David Burks

For university president, Harding is commitment of a lifetime

By Amy Widner
Staff Writer
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Three Rivers Edition

University President David Burks never expected to spend almost 50 years at Harding in Searcy. When he first came to the university as a student in 1961, he thought he would only stay a year before returning to his native New Mexico to finish college. Four years later he graduated from Harding with a degree in accounting and left for Texas, where he completed his master’s degree and started working. By 1967, he was back, and excluding the time he took off in 1972 to pursue his doctorate, he’s been there ever since.

“Now I’ve been here most of my life,” Burks said. “I consider this my ministry. I just love being at Harding. I love working with the staff, faculty and students. I never intended to stay, but I just fell in love with this place.”

A lot of things have changed during that time. Burks is no longer the accounting professor he started as, but was named president in 1987. The university has grown in enrollment, campus size, academic opportunities and global reach.

When Burks became president, enrollment was 2,900. This year it was 6,340. The whole campus has changed to accommodate the influx of students — new buildings, new residence halls, changes that have shifted the location of the campus’ core. One of the first projects Burks oversaw as president was the building of a new library.

“Which is really a very different kind of library from the kind that I was used to using,” Burks said. “Everything has shifted away from paper because of technology, and now most of what you’re looking at in a library comes though a computer. There’s a coffee shop in there, and it’s a place where people can come together and exchange ideas. Really the whole concept of a library, a quiet place where you didn’t really talk, all of that has changed.”

 Establishing a wireless campus, labs and dorm rooms with high-speed Internet access — a lot has changed. But Burks doesn’t think that is what is important.

“Yes, the whole campus environment has gotten much larger, but I would more focus on what has not changed,” Burks said. “Our focus at Harding has always been to be a Christian institution, where we study the Bible, learn how to deal with people and build relationships. I think that has always been the focus at Harding, in 1924 when it opened, and continuing today. I think much of what I see today has been true for many years.”

 The opportunities available to Harding students, however, haven’t stayed the same during Burks’ administration. He has overseen the addition of several undergraduate and graduate programs as well as the expansion of the university’s overseas campuses. The university now has two permanent campuses in Florence, Italy, and Athens, Greece, and semester programs on several continents.

“I think it’s important for students to have the opportunity to travel internationally and get that global perspective,”

Burks also made sure students were exposed to the ideas of notable world leaders when he directed the American Studies Institute program, which has brought the likes of former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to speak at the Harding campus.

An attention to students is also apparent in Burks’ day-to-day approach to his job.

“I like simply interacting with students,” Burks said. “If you ever get tired of fundraising or building projects or just need to get out of the office, you can take a walk around campus and talk to students, listen to them talk about their dreams for life — that’s what’s energizing about a university campus.”
It’s hard to explain the kind of commitment that would result in spending almost 50 years working to improve an institution, but Burks’ dedicated personality is apparent in other aspects of his life. Burks is involved in the greater Searcy community through the Chamber of Commerce, the Searcy Industrial Development Corporation and Kiwanis Club. In addition to running and playing golf, two years ago Burks added another hobby to his list. When he was 63, Burks decided he had waited long enough to fulfill his lifelong dream of learning to read music and play the piano. He now practices two hours a day and said it is a completely new adventure that is difficult, but also fun and rewarding.

Matter of Fact:

Birthdate: 5/13/43

Occupation: President of Harding University

Family includes: Leah, wife; 2 sons, Bryan and Laura Burks and children Emily, Carter, Weston; and Stephen and Jeanne Burks and children Madison, Kaley, and Caden.

Hobbies: Running, golf, piano

My name comes from: Middle name is my father’s first name — Basil.

Most people don’t know I’m: From Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

I cannot live without: My relationship with God

My favorite memory is: Our children doing well in school and college

The world would be a better place if: We could all live in peace with one another

Favorite quote: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” — Hebrews 12:2

My goals for the future: Continue my work at Harding and spend time with our six grandchildren

Note: I stole this from the Alumni News Letter that Liz Howell does. Obviously, she used it with permission from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
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