his bachelor’s.

Smith then decided his next big pursuit was history. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee and began teaching at Johnson University in 1991.

By teaching students Smith said he has been able to stay sharp and continue to learn, which he says is one of the rewards of teaching.

“If you teach something, you learn more about it than your students do,” he said.

Smith said his pursuit of academics can to be attributed to his “great intellectual curiosity”. He remembers as a child always wanting to know how things worked.

With a strong desire to learn, Smith has taken this leadership position. His role as overseer allows him new opportunities.

Structurally the provost answers directly to the university’s president. Smith oversees school deans and ensures that classes are being taught well. He designs and implements budgets, works with accreditation, and also focuses on strategic planning.

He described his role as differing from teaching in that he used to fine tune his focus and he now zooms out to focus on the “big picture”.

With a smile he explained the responsibility and organization this position demands.

“I multitask my multitask.”

This is evident as Smith utilizes a corner of his floor to layout documents into neat stacks with hand-written square category titles above them.


Smith’s floor becomes a desk—proving no corner goes unused.

Swamped with meetings and a growing agenda, Smith refocuses his energy. Many have asked him why he took this job, and now he readily answers.

“When I decided to do it I called it servant leadership,” he said. “Seeing it as being a servant adds a spiritual dimension.”

As majors are added, expanded and maintained the academic department plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity and quality of the education Johnson offers.

“What attracts students to Johnson University is balance and integration of scripture and how we prepare them professionally,” Smith said. “That produces a well-rounded student.”