Interview by Jantzen Haley | Photography by Jeff Montgomery |
Dr. David B. Burks returned to the role of president Dec. 1, 2020, after serving as chancellor since 2013. His Harding career spans more than five decades since joining the faculty in 1967. In addition to teaching accounting in the Paul R. Carter College of Business Administration, he served as dean of the college for 13 years and as director of American Studies for five years.
Focused on the integration of faith, learning and living, Burks led the University to record growth in enrollment and giving during his first administration. He has held leadership positions on the Higher Learning Commission, on the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities, First Security Bank, the Founding Council of Presidents of the Great American Conference, and the Searcy Regional Economic Development Corporation. An elder at College Church of Christ, Burks and his wife, Leah, have two sons, Bryan and Stephen, and six grandchildren. Here’s what he had to say about his time as chancellor, his plans for the future, and his secret to success.
What are your most significant accomplishments from your time as chancellor?
I spent a considerable amount of my time as chancellor designing and developing Legacy Park residential, which includes some 38 homes, three townhouses and 12 condominiums. I also worked on economic development projects for Harding and the city of Searcy. In addition, I worked on special projects for Harding, for example, chairing the Task Force on Online Education.
Why did you decide to accept this interim role?
I love Harding and I love her mission, and I simply felt that I should answer yes when I was asked to fill this role again by the board of trustees. I do believe we have a bright future, and I want to do all that I can in this interim period of time to help advance our mission and ministry at Harding.
What are your top goals to fulfill as president?
The top goal is simply to make sure we continue with the implementation, in the most successful way possible, our mission of integrating faith, learning and living. I would like to see as many students as possible receive what we refer to as “the Harding experience.” It is a transformational, life-changing experience.
Dealing with the pandemic and unrest in our country has challenged the University. What would you say are the biggest challenges facing the University today, and how do they affect your role?
Our country is facing unprecedented times as we deal with the pandemic and unrest in our nation. This will challenge Harding and other institutions of higher education in ways we have never seen before. We will continue to be challenged in terms of enrollment and the cost of attending a private Christian university. However, I believe that this is a wonderful investment for people to continue to make, and I believe our students will continue to make a meaningful difference in our world.
The term ‘camaraderie’ is attached to you and your presidency. In what ways does it encapsulate the Harding experience?
Camaraderie is just my favorite way of talking about fellowship and the closeness that students feel to one another, to their faculty members and to God, as a result of their experience at Harding.
Stepping back into the role of president, what has changed the most in your life? At Harding? In the Searcy community?
The change that is most obvious is the role of social media in every aspect of life, but other than this transparency, much of what is involved in being president of the University is very much the same as it was when I was in this position eight years ago. We are still all about working with students and trying to teach and demonstrate how to integrate faith, learning and living.
Is there a presidential secret to success?
I really don’t know of any secret to success other than being committed to God and trying to do the best you can to follow his principles. I do believe in strategic planning although it is tough to do in an interim period of time. However, we can still set goals and try to achieve those that fit into our existing plan.
What is your favorite place on Harding’s campus, and why?
That is hard to say because I love the entire campus, but my favorite place would be Cone Chapel with its view of the quad.
What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble? How so?
I am always in a hurry and want to get things done as quickly as possible and as efficiently as possible. This is not always the best way to go, and sometimes it gets me in trouble. Sometimes I have not been able to enjoy the journey as much as I would like.
What one item could you not live without in your office?
Hard to say, but I would not want to be without the family book of pictures, which is given to Leah and me every year by our children, including all the major events of the preceding year. I have 20 of these books in my office, and these books are precious to me.
What’s the first thing you do when you get to your office each morning? What’s the last thing you do before you leave your office each evening?
The first thing I do when I get to the office each morning is not very original. I turn on the computer and check emails if I did not do it
at home. The last thing I do as I leave the office is the same, turn off the computer.
What’s the most unique thing you’ve been asked to do by a student or group of students?
I remember being asked by the SA president at the time, James Huff, who is now on our faculty, to sing a song with him in an SA Talent Show. I am not a singer but fortunately, James carried the day. We were both dressed in dark clothing and wore sunglasses and the lights were dim in the auditorium. This was before the time when everyone had a camera with them so I don’t think it was recorded.
It was funny! There were a lot of these incidents over the years.
What are your hopes for Harding in 2021 and beyond?
I just want Harding to be true to her mission statement in everything that we do. I am hopeful that we can continue to attract wonderful young people who want to be a part of what we have to offer at Harding. I am hopeful that this can be done, not only in Searcy but in other locations and even on the internet by way of online education. This would allow students to benefit from the Harding experience worldwide.
Thank you, Dr. Burke, for stepping up to this position, for wanting the best for Harding, for loving Harding like you do! I’m praying that the search team will find the right person to lead Harding on in the next years to be as wonderful as she has been in the past.