BOLIVAR – Southwest Baptist University celebrated the inauguration of Eric A. Turner, Ed.D., as its 25th president in a ceremony Friday, April 26, in Mabee Chapel on the Bolivar campus.
The inauguration formally commemorates the beginning of Dr. Turner’s leadership at SBU, while celebrating the University’s rich history and reaffirming the University’s mission of being a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society.
“Inaugurations are timeless traditions, reminding us of our strength as an academic community, and the continuity of our enduring values – chapter titles in our SBU narrative,” Dr. Turner said. “Our story is becoming a fairly large volume – rich with 141 years of stories, opportunities and challenges. Together, we embark on shaping new stories for Southwest Baptist University.”
SBU’s Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and other delegates took part in the event.
Dr. Allison Langford, vice president for strategic planning and initiatives at SBU, who also served on the presidential search committee, recalled her interactions with Dr. Turner – from her first phone call with him last spring to her pre-ceremony conversation.
“The Lord proved himself faithful to SBU, yet again, as He led our (search) committee to Dr. Eric Turner,” Dr. Langford said. “I have seen the same Dr. Turner – authentic, humble, confident, open, willing to listen, willing to admit mistakes, quick to laugh, easy to talk to, loves the word of God, enthusiastic, unassuming and ready to work.”
Perspectives were given by the Mayor of the City of Bolivar, Christopher D. Warwick; John L. Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention; Ryan Palmer, vice-chairman of the SBU Board of Trustees executive committee; Melinda Jones, SBU Faculty Senate President-Elect; Todd Earl, Staff Council president; and Samantha Martin, Student Association president.
The common theme spoke to Dr. Turner’s character and the Lord’s call leading him to SBU, as well as the excitement surrounding SBU’s future under Dr. Turner’s leadership.
Followed by a scripture reading from Matthew 5:1-10 by Jerol Swaim, president emeritus of Williams Baptist University, Dr. Turner was introduced by Kenneth Startup, professor emeritus of Williams. His former pastor, Eric Moffett from First Baptist Church of Pocahontas, Ark., delivered the inaugural message.
“I know that SBU is a place of Kingdom focus,” Moffett said. “What I know about Eric Turner is that he, too, is Christ-centered; that he, too, is deeply caring; that he is a man of rich compassion and exemplifies the spirit of a servant leader.
“For years, the undeniable call in his life has been to lead in Christian higher education. And so, it is no mistake that today you formalize what God has delegated.”
During the presidential investiture, Dr. Turner was presented with the presidential medallion and chain of office by Mark Rains, chairman of SBU’s Board of Trustees.
“By accepting the president’s medallion, you accept the charge to serve the Lord in this position with diligence, dedication, vision and integrity as you carry out the duties as the president of Southwest Baptist University,” Rains said.
In his inauguration speech, Dr. Turner stressed the importance of “Shaping a bold new chapter for SBU” and SBU’s fierce commitment to Christian higher education.
“Over the past 14 decades, SBU alumni have used their biblical worldview education to change the world,” Dr. Turner said. “Missionaries, pastors, evangelists, social work, physical therapists, business leaders, coaches, kindergarten teachers – these caring Bearcats have used their education as powerful mechanisms for change. In Matthew 28, Jesus commands us to change the world with passion and compassion.”
And, while SBU’s history is rich and its core values have sustained the University for generations, Dr. Turner also described SBU as a “dynamic learning community, embracing new opportunities and challenges as we prepare students and the University for the future.”
He emphasized the importance of moving forward, and shaping SBU’s story together as a university by asking the SBU community, “What should never change about SBU,” and “What should we change.”
“Consistent themes quickly emerged – not surprisingly, the themes coincided with the University Core Values – values articulated many years ago: Christian Commitment; Baptist Heritage; Compassion and Care for the SBU family; Academic Excellence; Social and Spiritual Development; and Personal Wellness.
“Refreshingly, for SBU, these core values are not something we developed for this planning process – these core values were already here – the DNA of Southwest Baptist University. These core values are foundational to this university’s continued success.
Dr. Turner said as SBU writes a new chapter, the University will build upon its vibrant faith community, expand its initiatives in global learning and engagement, and renew the Bolivar campus through a facilities master plan.
“As we chart this chapter of SBU, what is the map going to look like? How are we going to get there,” Dr. Turner asked, citing six keys to SBU’s destination: Academics for the Future; Holistic Student Experience; Strategic Enrollment Growth; Financial Stability and Learning Environment; Distinctive Value; and Collaborative and Innovative Community.
“As your president, I commit to you today and every day, to serve our mission with all I have to offer: faith, integrity and love,” Dr. Turner said. “You have my fearless and faithful promise of resolve to all SBU is today and all she will be in the future.
“I ask you to join me on the journey – to work together – to dream together – to ask the Lord together – rooted in our core values, energized by our vision to achieve the transformation our mission promises.”
Dr. Turner’s brother, Jason Turner, gave the inaugural blessing.
Dr. Turner was named president-elect on July 20, 2018. He began his service as president-elect on Aug. 6, 2018, and assumed the presidency on Sept. 1, 2018. He brings to SBU from Black River Technical College in Pocahontas, Ark., where he served four years as president. Prior to this, he served 17 years in various administrative capacities at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, Ark.