Warner Pacific University Announces Eighth President
The Warner Pacific University (WPU) Board of Trustees announces the appointment of its eighth president, Dr. Brian L. Johnson, effective August 1, 2020. Dr. Johnson is currently vice president at Mercy College and campus administrator for its Manhattan Campus. He succeeds Dr. Andrea Cook, who has served as Warner Pacific’s president since 2008.
Dr. Johnson brings with him his background as a scholar of American literature, including writing about the work of W. E. B. DuBois, and teaching and administrative appointments at a variety of institutions. Because of the commitment he shares with WPU to a Christ-centered, urban, liberal arts institution that embraces diversity, he is ideally suited to take over stewardship of the campus as Dr. Andrea Cook’s presidency comes to a close. Dr. Johnson officially takes his position on Aug. 1, 2020 and will be on campus full-time beginning September 1.
When describing what drew him to Warner Pacific, he says, “I want to be somewhere where I can bring to bear my faith commitments, my scholarly commitments, my ethnicity, and frankly, all the things that prepared me for this moment I see evidenced and embodied in Warner Pacific as a Christ-centered, urban, minority-serving and Hispanic-serving institution situated in a metropolitan environment. It fits everything I enjoy.”
Moreover, he says, “At this moment in higher education, you can no longer just be an ornamental president.” As an enthusiastic and committed administrator, he is motivated to be “bold, visionary [and] strategic.” He envisions leveraging WPU’s status as a “minority graduating” institution rather than just as a “minority enrolling” one to increase enrollment, boost its national reputation, and expand corporate and philanthropic partnerships.
Dr. Johnson replaces Dr. Andrea Cook, who served as WPU’s president for twelve years. Her presidency has been marked by transformations in outreach and inclusion, increasing the number of diverse students and earning WPU designation as a Hispanic-serving institution. Under her leadership, WPU has been nimble and responsive to changes in the community and in higher education generally, so that its programs could immediately meet students’ needs.
Dr. Cook notes that while she has been able to cause a lot of positive change at WPU, it is time for people like her to make space for others who do not look like her to continue the work of making higher education equitable. “People need WPU to flourish, … to prove it can be done.” Dr. Johnson will be the first African American to serve as WPU’s president and was a first-generation college student.
Dr. Johnson comes to WPU from a post as vice president (senior campus administrator) at Mercy
College (Manhattan, New York), where he served from 2018 until now. Before that, he was president and CEO of the venerable Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, 2014–2017. He also served as interim vice president for strategic planning and institutional effectiveness and assistant provost/assistant vice president for academic affairs and assistant provost/assistant vice president for Academic Affairs at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.
According to Board of Trustees chair Greg Englund, Dr. Johnson’s previous presidential experience and strong and prolific body of work as a scholar made it immediately clear he was the ideal choice. Englund notes that WPU is swimming against the tide of current trends in higher education: “We’ve got a mission, we’re growing, we’re adding programs that appeal to students and their families—and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
Dr. Johnson’s administrative platform is built on the pillars of transparency, collaboration, and
fundraising and fiscal responsibility. Much to WPU’s benefit, Dr. Johnson has tapped into an
expansive network of influential intellectual and cultural figures, bringing Michelle Obama, Tyler Perry and ESPN CEO/Disney co-chairman John Skipper to Tuskegee as commencement speakers. At the same time, Dr. Johnson has been a much-sought-after-speaker, addressing audiences at institutions including Clemson University, Simpson College, University of South Carolina and Westmont College. Dr. Johnson’s values and network provide WPU the opportunity to increase visibility for its unique and critical educational mission.
Dr. Johnson earned his PhD in English in 2003 from the University of South Carolina. He earned his MA in English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his BA in English from Johnson C. Smith University. From 2012 to 2013, he was an (A.C.E.) American Council of Education fellow at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at (IUPUI) Indiana University Purdue Indianapolis during its founding year under the direction of Gene Tempel, president emeritus, Indiana University Foundation, and dean emeritus, IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Dr. Johnson received an honorary doctor of letters from Mercy College in 2016.
In a February 2015 cover story, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education named him a “Progressive
President,” and he was named one of five HBCU presidents who were part of Ebony magazine’s
September 2016 issue’s “Top 5: leaders of the New School.”
Dr. Johnson is married to Shemeka Barnes Johnson, a senior vice president at Bank of America. They have two sons: Brian Asa (Asa), 16, and Nathan, 15.
We thank our search committee for their hard work and dedication to this most important task, and we are grateful for the input and prayerful support of our faculty, staff and students, as well as the WPU community everywhere. We are so pleased to welcome Dr. Johnson and his family into the Warner Pacific University family and to work with this passionate leader on growing our ability to serve our students and our community.
Warner Pacific University (www.warnerpacific.edu) is a Christ-centered, urban, liberal arts university located in Portland, Oregon, dedicated to making higher education accessible and equitable for students from diverse backgrounds. It is affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).