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Mercer eyes Underwood for top post

Nov. 9, 2005

by JOSH HORTON, editor in chief

Interim President William D. Underwood is in talks with Mercer University about becoming its next president.

"I have had discussion with the folks at Mercer, but it's very premature to say that I'm going to be their president," Underwood said in a phone interview from his home Tuesday night. "They haven't offered me the position. I haven't accepted the position."

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Interim President William D. Underwood is in talks with Mercer University in Macon, Ga., to become the school's president when its current president, Kirby Godsey, retires June 30.
Mercer President Kirby Godsey, 68, is retiring June 30.

Underwood met with faculty and board members Monday and Tuesday at the Baptist university in Macon, Ga. Mercer's board of trustees is not expected to vote on the next president until its next regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 2.

The impending nomination of Underwood to lead Mercer is "not a big secret," said one source close to the process. "They're all feeling very positive. ... I think Bill would be a great fit for Mercer."

Underwood said he's not sure whether he would take the position at Mercer were it offered to him.

"It depends on the circumstances. Again, that would be premature to say. I'd have to talk with my family about it," he said.

This week's trip is at least the second visit Underwood has made to meet with Mercer officials, although this trip is more "focused" and included his wife, sources said. He reportedly met with Mercer deans and faculty representatives on the school's campuses in Macon and Atlanta, as well as major donors.

According to participants in the meetings, Underwood was not presented as the search committee's nominee, but the intention to nominate him was clear.

The search committee "is working diligently to identify and interview candidates," Mercer spokesperson Judith Lunsford said Tuesday in a statement. "We don't have any information to release at this point of the process. The earliest we might have an announcement would be at the regular December meeting of the board of trustees, but there has not even been a call for a vote at this time."

Although Underwood has no formal ties to Mercer, he has been a friend of Godsey's since both were panelists for a Baylor conference on Christian higher education in April. The 49-year-old Underwood has served as Baylor's interim president since June 1. He was considered a leading candidate for the presidency before removing his name from consideration Sept. 9. The Baylor Board of Regents elected Dr. John M. Lilley, University of Nevada, Reno, president, on Friday to fill the university's top post.

"Let me say this: I think Baylor is one of the great universities in the United States," Underwood said. "I think Baylor is already a premiere national university."

Mercer is about half Baylor's size, with 7,084 students.

The Associated Baptist Press contributed to this report.