Mercer University Trustees Elect William D. Underwood as the University's 18th President

Dec. 2, 2005
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Baylor University Interim President William D. Underwood was elected Friday by the Mercer University Board of Trustees as the university's 18th president.

Underwood will succeed Dr. R. Kirby Godsey, who has served as Mercer's president for the past 27 years. Underwood will assume the presidency on July 1, 2006.

"What a privilege it has been serving as Baylor's interim president for the past six months, and I am grateful to Baylor faculty, staff, students, alumni and regents for their encouragement, their wisdom and their vision for Baylor University's future," Underwood said. "My family and I will miss Baylor and many friends in the Waco community, but I look forward to the opportunity and the challenge of serving another great Baptist institution in Mercer."

Founded in 1833, Mercer University has campuses in Macon and Atlanta, as well as three regional academic centers. With 10 schools and colleges, the university offers programs in liberal arts, business, engineering, education, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, law and theology. For 16 consecutive years, U.S.News & World Report has named Mercer University as one of the leading universities in the South.

"The Presidential Search Committee was very deliberate in its national search for the next president of Mercer," said David Hudson, chairman of Mercer's Board of Trustees and chairman of the Presidential Search Committee. "Kirby Godsey has left an indelible mark on this university, and we knew the next president would have to be someone who could continue to chart a strong course for the institution. We have found that leadership in Bill Underwood.

"Bill is a strong academician, committed to excellence in both the classroom and scholarly research," Hudson continued. "He has powerful communication skills that enable him to build bridges and break down barriers between different constituents. His understanding of what it means to be a faith-based institution allows him to appreciate the importance of the university's Baptist heritage in the context of academic and intellectual freedom. We have found the right leader for Mercer in Bill Underwood."

Mercer President Kirby Godsey strongly supported the board's selection of Underwood.

"I believe that Bill Underwood is among the most prominent new leaders in higher education in America," Godsey said. "The university is extraordinarily fortunate to have attracted him to Mercer."

Holder of The Leon Jaworski Chair in Practice and Procedure at Baylor Law School, Underwood was appointed April 29 by acclamation by the Baylor Board of Regents to serve as interim president, effective June 1.

Underwood, a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, where he was a member of the Board of Editors of the University of Illinois Law Review, graduated as salutatorian of his class, and was a member of the Order of the Coif. Following graduation from law school, Underwood completed a prestigious federal judicial clerkship with the Honorable Sam D. Johnson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Prior to joining the Baylor faculty in 1990, Underwood practiced civil trial law with Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, an elite litigation firm based in Dallas. He took a two-year leave of absence from the faculty between 1997-98 to serve as Baylor's general counsel.

Underwood, who holds an undergraduate degree from Oklahoma Baptist University, has published extensively in the field of civil practice and procedure and has represented Baylor in proceedings before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

Designated a Master Teacher by Baylor, Underwood directed the Law School's Practice Court program, which was recently described by the Princeton Review as "unique," "tough," "ultra-intense" and "arguably the best training ground in the nation for practical lawyering."

Underwood is an elected member of the American Law Institute, the American Bar Foundation, the Texas Bar Foundation, and has served as Reporter to the Civil Justice Reform Act Advisory Group to the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Underwood and his wife, Lesli, are the parents of two children, Jessica, 16, and William, 12. They are members of Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco.

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