MOBILE, Ala. – The University of Mobile celebrated the inauguration of its 5th president, Dr. Lonnie Burnett, on May 7 after a year-long delay from a global pandemic.
Burnett was selected unanimously by the Board of Trustees on Nov. 22, 2019, after serving six months as interim president. Just four months later, in March 2020, the Alabama Baptist-affiliated university moved to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Little did Dr. Burnett know then that right out of the gate, he would lead this university through a global pandemic, two hurricanes and nationwide unrest. But, through it all, we have seen the highest enrollment in the last five years, the first doctoral degrees awarded, the addition of the J.L. Bedsole Sports Performance Center and the beginning of a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program,” said Fred Wilson, chair of the Board of Trustees.
Faculty, staff and trustees gathered on the Great Commission Lawn on campus for a dinner to celebrate Burnett. A formal inauguration ceremony was planned in 2020 but had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presentations were given by President Emeritus Dr. Mark Foley, former trustee chair Deborah Nelson, Wilson, university faculty, and the Voices of Mobile ensemble from UM’s Alabama School of the Arts.
Wilson also presented a gift to Burnett from the Board of Trustees as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to the university.
“As a small token of our appreciation, I would like to present to you this Bible. Thank you, Lonnie, for your hard work, dedication and love for this university,” said Wilson.
Burnett celebrated the presidents who have come before him, the Board of Trustees, Alabama churches and congregations that founded and continue to support the school, faculty and staff, students, and his wife Lynne and daughter Lauren, both of whom are UM graduates. He spoke about his journey and vision for the future.
“Through the decades, two things have remained constant. First, we have remained true to the mission, and second, the faithfulness of God. It is a great honor to be the fifth president of this University,” said Burnett.
Burnett elaborated on the university’s theme, “Know and Be Known,” backing it with scripture and describing his goals. He said “Know” refers to:
- Know Yourself – Personal Knowledge (2 Corinthians 13:5)
- Know your Field – Professional Knowledge (Proverbs 1:5)
- Know your Calling – Purposeful Knowledge (2 Timothy 2:20-210)
- Know your God – Providential Knowledge (Proverbs 9:10)
“Be Known” refers to:
- Be Known for your Excellence (Colossians 3:23)
- Be Known for your Faith (1 Thessalonians 1:8)
- Be Known for your Love (John 13:35)
- Be Known for your Devotion (1 Corinthians 8:3)
Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, prayed over Burnett while Board of Trustee members and university vice presidents laid hands on the new president and his wife. Former president Foley said Burnett possessed the best tools for a successful presidency, and offered his encouragement.
“Each man who has occupied the chair at the president’s desk is overwhelmingly aware of both the potential of the university and challenges in attaining it. Now, Lonnie and Lynne Burnett have grasped the challenge,” said Foley.
“There will come a day sometime in the future when someone will stand as I do now to introduce a new president. That person will recall the past and will dwell upon the season of the Burnett presidency and say: ‘Were those not the best years? Did we ever see such favor from God? Was he not the best of all before him?’
“He is the right man, in the right place, at the right time, doing it the right way. May God cast His blessing upon him,” Foley said.
Burnett has a long association with the University of Mobile since graduating from then-Mobile College in 1979. He began a 25-year teaching career with the Mobile County Public School System, and along the way, earned a Master of Arts in history from the University of South Alabama and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Southern Mississippi. He served as an adjunct history instructor at UM and, upon his retirement from MCPSS, accepted a full-time position in 2005.
Over the next decade, Burnett served as chair of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and vice provost for the University of Mobile.
He is the author of two books published by the University of Alabama Press and has contributed chapters to several other projects. He is an active participant in numerous historical organizations and served as president of the Alabama Historical Association in 2014-2015. He received the Mitford Ray Megginson Research Award from UM in 2006 and has been named “Teacher of the Year” at different institutions at the middle school, high school, undergraduate and graduate levels.
He is an active member of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, where he taught an adult Bible study class for over 20 years. He and his wife, Lynne, have been married for 40 years. They have a daughter, Lauren Wetzel (a two-time UM grad), son-in-law Cody and grandson, Alexander.
About the University of Mobile
The University of Mobile is a Christ-centered liberal arts and sciences institution with a vision of higher education for a higher purpose, founded to honor God by equipping students for their future professions through rigorous academic preparation and spiritual transformation. Core values are: Christ-Centered, Academically-Focused, Student-Devoted and Distinctively-Driven. The university offers on-campus and online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in over 75 academic programs. Founded in 1961, the University of Mobile is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention and is located 10 miles north of Mobile, Alabama on a campus of over 880 acres.