When it came time to find the seventh President of Johnson University, the Board of Trustees knew they were looking for someone who was a Johnson University alumnus, knew how to raise funds, and whose character is above reproach. They found their prime candidate in Dr Thomas Smith.
“We spent two to three hours in the interview,” Smith said. “(The Board of Trustees) had a long list of questions that they went through that were very tough questions. None of them were surprises to me which led me to feel like I had been well prepared.”
Smith has a long history with Johnson University. He graduated from Johnson Bible College with his B.A. in 1978. He then was in located ministry for six years. After receiving his M.A.R. from Emmanuel School of Religion in 1986 and his PhD from the University of Tennessee in 1990, he came back and began teaching at JU in 1989. After serving as a professor of history and theology, he served as the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences from 2012 to 2014 and as the Provost from 2014 to 2017 before beginning his tenure as President.
However, Smith is more than his academic and career accomplishments. The Chairman of the Board of Trustees L.D. Campbell says that Smith is personable, enjoys people, is approachable, enjoys a good laugh and is an excellent preacher.
Professor Gerald Mattingly, who has known Smith for almost 30 years, described him as “a good person with a sound analytical mind and a disarming down-to-earth quality,” which he went on to say is good for someone who is assuming the role of the presidency.
Smith has some big goals for his presidency. Among them are recommitting the university to the mission of the university, improving math and science classes, and improving college athletics.
One of the key aspects he wants to refocus on is being faithful to the great commision. He feels the “Third Way”, which is a blend of a bible college approach and liberal arts college approach, can accomplish this goal by rounding out students’ education experiences.
The university has also begun studying how it can improve its math and science classes, which Smith feels will go a long way in benefiting Teacher Education and Health and Human Services majors among many others.
Smith also wants university athletics to recruit students based on what he called the “Johnson Triad”: people who are missionary committed, academically prepared, and competitive athletes. “There is all kind of benefits both for athletics and for the student body,” Smith said. “It boosts student morale, gives you stuff to do, and creates relationships. It’s kind of an overstatement, but in the past we’ve done athletics because we ‘had to’. I want to do it because we want to.
This will be Johnson’s fifth inauguration in its history. He hopes students will come to the ceremony, but he also hopes to see them at the student event later in the evening as well. He asks that all students help make the campus look nice and that they themselves look nice as well.
“It’s important to me that students feel welcomed and included at this event,” Smith said.
Smith wants people to know that his inauguration is not a celebration of him or the office, but rather a celebration of the university. The ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. and will be followed by a reception on the White House lawn at 4:30. The student event will take place at 6:30 on the Gally Plaza and will offer games, food and a Cruze Farm ice cream truck, which Smith said, “ain’t bad to entice students with.”