William D. Underwood, interim president of Baylor since June 2005, will become the 18th president of Mercer University, a Baptist institution in Macon, Ga., with an undergraduate enrollment of slightly more than 7,000 students.
Mercer's Board of Regents voted to elect Underwood, 49, at its regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 2. Mercer President Kirby Godsey, 68, is retiring June 30.
"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, chair of Mercer's Board of Trustees and chair 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."
During his short tenure as interim president at Baylor, Underwood received high praise from faculty, administrators, regents and alumni. The Baylor Board of Regents expressed its appreciation to Underwood at its Oct. 28 meeting. "It was the most spontaneous action I've ever seen by the board," Regents Chair Will Davis said. "They unanimously and almost emotionally affirmed the interim presidency of William Underwood. It was very heartwarming and strongly felt."
Underwood has been on faculty at the Law School since 1990. He is 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 salutatorian of his class and was a member of the Order of the Coif. Following his graduation from law school, Underwood completed a prestigious federal clerkship with Judge Sam D. Johnson of the U.S. 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.
In 2004, he was designated a Master Teacher, Baylor's highest teaching accolade. Until he became interim president, he directed Baylor's Practice Court program, which has been described by the Princeton Review as "unique," "tough" and "ultra-intense."
Underwood and his wife, Lesli, are the parents of two children, Jessica, 17, and William, 12. They are members of Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco.