category: Faculty Emeriti - Presidents

M. Christopher White

Tenth President, 1986-2002

Dr. M. Christopher “Chris” White (1943-) was born in Anderson, S.C., and grew up in Hartwell, Ga. He attended Hart County High School in Hartwell and graduated second (salutatorian) in his class in 1961.

He graduated with an A.B. degree in 1965, with a major in mathematics and a minor in English from Mercer University in Macon Ga. In 1968, White graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. In 1972, he earned a Ph.D. from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. His major academic fields were Old Testament, Intertestamental Studies, History of Religions, and Early Church History.

White began his professional career in 1969-70 as director of the Educational Program for Disadvantaged Children at the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga. From there he served as an instructor in the Department of Religion (1970-71) at Emory University. White was next named as an assistant professor of religion at Elon College in North Carolina in 1972. He became a professor in 1978; chairman of the Department of Religion, 1974-76; dean of Academic Affairs, 1976-83; and vice president of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, 1983-86.

White left Elon College to assume the presidency of Gardner-Webb College on June 1, 1986. He immediately set about to upgrade Gardner-Webb to University status, and he was successful. Over the years, the University experienced both qualitative and quantitative growth. In addition, the Noel Program for Disabled Students was nationally recognized, and Gardner-Webb was named a character-building institution by the Templeton Foundation.

Developing and increasing strong enrollment teams were paramount goals for White; while president of Gardner-Webb, overall student population increased 106.5 percent (from 1,826 to 3,771). The institution operated with financial success and stability during his tenure. Gift receipts set all-time records. A $5.95 million Capital Campaign was successfully completed in 1989. The “Dreaming, Daring, Doing Campaign” raised $30 million, and a $4 million endowment campaign for ministerial students was completed. The University’s endowment increased from $4 million to $32 million during White’s tenure as president.

White was most proud, however, of Gardner-Webb’s academic program accomplishments: University status was achieved effective Jan. 1, 1993; the School of Divinity (with Master of Divinity degree) was founded on Jan. 1, 1993 (the Board of Trustees named the school for White in 1998); the Graduate School of Business (with MBA degree) opened in the fall of 1993; the Graduate School launched with new programs; a new Liberal Arts Core Curriculum for the undergraduate college became effective in the fall of 1992; a consortium agreement was made which allowed Gardner-Webb University students to study in more than 20 foreign countries; a transfer agreement was made with Dohto University in Sapporo, Japan, to bring up to 20 students per year to Gardner-Webb; an Academic Honors Program was initiated in the fall of 1988; a Comprehensive Academic Advising Center was initiated in the fall of 1988; and accreditations were reaffirmed with the four applicable accrediting agencies—Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, National League of Nursing, NASM (music programs), and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (for teacher education programs).

Under White’s leadership, the campus acreage significantly increased as new facilities were constructed, including Noel Hall, six student apartment buildings, the soccer stadium, the tennis complex, the observatory, a softball stadium, and the swimming complex.

The University also added doctoral programs, transformed its General Education program, and its athletic program joined National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I, while adding men’s and women’s soccer and swimming.

As one would expect of a university president, White was equally active and supportive in civic and community services over the years. A partial listing of his memberships includes: director of the Cleveland Federal Bank, member of the executive board of the Piedmont Council of the Boy Scouts of America, member of the Rotary Club of Shelby, past president of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), past director of the United Way of Cleveland County, member of the Shelby Art League, member of the Cleveland County Historical Museum, and head coach of youth athletic teams in baseball and basketball (1978-1986).

White was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Shelby, N.C., holding leadership posts during his time at the church.

He is married to Linda Fleming White, who is from Hartwell, Ga. Chris and Linda established an endowment in 1986 to honor their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard M. Fleming and Mr. and Mrs. J. Martin White of Hartwell, Ga. The Fleming- White Excellence in Teaching Award was given to an outstanding Gardner-Webb professor.

Following his time at Gardner-Webb, White became president of Chowan University in Murfreesboro, N.C. White helped Chowan achieve University status, while transforming the school with the accumulation of the largest enrollment and strongest financial position in over 170 years for the Institution. Endowment was tripled and reached nearly $30 million. Chowan also added a graduate program and degree completion program during his time in leadership.

The physical layout of Chowan changed during his time as well, with $30 million dedicated to renovations and upgrades for every campus building; 12 new buildings were also completed, and a student apartment complex named Whites Crossing was built in honor of Chris and Linda. The campus footprint was also increased with property purchases expanding the campus to over 400-acres. The athletic program also transitioned from NCAA DIII to NCAA DII and added 11 intercollegiate sports.

White transitioned to the role of chancellor of Chowan in 2017, the first for the school. On May 31, 2020, he retired after serving two decades in Murfreesboro.

White’s hobbies are playing the piano and singing in the choir, playing tennis and golf, jogging, reading, and organizing and conducting Middle East study-tours to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.

White has published two books, and he has recorded and released 12 music albums.

White is also a recipient of the Spirit of Chowan Award and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest honor that a North Carolina citizen can receive.

The Whites are the parents of two sons: Martin and Andrew, both Gardner-Webb graduates. The Whites now make their home in Charlotte, N.C.

Sources: Gardner-Webb University files, A. Frank Bonner (1st Edition), M. Christopher White (2nd Edition)

Updated 2015: Noel T. Manning II, Matthew Tessnear, Josh Barker

Updated 2022: Noel T. Manning II, Chowan University archives

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