Ph.D. optional: Why a Christian university with doctoral programs chose a preacher president

Ph.D. optional: Why a Christian university with doctoral programs chose a preacher president

With the selection of minister David Shannon, Freed-Hardeman trustees emphasize spiritual leadership, communications skills and connections with Churches of Christ.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

When trustees of Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., first identified preacher David Shannon as a candidate for the Christian university’s presidency, a key alumnus voiced concern about Shannon’s lack of academic credentials and higher education experience.

That alumnus: Shannon himself.

“I didn’t want to do anything that would show disrespect to the university or to the academic community that is so strong here,” said Shannon, who has served for 18 years as minister for the Mt. Juliet Church of Christ, a growing congregation 20 miles east of Nashville.

“It wasn’t a quick process for me to overcome,” the 1989 Bible graduate told The Christian Chronicle. “After the first meeting, I told them I would have to think about it. … My wife (Tracie) and I prayed over and over about this, and never once did we pray for it.”

But eventually, the couple came to the same conclusion: God was leading them to return to their alma mater.

“We finally just reached a point where we said to each other and (to God) in our prayers, ‘If this is what you want, we’ll do it, but your will be done,’” said David Shannon, who traces his Freed-Hardeman roots to the mid-1980s, when former President E. Claude Gardner walked into a Centerville, Tenn.-area sawmill and recruited him.

Freed-Hardeman, which is associated with Churches of Christ, has 1,900 students from 33 states and 20 countries. It offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, known as SACS.

However, as Freed-Hardeman’s trustees searched for current President Joe Wiley’s successor, they weren’t worried about Shannon’s absence of a master’s degree from an accredited university — much less a doctorate — or his unfamiliarity with the inner workings of Christian higher education.

They were more interested in his spiritual leadership, his communications skills and his close ties with — and affection for — both Freed-Hardeman and its faith heritage, board Chairman John Law said.

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This story appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.