MOUNT OLIVE – The University of Mount Olive (UMO) held the virtual inauguration of Dr. H. Edward Croom as its sixth president on Thursday, March 25. The program included greetings from representatives of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni, the Original Free Will Baptist (OFWB) denomination, and the Town of Mount Olive. It also featured musical performances by Alumna Brandy Smith, Carolina Sound, and The University of Mount Olive Concert Choir.
Earl Worley, Chair of the UMO Board of Trustees, said, “For those of you that don’t know Dr. Croom, I can tell you both personally and professionally that he is drawn to pursuing big ideas, to embracing challenges, and to facing tough questions. He is a strategic thinker and I couldn’t imagine a more imaginative, creative, and likable campus leader. With his eastern North Carolina roots, his Original Free Will Baptist heritage, and his extensive and skilled career in education and leadership, he is uniquely positioned to lead this institution to new heights.”
Board member Donnie Lassiter said, “Dr. Croom is the epitome of what our University needs to continue and strengthen our role as a leading university in eastern North Carolina and beyond. He is foremost a man of God along with being a lifetime Free Will Baptist. In addition, he is a very well respected member of the academic community in North Carolina.”
Noting that there has never been any requirement that the University president had to be a pastor or a member of the OFWB Church, Gary Baily, Director of Convention Services for the Convention of OFWB, said, “We have been supportive of presidents who were members of our church and of those who were not. But, we are extremely proud of the fact that Dr. Croom is one of us. Dr. Croom, we are grateful for your faith, your expertise, and your humility.”
Representing the traditional student body, Alan Farrior said, “As a former Johnston County Schools student, I have personally experienced your leadership style. I know, firsthand, that you will put the academic and emotional needs of students first. You have made and will continue to make decisions that will allow this campus, its programs, and its people to grow successfully. As we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, you have already proven that you can see us through difficult times.”
Treyvon Webb, a member of the graduate student body, quoted John C. Maxwell, “‘A good leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.’ Dr. Croom, I have no doubt that you will guide our University with honesty, trustworthiness, justice, courage, responsibility, gratitude, care, and respect. I look forward to your leadership of service with purpose. May we follow in the footsteps of those who helped make this University great and dared to dream!”
Steeped in tradition, Dr. Croom was sworn in using his grandfather’s family Bible. Croom was also presented with a presidential medallion, a wooden replica of the official University seal.
In his inaugural address, Croom spoke about the quick and consistent changes that have occurred since he joined UMO, noting changes in leadership, COVID-19 and resulting remote teaching and learning, as well as the tragic vehicle accident that claimed the lives of four UMO students. “Change has been rapid,” he said. He praised both faculty and staff for their dedicated efforts in providing students with exceptional opportunities, and “keeping the wheels turning regardless of how bumpy the path may be.”
The theme of his message was, “Start with a Dream. Serve with a Purpose. Finish with a Future.” Indicating a personal preference for white board discussions, Croom said, “We will spend a great deal of time in front of white boards as we make our long range plans for the future.” In those white board sessions, Croom pointed out that the University must constantly re-evaluate to make sure students are leaving with workforce ready qualities. “I strongly believe that just providing our students with a degree is simply not enough anymore,” he said. “Societal demands change rapidly and we must graduate students ready to meet those demands.”
After establishing the University’s direction Croom said, “…it will be important for us to serve, and serve with a purpose. It is my thought that, for the University of Mount Olive to thrive in the future we must create a sense of need from our community and stakeholders,” he said. “I believe that the success of the University of Mount Olive is directly proportional to our ability to build strong relationships in the future.”
Beyond his dreams of service and relationship building, Croom spoke on the business of leading a University. “Part of my responsibility as President is to make sure we operate in a manner that creates a level of financial stability,” he said. “When my tenure here is finished, I must make absolutely sure I have provided a foundation for a bright future ahead. It will not be easy and will require difficult decisions. As President, we will operate with a sound business model.”
In closing, Croom said, “We will hold true to our mission which is to serve our students, our founding church, and our communities. We will be as transparent as possible and communicate often in an effort to build trusting relationships. If we seek His (God’s) face, dream and dream big, serve others in a manner that builds relationships – then we will truly provide an opportunity for all of our stakeholders to finish with a future!”
The full inauguration ceremony can be found at https://umo.edu/inauguration/.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.