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WCU President Dr. Tommy King retires; Dr. Ben Burnett selected as new president

William Carey University has announced the retirement of longtime president Dr. Tommy King and the selection of Dr. Ben Burnett as the new president.
Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 1:53 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - William Carey University has announced the retirement of longtime president Dr. Tommy King and the selection of Dr. Ben Burnett as the new president.

The university’s board of trustees made the announcement Tuesday, a day after board chairman Dr. Jimmy Stewart passed the news to employees in a message Monday.

“The Board of Trustees is very thankful for Dr. King’s long and successful tenure, and we are extremely pleased that the Lord very clearly led to the selection of Dr. Ben Burnett as his successor,” said Stewart. “We look forward to working with Dr. Burnett – as always, expecting great things from God and attempting great things for God.”

Burnett began his career in education in 1986 as assistant band director for Meridian High School. In 1988, he returned to Lamar County to become band director at his alma mater, Oak Grove High School.

In 1997, Burnett moved into administration as principal of Oak Grove Middle School, which he served for 10 years. In 2007, Burnett was elected superintendent of the Lamar County School District and was re-elected in 2011.

Burnett retired from public education in 2014 and accepted the position of dean of the William Carey University School of Education. In 2020, he was named executive vice president of William Carey University.

Burnett will serve as the university’s 10th president when his tenure begins on Aug. 16.

He succeeds King, who became president of William Carey University in 2007 – but his service to WCU goes back six decades.

King is the first WCU graduate to become president of the university. Before ascending to the presidency, he served as a WCU trustee, adjunct professor, department chair and executive vice president.

King became president in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed WCU’s first Gulf Coast campus. He chose the location and directed the construction of the Tradition campus.

In January 2017, an EF3 tornado inflicted catastrophic damage to the Hattiesburg campus. King led the rebuilding effort and cut the ribbon on the final tornado recovery project, the new Tatum Court, in July 2019.

King was instrumental in establishing the School of Pharmacy at the Tradition campus, a physical therapy doctoral program in Hattiesburg, and a new nursing school in Baton Rouge. He also led the way in the construction of a new 67,000-square-foot facility for the College of Health Sciences – the largest complex WCU has ever reportedly built.

Finally, during his tenure as president, King oversaw unprecedented growth in enrollment. The number of students has more than doubled, from 2,500 to more than 5,200, according to official reports.

A public reception honoring King and his wife, Sandra, who is also a WCU graduate, will take place in the King Student Center on Thursday, July 28, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Inauguration ceremonies for Burnett are being planned for later in the fall.

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