President Carter ‘glad to’ contribute to Mercer University

Former president’s international connections may help with global projects

jmink@macon.comNovember 9, 2012 

As a Baptist Sunday school teacher, former President Jimmy Carter shares the same philosophies as many administrators at Mercer University, a school with Baptist roots. That was one reason Carter accepted the invitation to become a member of the university’s board of trustees, a position that brought him to Macon on Friday.

“I’m very excited about what’s happening at Mercer,” Carter said after he left the biannual board meeting. Carter spoke to reporters outside the University Center. “I think great things are in store for Mercer.”

When choosing the university’s board of trustees, which meet twice a year to vote on university projects, programs and other changes, officials want people who have demonstrated good judgment, have much life experience and are interested in propelling the university forward, Mercer President William D. Underwood said.

And Carter, the 39th president of the United States from 1977 to 1981 and a native of Plains, fit the bill, Underwood said.

“President Carter certainly has a wealth of experience,” he said. “So it’s a great honor for our institution to have someone of his stature.”

Carter said he initially was doubtful about the position because he has never served at Mercer in any capacity. But he has worked with Underwood on different projects, shares Underwood’s religious values and is very familiar with the institution, he said.

“I was willing to take a chance,” he said. “Anything (Underwood) wants me to contribute, I’m glad to. I’m just going to offer my services to President Underwood in any way that I can.”

Carter specifically mentioned his international connections and his ability to communicate with prime ministers, kings and leaders across the globe, he said.

Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, will be a boon to the university as it works to impact global issues, Underwood said. Currently, Mercer is operating water purification projects in Africa and is rebuilding a school destroyed by civil war in Liberia.

As for the most recent news that has captivated the globe -- Tuesday’s presidential election -- Carter said he voted for Obama.

“I was glad he was re-elected,” he said, adding no sitting president has ever been re-elected with unemployment so high, but he hopes Obama uses this opportunity to boost the economy through bipartisanship.

“And my hope is that he will reach out very generously to the Republicans,” he said.

But the decisions Carter focused on Friday involved new programs and construction projects at Mercer.

The board approved three new graduate degree programs and gave the go-ahead for construction to start on Cruz Plaza in the center of campus. The university will now offer a doctorate in religion, an educational specialist degree in early childhood education and an educational specialist degree in teacher leadership. The new religion program, the first doctorate program for the McAfee School of Theology, will be for future pastor scholars, university teachers and ministry leaders. It will have a focus on Baptist studies, according to a news release.

The early childhood education program will be for graduates who need certification upgrades, and the teacher leadership program will be for certified teachers who want to improve their leadership skills, the news release said.

Construction on Cruz Plaza, which will include new seating and gathering areas, a water feature and landscape improvements, is expected to begin next month and should be completed by August 2013, the news release said. The trustees also re-elected David Hudson, an Augusta attorney and Mercer alumnus, as board chairman.

As a new trustee, Carter was quiet during the meeting and was “absorbing everything,” said trustee Curt Anderson.

“The meeting was fantastic. There is so much momentum and so many projects going on,” he said. “Of course, having Jimmy Carter joining the board of trustees is a tribute to Mercer University (which was able) to attract someone of his stature.”

Carter is expected to return to campus for the trustees’ next meeting in April. While it is his first official position with the university, it’s not the first time Carter has worked with Mercer officials. Around 2006, Carter met with Underwood and former Mercer President Kirby Godsey to form the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, a large gathering of Baptists. In 2008, an estimated 20,000 Baptists convened in Atlanta.

“I’m a very devout Baptist ... and I know a lot about Mercer,” Carter said.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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