Walker Draws Accolades as New Lee University President

The following is a portion of a front-page article that ran in the Cleveland (Tenn.) Daily Banner on Sunday, February 2, 2020 following the January 31 announcement regarding the selection of Mark Walker as the next president of Lee University.

By Rick Norton, Cleveland Daily Banner

Community reaction to Friday’s naming of Dr. Mark L. Walker as the new president of Lee University has been both swift and positive.

Confirmed by the four-year institution’s board of directors during a formal gathering in Atlanta, Walker will succeed 34-year president Dr. Paul Conn on Aug. 1, at which time Conn will assume the new role of chancellor.

The announcement of Walker’s selection was made by Dennis Livingston, board chairman.

Dr. Mark Walker

Walker, who holds a dual role at Lee as vice president for Ministerial Development and chair of the university’s Department of Christian Ministries, joined the Cleveland-based school in 2017. Previously, he had served as senior pastor of Mount Paran North Church of God, one of the denomination’s largest congregations, with campuses in Marietta and Canton, according to a Lee University website post from July 8, 2017.

Prior to joining the Lee administrative team, Walker had served as a pastor at Mount Paran North Church of God for 25 years, and had been the senior pastor since 1997. Prior to that, he pastored First Assembly of God in Orlando, Fla.

“Congratulations, Dr. Mark L. Walker!” exclaimed Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks in a statement Friday within hours of the Lee University board announcement. “Dr. Walker is a wonderful man, and he comes from a wonderful family.” Brooks described Lee’s president-elect as “… a gifted leader with a great heritage…He is a faithful husband and father, and has been a personal friend for many, many years.”

Brooks said the Lee University board selection will not only be good for the school, but will benefit the city of Cleveland because of the strong partnership forged over recent years by the respected institution and the municipality. Brooks praised the 34 years of leadership and civic partnership orchestrated during Conn’s tenure. He predicted under Walker’s stewardship the relationship will continue to grow between the university and the municipality, especially with the commitment by both to move forward with the Downtown Revitalization Master Plan.

“For three and one-half decades Dr. Paul Conn has worked closely with our community to serve as a viable part of our city and county,” Brooks said. “I believe under Dr. Walker’s administration, we will see nothing less.”

Brooks also pointed to another advantage, the fact that Walker’s presidency and his administrative direction will be supported by Conn during his stint as Lee University chancellor.

“For Lee, for the church and for our city, we’re getting the best of both worlds,” the Cleveland mayor stressed.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis offered no less exuberance toward Walker’s selection, as well as the education-changing and community legacy left behind by Conn’s administration, part of which has been influenced by Walker as a member of the President’s Cabinet for the past three years.

“We are all thankful for the stellar multi-decade tenure of Lee University President Dr. Paul Conn as the outgoing administrator,” Davis said. “We remain thankful for the prayerful decision, and the choosing, of Dr. Mark Walker as the next president…With local roots, a regional history, a global outlook and a Christ-centered focus, the future of Lee University will continue to rest in the nurturing hands of a good Christian and solid leader … not only now, but well into the future.”

Like Brooks, Davis pointed to the ongoing partnership and staunch working relationship between local government, Lee University and the people of this community. He credited Conn and his administrative leaders with enabling this relationship, and said he foresees more of the same with Walker.

From a business perspective, Walker’s selection drew the same kind of praise from the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, one of many nonprofit organizations that has benefited from the Lee University presence.

“The Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce has a long history of working with Lee University, and with Dr. Paul Conn,” said Mike Griffin, Chamber president and CEO. “We are excited to get to know Dr. Mark Walker in his new leadership role and to continue this great community partnership…Lee University is integral to our downtown redevelopment and in educating our future workforce. Congratulations to Dr. Walker!”

According to the Lee University website post from 2017, Walker has previously served as a member of the Lee University Board of Directors. He stepped away from the seat upon joining Lee University as a member of Conn’s administrative team.

Walker’s roots at Lee run deep.

His wife, Udella, is a Lee University graduate from 1983, as are both their children: a son, Justin, Class of 2009, and a daughter, Ashten, Class of 2013. The Walkers have three grandchildren.

Both of Walker’s parents are also Lee graduates.

The president-elect is the brother of the late Paul Dana Walker, a former Lee University basketball star who died in an automobile accident in the early 1980s. The university’s basketball facility — the Paul Dana Walker Arena — is named in the late Walker’s honor.

According to the Faith News Network website, from a post on June 26, 2017, the president-elect “… gained a national reputation as a popular teacher and preacher, and frequently appears in seminars and conferences across the country.”

The post pointed out, “He has been elected on multiple occasions by his ministerial peers in the Church of God to its highest deliberative bodies, the International Executive Council and the North Georgia State Council.”

Walker earned his doctorate in organizational leadership from Regent University School for Leadership Studies, and his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in counseling and business administration from Georgia State University.

Walker, who will address the Lee University student body for the first time as president-elect on Feb. 12, during Spring Convocation Services, said he and his wife are humbled by the board decision.

Less than 24 hours after being notified of the announcement, Walker on Saturday morning told the Banner, “Udella and I feel like we have been bestowed a huge honor by the board in selecting us to serve as the next president of Lee University. We are humbled deeply, and are very grateful.”

Walker said he is looking forward to working with Conn for the next six months during the transition, leading up to Aug. 1 when he will assume the presidency and Conn takes on the chancellor role.

“Dr. Conn and I will be meeting quite regularly, dialoguing and looking at all the key things we need to be doing,” Walker stated. “That will start pretty much on Monday.”

Serving as a member of Conn’s Cabinet for the past three years has already exposed Walker to university expectations and has helped him to understand what lies ahead in higher education.

“[It] has given me a broader view of the entire institution,” Walker said. “We’re faced with some of the challenges that all higher education is faced with right now.”

He added, “I think one of the things that Lee will have to face … is the narrative concerning the high price of higher education and student-loan debt. I think we are going to be faced with how to create new streams of income. These are some things that we’ve been looking at and talking about.”

Walker described Lee as a “… Christ-centered, liberal arts university,” a mission that he said he cherishes.

“How do we stay true to our Christ-centered mission, and how can we be innovative in meeting the demands of the marketplace?” Walker suggested. “These are some things that we will need to look at in the future.”

The president-elect said he looks forward to working with Conn as Lee chancellor, and getting started on turning the pages into the university’s next chapter.

“My wife and I are looking forward to serving the Cleveland community and the entire Lee family,” Walker stressed. “This is an incredible opportunity we have. We are very, very humbled by it. We are in great anticipation of what the Lord will do next in the future of Lee University.”


Dr. Paul Conn

Having worked closely with Walker during his years on the Lee board, Conn said he became so impressed with the educator’s talents and commitment to higher education that he recruited him extensively to join the Lee team.

“He was a natural fit,” Conn told the Banner during a Saturday morning interview. “He’s been in the picture for a long time.”

The chancellor-elect stressed the Lee board “… has great confidence in Mark. Most of the board members know him as a colleague. They’ve seen his work for many years, and how he has worked with me. He has been a key player, and a leader, on the board.”

Walker’s longtime seat on the Lee board, and then his willingness to join the university’s administrative team, made him a natural candidate for the presidency, Conn explained.

“His wife is a Lee grad,” Conn pointed out. “Both of his children are Lee grads. Both his parents are Lee grads. He has a long history at Lee.”

That history dates back a full century, he added. Conn said Walker’s grandfather studied as a student at the old Bible Training Institute long before its name-change to Lee.

“We’ve always thought of Mark in a certain sense as someone we know very well,” Conn said.

The outgoing Lee president, who has served in the role since 1986 — and who is the longest-serving college or university president in the state of Tennessee — lauded the board’s announcement of Walker.

“I’m thrilled with his selection,” Conn said. “It’s a great choice. There were some strong candidates. I was gratified to see how thoroughly the search committee, and the board, approached this process over the last three months.”

He added, “I would say the chairman of the board, Dennis Livingston, did a wonderful job managing the search. It was a very active, very thorough search.”
Conn not only praised the board’s work, he endorsed the governing body’s selection.

“They’ve chosen a president who will do a wonderful job,” Conn stressed. “I’m very optimistic about our future after Aug. 1. We have six months after today to work with Mark and to get him ready.”

Conn said beginning Monday he will be introducing Walker to many people, as well as to plenty of Lee University practices regarding the school’s blossoming relationship with the community and local government.

“I look forward to this entire process, as well as to Aug. 1 when I start serving with him in an advisory role as chancellor,” Conn stated.

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