About the President

William D. Underwood, J.D.

William Underwood
William Underwood

President William D. Underwood has led Mercer during a period of dynamic growth and development for the University. Since his appointment as Mercer’s 18th president in 2006, enrollment has increased by over 30 percent to more than 9,100 students. Mercer has launched second and third medical school campuses (Savannah and Columbus), and initiated doctoral programs in Physical Therapy, Clinical Psychology, Nursing, Counseling, Community Medicine, Biomedical Sciences, Educational Leadership, and Curriculum and Instruction.

Mercer is today widely reputed among the most outstanding and impactful universities in Georgia.  Reflecting an increased emphasis on research, Mercer has been reclassified as a research university with high levels of research activity (R2).  Over the past decade, the number of Ph.D. students has increased sevenfold, from fewer than 35 to more than 250, while the amount of annual externally funded research expenditures has grown to more than $50 million. Reflecting this growing emphasis on research, Mercer has been admitted to membership in the Georgia Research Alliance, a consortium of Georgia’s leading research universities.  Mercer has been named among three universities nationally with exemplary undergraduate research program by the Council on Undergraduate Research.  

Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honor society, awarded Mercer a chapter in 2015, placing the University in a cohort of the nation’s most respected academic institutions.  Mercer has become a leading producer of Fulbright, Goldwater, and Gilman Scholars as well one of the five highest producers among Peace Corps prep sites.  75 percent of the entering class of 2016 remained to graduate from Mercer – among the highest matriculation to graduation retention rates in the Southeast.

Under President Underwood’s leadership, Mercer resumed competition in intercollegiate football in 2013 after a 72-year hiatus. During the inaugural season, Mercer established a new NCAA Division I record for wins by a start-up program by going 10-2. Mercer was admitted to membership in one of the oldest and most prestigious intercollegiate athletic associations when it became a member of the Southern Conference in 2014.

Mercer recently announced that it had successfully completed a $500 million capital campaign. The University’s endowment has tripled during President Underwood’s tenure, to more than $500 million and the University has operated with a budget surplus every year. Facilities projects totaling more than $400 million have been completed, including among others an undergraduate science center, medical school campuses in Savannah and Columbus, a Pharmacy and Health Sciences Center in Atlanta, football and baseball stadiums and housing to accommodate more than 900 undergraduates and 150 graduate students.  The University has also made significant investments that have contributed to a rapidly revitalizing Downtown Macon, including repurposing several abandoned historic facilities for University use and restoring and reopening the iconic Capricorn Sound Studios as Mercer Music at Capricorn.

The 100 Black Men of Macon-Middle Georgia has presented President Underwood with the Sam Hart, Sr. Community Impact Award, the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce has honored him with its Citizen of the Year Award, the Macon Telegraph named him as its Middle Georgian of the Year, Georgia Trend has named him among the 100 Most Influential Georgians for 12 consecutive years, and James magazine has likewise regularly named him among the most influential Georgians. He was named in 2014 as recipient of the Leadership Character Award by the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership and has served as a member of the NCAA Division I Presidential Advisory Group and as Chair of the Southern Conference President’s Council.

Prior to joining Mercer, President Underwood served at Baylor University as interim president and held the prestigious Leon Jaworski Chair at the Baylor School of Law. He was designated a Master Teacher at Baylor in recognition of extraordinary classroom teaching over an extended period. In 2008, the Baylor Alumni Association presented him with its W.R. White Distinguished Service Award.  An elected member of the American Law Institute and the American Bar Foundation, President Underwood was awarded the J.D. degree summa cum laude by the University of Illinois College of Law in 1985, where he graduated as class salutatorian and was an editor of the University of Illinois Law Review. Following graduation, he clerked for the Honorable Sam D. Johnson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, prior to practicing law with the Carrington, Coleman law firm in Dallas. He and his spouse Lesli have been married for 40 years. They are the proud parents of two children, Jessica, who is an attorney practicing trial law in Austin, Texas, and William, who will receive his Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Religion this spring from the University of Chicago and then begin his academic career as an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Oberlin College.