UM Board of Trustees Announces Dr. Charles W. Smith Jr. as 6th President of the University of Mobile

Kathy DeanNews

MOBILE, Ala. – The University of Mobile Board of Trustees today elected Dr. Charles W. Smith Jr. as the 6th president of the Baptist university founded in 1961.

Prior to coming to the University of Mobile, Smith served as senior vice president for Institutional Relations and assistant professor of Christian Leadership at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College in Kansas City, Missouri. 

During his 11-year tenure, Smith oversaw a variety of functions, including the offices of Enrollment Management, Advancement, Alumni Relations, Church Partnerships, Student and Resident Life, Marketing and Communications, Financial Aid, Dean of Students, and Student Success. Smith also co-founded the For The Church conference and resource platform, and established the For The Church Institute, a growing suite of free online classes serving thousands of students around the world. As an elected faculty member, Smith also taught various business and leadership classes at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels, including designing and overseeing Midwestern’s PhD in Christian Leadership. During his time in Kansas City, the institution experienced record success, with enrollment growing from 1,100 to over 5,200 students.

He and his wife, Ashley, are originally from Montgomery, Alabama, and have three daughters, Ellie, Annie and Susie.

“My wife and I are thrilled to be coming back home to Alabama to join the University of Mobile,” Smith said. “Thanks to President Burnett, his leadership team and countless others within the UM family, this university is stronger than ever and poised for even greater effectiveness. The University of Mobile is grounded in God’s Word, driven by a compelling vision, served by a world-class faculty and staff, and cherished by the UM family. I look forward to linking arms with the countless faculty, staff and supporters who make this place so special.”

Proven Leadership, Future Impact

Terry Harbin, chair of the UM Board of Trustees, said Smith embodies the values and vision that are fundamental to the University of Mobile, which enrolls more than 1,900 students and offers associate to doctoral degrees in over 75 academic programs.

“Dr. Smith’s proven leadership, commitment to faith-based higher education and passion for developing the next generation of Christ-centered leaders make him the ideal choice to guide the University of Mobile into a future where we not only continue to excel in our academic and spiritual missions, but also expand our influence and impact on the global stage,” Harbin said.

Fred Wilson, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, said the university launched a nationwide search for a visionary leader in October 2023. The committee was composed of trustees, alumni, faculty and staff, business executives and ministry leaders. Top candidates were interviewed, and the committee unanimously recommended Smith to the UM Board of Trustees on March 21.

“After a thorough and prayerful search, it became clear that Dr. Charles Smith was the person God has prepared to lead this institution. His impressive background, exemplary leadership qualities, and commitment to academic excellence and spiritual calling have prepared him to lead the University of Mobile into its next chapter of growth and success,” Wilson said.

‘A Multi-Gifted Leader’ 

Leaders from across the Southern Baptist Convention and the Alabama Baptist State Convention welcomed Smith in his new role as UM president.

Dr. Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said he looks forward to working with Smith in his new position as UM president.

“Charles Smith has the experience and administrative expertise that will serve him well as the president of the University of Mobile. I believe he is a man of high integrity, and I predict a bright future for the University of Mobile under his leadership,” Lance said.

Dr. David S. Dockery, president of the International Alliance for Christian Education and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, highlighted Smith’s experience, conviction and creative leadership.

“I am excited to learn that Charles Smith, a multi-gifted leader, has been selected to serve as the next president at the University of Mobile. Dr. Smith is deeply committed to the work of Christian higher education and will bring creativity and new energy, as well as much experience related to institutional relations, advancement, enrollment, student life and other aspects of the university’s work to this important role. His convictional Baptist and evangelical beliefs will serve the university well and will be well received by churches in the region. We will certainly be praying for Charles and his family and the entire University of Mobile community in the days to come.”

Dr. Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College, congratulated the UM family for choosing “a proven leader.”

“I could not be happier for Charles Smith, the University of Mobile, or my hometown of Mobile, Alabama. A promising institution is receiving a proven leader, and I anticipate both will flourish in the years to come. Midwestern Seminary sends Dr. Smith and his entire family to UM with every best wish, and every expectation of God’s blessing on their lives and work in the season ahead.”

Accolades for Retiring President Lonnie Burnett 

Smith steps into the university’s top leadership post on May 6 as Dr. Lonnie Burnett, UM’s 5th president, retires after five years of distinguished service as president. A 1979 graduate of the University of Mobile – then Mobile College – Burnett served over 20 years at his alma mater, rising through the ranks from adjunct professor to become president in 2019. 

In addition to guiding the university through the challenges of a global pandemic, Burnett implemented new academic programs, defied national trends of declining enrollment, oversaw nearly $3 million in new construction and renovations through existing funds and fund-raising efforts, renovated College Woods Center as an event space for the university, and ensured the financial stability of the institution. 

Under Burnett’s watch, Forbes named UM the only educational institution in Alabama and one of only 300 organizations nationwide in “America’s Best Small Employers” for 2023. Among other accolades, the UM School of Nursing is the only university in the state to have scored a perfect 100% pass rate for Bachelor of Science in Nursing students taking the NCLEX national licensure exam for both 2022 and 2023. U.S. News & World Report cites UM among the Best Value Regional Colleges in the South, and Niche consistently names UM in the top of its rankings for best and safest small colleges in Alabama and having the #1 dorms in the state.

Harbin and Wilson expressed the Board of Trustees’ deep gratitude for Burnett’s leadership and lifetime of service to the University of Mobile.

“Just a few months into his presidency, Dr. Burnett was faced with the unprecedented challenge of navigating the University of Mobile through the uncertainties of a global pandemic that caused many other institutions to falter. In a time of deep uncertainty and fear, Lonnie Burnett led with wisdom, faith, consistency and love for both the institution and the people who make the University of Mobile extraordinary. It is because of his faithful leadership that the University of Mobile is now perfectly positioned for this next chapter,” Harbin said.

Wilson said Burnett’s passion for teaching, work ethic, positive spirit and sense of humor made him an exceptional leader at a pivotal time for the university.

“It is a remarkable accomplishment to become the president of your alma mater,” Wilson said. “In every role he has played, from student to alumnus, professor to dean, and vice president to president, Lonnie Burnett has made a lasting impact.”

In his final act as president, Burnett will deliver the commencement address on May 4 and award diplomas to over 300 graduates in an outdoor ceremony on the university’s Great Commission Lawn.

Burnett said, “Lynne and I welcome Charles and his family to the University of Mobile family. We wish them a long and successful tenure.”

Excited to Join the UM Family

Smith said he and Ashley “could not be more excited to be stepping into this new season of leadership at the University of Mobile. We had a peace about the opportunity from the very first call with the Search Committee. Even over the phone, I could sense a common bond and desire to maximize all that God has for the University of Mobile.

“Over the past several months, our excitement has only grown. Dr. Burnett has done a remarkable job over the past five years and is eager to help us begin a new season of leadership. Local churches are strong and supportive, regional businesses are committed to our students, and the Alabama Baptist Convention is stronger than ever. I look forward to connecting with the UM community in the months ahead and stepping into a bright future together.”

Underscoring the importance of Christian universities, Smith said, “Virtually every day we meet men and women whose lives were radically changed in college. Places like the University of Mobile shape minds, move hearts, identify gifts, cultivate friendships, strengthen communities and launch lifelong careers. But even more important, Christian universities like UM encourage and equip students to follow Jesus.

“Over the past few months, I’ve seen UM faculty and staff mentor students and describe how God’s good design not only informs their field of study, but their entire lives. These are the things we feel called to give our lives to, which is why we are so excited to be joining the University of Mobile family,” Smith said.

About the University of Mobile

The University of Mobile is a Christ-centered university with a vision of “Higher 
Education for a Higher Purpose,” founded to honor God by equipping students for their 
future professions in an environment where they are known. Located 10 miles north of Mobile, Alabama, on a campus of over 880 acres, the university offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in over 75 academic programs. The University of Mobile was founded in 1961 and is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention.

For information about the University of Mobile, areas of study, admissions and more, visit, connect with UM on social media @univofmobile, or call Enrollment Services at 1.800.WIN.RAMS or 251.442.2222.