David Potts transitions to Judson chancellor

March 2, 2018

Judson College President David E. Potts announced today his plan to transition from the role of president to the role of chancellor of Judson.

Potts, who has been on a temporary leave of absence for health reasons since November, will begin his new responsibilities immediately. He will devote his time exclusively to advocating for the people of the Alabama Black Belt, fundraising and “promoting Christian higher education, especially for young women.”

Search committee

Judson board of directors chairman Charles Dunkin also announced the formation of a presidential search committee.

Serving on the committee will be Dunkin, CEO of Dunkin-Lewis, Inc.; David Byrd, Judson trustee and pastor of Northside Baptist Church, Jasper; Susan Jones, senior vice president and dean of students at Judson; Joan Newman, Judson trustee and financial adviser at Edward Jones; Daphne Robinson, Judson trustee and assistant Attorney General for the State of Alabama; James Sanford, Judson trustee and chairman of the board of Home Place Farms, Inc.; and Lesley Sheek, associate professor of education and associate dean of the college.

‘No president has prayed more fervently’

Scott Bullard, who has served as senior vice president and dean of the college since 2015, will serve as interim president as the search committee completes its task.

Bullard said, “In an era of shorter presidencies and ladder-climbers, I know of no president that has prayed more fervently about the role of president, laid out a clearer vision for the institution and the presidency and remained faithful to God and that vision while adapting it to ensure that his steadfast belief in ‘Christian higher education especially for women’ was understood.

“From the outset, Dr. Potts knew that he wanted to deepen the college’s Baptist identity but also completely understood that we were entering into a post-denominational era; he wanted to form students who know that to live in Christ is to serve one’s neighbor but completely understood that other institutions might abandon the faith and the belief that we do not live on bread alone; he wanted to fund and build innovative programs that would enable Judson graduates to be not only marketable but to be agents of healing in Alabama and all over the world,” Bullard said.

“And then he followed through. From faith-based service and learning to the nursing and social work programs, his programmatic innovations have not only helped the college and her students from a fiscal perspective, they have fit with the historic mission and purpose of Judson College.”

Potts has served as president of Judson for 27 years and served as vice president of development and executive vice president prior to being named president.

Academic and campus expansions

Under Potts’ leadership, Judson has more than tripled its endowment, added nine new academic majors and completed a major renovation of its historic Jewett Hall, as well as the construction of the Charlotte G. Lowder Science Building, the Marion Acree Tucker Fine Arts Building and the Charles F. Dunkin Athletic Complex. He was instrumental in the preservation and restoration of Judson’s Carnegie Library, now A. Howard Bean Hall, which houses the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. Throughout his tenure, the college has increased the diversity of its faculty and student body and remained faithful to its Christian mission.

As Judson’s president, Potts has sought to actively collaborate with the leaders of other colleges and universities, believing that institutions could accomplish more by working together. He has been an active contributor to the Alabama Association of Independent Colleges and Universities’ (AAICU) effort to maximize the Alabama Student Grant, an initiative which allows students who enroll at private colleges and universities to receive a stipend from the state. He has served as a resource to other presidents through his involvement with both the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities and the Women’s College Coalition. In 2013, Potts was honored with the James T. Rogers Distinguished Leadership Award for Outstanding Contributions to Higher Education by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the regional body that accredits Judson and hundreds of other colleges and universities in the southeastern United States.

Faithful to Baptist roots

During his almost three decades as leader of one of the three colleges associated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention, Potts has become a well-known face and voice in Baptist life. He has sought to keep the college faithful to its Baptist roots, while maintaining its relevance for a new generation of young women. During his tenure, his ability to apply distinctively Christian values to the practice of higher education has earned him respect among the laity and leadership of Alabama Baptist churches, as well as the devotion of the faculty, staff, students and alumnae of Judson.

“College students are wanting to see a difference and make a difference,” Potts told messengers to the Alabama Baptist Convention in 2007. “They long for honest, authentic Christian leadership. By connecting with God, connecting with His purpose, and connecting with people, you and I are able to fulfill every aspect of great Christian ministry and thereby provide authenticity of living in Christ that is compelling to younger generations.”

Ann Judson as model

Potts found a model of authentic faith and bold action in Ann Judson, the first American female foreign missionary and the woman for whom Judson College is named. Judson spent her life serving the people of Burma, now Myanmar, sharing the gospel as she educated women and girls, trained indigenous church leaders and translated the Bible into the native languages of those she served courageously and sacrificially. Early in his presidency, Potts felt a personal call to inspire Judson students to follow Christ boldly by helping them connect to Ann Judson’s legacy of authentic faith lived out through selfless service.

As part of this endeavor, Potts established a strategic partnership with Kachin Theological College and Seminary (KTCS), an indigenous Baptist institution in northern Myanmar, in 2000. Over the past 18 years, 10 young Kachin women have been given the opportunity to study music, theology and English at Judson at no cost. These young women then return to their home country to serve as members of the KTCS faculty and staff. The presence of Kachin students, who claim Ann Judson as their “spiritual mother,” on campus has helped American students at Judson better understand the magnitude of the legacy of their college’s namesake.

Many would say that the most important part of the presidential legacy that Potts leaves at Judson is the integration of service grounded in Christian faith into all aspects of the campus culture. While Judson has a long history of missions involvement overseas, it was during Potts’ tenure that the college began to place a strong emphasis on seeking opportunities to minister to its neighbors in the Alabama Black Belt.

Work in the Black Belt

Fourteen of Alabama’s 67 counties — all of them in the Black Belt — have a poverty rate higher than 25 percent. Perry County is among the poorest counties in Alabama, with 35 percent of its residents living below the poverty line.

David Potts has seen these facts as an opportunity to follow Christ’s call to minister to “the least of these” (Matt. 25).

Working with community members and leaders around the state, Potts was a founding board member of Sowing Seeds of Hope, a faith-based nonprofit organization seeking to address the root causes of poverty in Alabama. As a member of Sowing Seeds of Hope’s board of directors and Health Care Task Force, Potts has helped bring a dialysis center to Marion, promoted programs that helped children gain health insurance coverage, and worked tirelessly toward re-opening a hospital in Perry County. He is a former president of Alabama Possible, formerly the Alabama Poverty Project, an organization co-founded by his father, former Alabama Baptist Convention executive secretary A. Earl Potts, which seeks to raise awareness of poverty issues statewide.

In Potts’ tenure, Judson adopted a new slogan, “Knowledge and Faith for a Purposeful Life”, re-emphasizing an institutional commitment to help students discover how the Judson experience was preparation to answer their alma mater’s call to “live for service” and “send forth blessed light,” rather than to seek only individual success.

Potts led Judson to have culture of service

Judson is the only private college in Alabama to hold the distinguished Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Service has become such an integral part of Judson’s culture over Potts’ tenure that alumnae honored his 25th year as president by establishing the David and Beth Potts Award for Outstanding Involvement in Community Service, which is now awarded to a graduating senior each year.

For each of the past 11 years, more than 80 percent of Judson students have voluntarily participated in community service.

Potts has served alongside them, often engaging in manual labor as he listened to students’ stories and told them about ways they could use their gifts in the Alabama Black Belt. For him, being the president of a Christian college has always been about more than encouraging Chapel attendance or helping students develop personal piety. “We mustn’t contain our Light and Truth on our campus but must express it in the lives of people around us,” Potts wrote in 2005. “We must use our resources to make a difference for the cause of Christ.”

For more information about the transition or the search committee, contact the Judson president’s office at 334-683-5102. (TAB, Judson)