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Popular 1970s administrator was crucial to LU’s academic success

June 16, 2009 : Mitzi Bible

 
Dr. J. Gordon Henry (center) presented his portrait to Chancellor Jerry L. Falwell, Jr. (right) and Provost Dr. Boyd Rist on Monday. Gordon served as Academic Dean and later Vice President for Academic Affairs at Liberty University in the 1970s. 


Dr. J. Gordon (Jim) Henry, former teacher, Academic Dean and later Vice President of Academic Affairs at Liberty University, visited campus on Monday, presenting Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. with several items for the school archives.

Henry was at Liberty from 1972-78 and was instrumental in attaining Liberty’s accreditation through the Southern Association of Schools and Universities (SACS), which was received in 1980.

Dr. J. Gordon (Jim) Henry in his office at Liberty Baptist College in the 1970s.

“He was the guy who gave Liberty University academic credibility early on,” Falwell said Monday. “He led Liberty to accreditation in record time.”

Henry presented Chancellor Falwell with the school’s first purpose and mission statement, which he helped write.

“That is so important,” Henry said, pointing to the framed copy, “Right there is the difference in Liberty.”

While Henry was reminiscing in the chancellor’s office on Monday, Falwell pulled a copy of the 1977 Selah — Liberty’s yearbook — off the shelf. It was dedicated to Henry. It reads:

“Dean Henry is truly a ‘reaching, teaching, preaching’ man as he has been called. Over the years, he has had a profound influence on many lives. During his time at LBC, he has caused the student body to appreciate academics.”

Chancellor Falwell, who remembers as a youngster running down the hall to Henry’s office, said his father, Liberty University founder Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr. was “committed to academic excellence from the beginning” and brought Henry on to carry out the task. “[Dad] wasn’t just interested in being another accredited Bible school,” he said.

Mark Hine, Liberty’s current Vice President for Student Affairs, was a student under Henry’s leadership. He recalls how Henry would go out of the way to meet students’ academic needs.

“He would say in convocations, if we had issues or questions with transcripts, classes for graduation, that he was in his office at 6 a.m. every day and we could go meet with him. I went early one morning. He took my status sheet and looked it over, and was able to help me graduate.”

Henry also presented a letter of “Memories of Dr. Jerry Falwell & Liberty University” to the school on Monday, along with the text of his academic dean addresses and a portrait that was used at another institution where he had served. In the letter, he talked about the first time he met Jerry Falwell, Sr. and Liberty co-founder Elmer Towns.

From his office at a college in Kentucky, “The Holy Spirit brought forth an idea that I should learn more about the new college in Virginia,” he writes. “I felt that I should visit Lynchburg and see for myself what God was doing. I attended a Wednesday evening service and met Dr. Elmer Towns. He said that I was the very person that LBC needed to help develop the program.

“Before leaving Lynchburg, Dr. Falwell urged me to join hands with him. I asked two questions: first, ‘Do you intend to develop a “real” college?’ and ‘Will the college attack other believers?’ His answers were direct. He said he wanted to be a quality academic program and become known as the ‘Harvard’ of the evangelical Christian world. He invited me to listen to tapes of his radio/television programs and see for myself that he did not attack other believers.

“I left with a contract that included primary duties to help develop the academic program that would merit accredited recognition of (SACS) and, especially a teacher education program so that our graduates would be certified to teach in Virginia. Incidentally, Dr. Falwell told me that my salary would be higher than his salary. He meant business in getting experienced administrators.”

Watching the 2009 Commencement exercises from his home in Lynchburg, Henry said he was reminded of Liberty’s first five graduations. He said the first four were at Thomas Road Baptist Church, but the fifth was held outside on Liberty Mountain, the future site of the new campus. He writes:

“As we sat there on the platform that beautiful May Sunday afternoon, Dr. Falwell reached over and took my work copy of the Graduation Bulletin in which I had made my organizational notes. He proceeded to write something in my bulletin and handed it back.”

On Monday, Falwell, Jr. smiled as he showed off the bulletin with his Dad’s handwriting, which Henry gave to the school. It reads:

“To Dr. and Mrs. Jim Henry, Your contribution has helped, probably more than any other single family, to make LBC a college. I shall be forever grateful. And Sue—your care for Mom will never be forgotten.—Jerry Falwell”

(Henry’s wife, Sue, took care of Falwell Sr.’s mother as a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Virginia Baptist Hospital).

Henry said Falwell, Sr. had wanted him to accept the position of Executive Vice President when it was created, but Henry declined due to his pastorate at Pleasant View Baptist Church in Lynchburg. But Henry suggested Pierre Guillermin and the choice was made.

Henry left Liberty in 1978 to become president of Northeastern Bible College in New Jersey.

Henry said he looks upon his years at Liberty as a “critical time in my professional development:”

“In assessing the opportunity to strengthen and develop a strong academic program at Liberty, I often said that what I learned was equivalent to earning another doctor’s degree,” he writes. “Later, as a chief administrator of a college and the administrative head of an accrediting agency (TRACS), things that I learned at Liberty in academic affairs, student affairs and business affairs served me well and enabled me to help many college administrators around the nation to better serve their institutions.”

 


The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is an accreditation organization that accredits both private and public schools in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and certain locations outside the U.S. To learn more about accreditation through SACS, go to www.sacs.org.