The University announced Dr. Michael D. Williams as Harding’s sixth president at a press conference on Oct. 27. Since then, Williams has continued his role as president at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. As announced in October, Williams will begin his tenure as Harding University president on June 1, 2022.
On Wednesday, Bison editor-in-chief Everett Kirkman spoke to Williams on the phone to get his updated point of view nearing the end of his nearly eight month transition period.
Williams said it has been challenging to live in two different communities as he finishes his time at Faulkner and anticipates a move back to Searcy.
“As you might expect, the role of college president is a 24/7/365 experience,” Williams said. “So, it has been nearly impossible to be really plugged into the Harding community in the last few months. I have read The Bison, watched chapel and followed social media to get a broad sense of campus activity.”
Williams said he has been selective in the things he has engaged in at Harding over the past few months, since he has not been able to be engaged with everything. Williams said one of the most inspiring things he has gotten to participate in was a Zoom conversation with current Student Association (SA) leadership.
“The number one thing that they wanted to put on the table was to figure out a different way to engage students in the formation of chapel — and I love it,” Williams said.
Williams said since chapel is an integral part of the Harding experience, the University needs to pursue an ambitious standard for chapel.
“You will see a deep investment into the vibrancy of chapel,” Williams said. “I want to explore a greater variety of options for chapel. At Faulkner, breakout chapels have provided an outstanding forum to create more intimate gatherings, explore relevant, contemporary topics in depth and offer the university community more creative ways to foster spiritual formation on the campus.”
Incoming SA president Megan Sledge said she is thrilled to work with Williams in the upcoming year.
“I know that he has ambitious goals for positive change as he transitions to Harding, and I plan to stand by him in what he brings to the table,” Sledge said. “I believe that this next school year is going to be one of the most important in Harding’s history.”
Sledge said just as she wants to be a fully present and available student leader, she prays that the new administration will do the same.
“I hope that Dr. Williams is best known by students for his ability to listen well and love wholeheartedly,” Sledge said. “A fully connected president is really what this student body needs. After suffering through COVID, we are craving for connection now that things are closer to normal.”
Williams said he works for students, and plans to work alongside student organizations like the SA and Black Student Association.
“By engaging with campus leaders, we bring the student’s voice to the table,” Williams said. “Great organizations are introspective. We need every stakeholder in the Harding nation to ask the simple question, ‘How could we be better?’”
Rather than approach every societal challenge with an immediate answer, Williams said the University community should listen.
“We listen, and we go eyes wide open to the community,” Williams said. “We’re not the cavalry. We listen, we learn and then we work in partnership with community people to think about how we can make our community stronger and how we can address the challenges in a way that might produce a more flourishing society for everybody. That’s a learning experience that, quite frankly, can’t be done in a classroom.”
Williams said he hopes students will see a common thread in all of the previous University presidents.
“We all aspire for Harding to be a transformative, Christ-centered University,” Williams said. “Mike Williams wants nothing more than for Harding to become a contemporary expression of our historical mission.”
Williams said he wants to be in a covenant relationship with students “where we push one another to really meet our potential.”
“Part of that experience is helping [students] recognize their ability that many times they can’t even see within themselves,” Williams said. “That makes me get up every morning and run to the office.”
Mark Moore (‘90), friend and former coworker of Williams’ in University admissions, said he is looking forward to Williams’ presidency.
“I don’t suspect being president will seem like work to Mike because he has always had Harding sort of etched in his DNA,” Moore said.
Moore said while many students may think of Williams as a newcomer to the University, he has worked in many capacities at Harding for many years, and just recently took a few years away.
“Mike won’t be afraid to make changes,” Moore said. “Even though he loves Harding he realizes, because he’s been to places like the University of Pennsylvania, that there are some very high standards out there. When you get out of Searcy and look around, you realize there’s lots of room for growth.”
Moore emphasized the value that Lisa Williams will bring to the University, as well.
“We live in a very male-centric world, and Harding can be an exaggerated version of that in how we often overlook, or maybe pigeonhole, women,” Moore said. “But Lisa Williams is quite a catch. If you spend five minutes with Lisa Williams, you’ll see she is deeply sincere, and I think she’ll find her own way to make a huge difference at Harding, as well. As young women who are Harding students are looking for a role model to learn what it means to follow Christ and to be a leader, they’ll have a great example in Lisa.”