Dr. J. Randall O’Brien is focused on preparing Carson-Newman for a bold future. That preparation has included initiating a series of conversations within the Carson-Newman family.
Using “Journey to Excellence” as a theme, he has traveled from Orlando to San Antonio to see alumni and bring new friends into the fold. His stops have found him asking, “Why are we here as a college?”
Answering his own question, he says, “Because two things will change the lives of young people – Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and a college education. That’s why we’re here. Those two life transforming realities change lives.”
Before his selection as C-N’s 22nd president, O’Brien served as executive vice president and provost at Baylor University. Other roles at the Waco, Texas institution included interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, professor and chair of the department of religion, acting dean of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary and executive assistant to the president. (Curriculum Vitae)
He began his academic career at Arkansas’ Ouachita Baptist University, teaching religion there from 1980-1987. He moved to Little Rock as senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church before returning to the classroom with Baylor.
As a Baylor professor, O’Brien received numerous teaching awards selected by students, including Mortar Board’s Circle of Achievement Award on three occasions, the Carr P. Collins Outstanding Professor Award presented annually by the graduating class, the Outstanding Professor Award given by Gamma Beta Phi Honor Society, and the Outstanding Faculty Member Award presented by the student congress.
O’Brien is a noted author who has published more than 70 scholarly articles and entries for the Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as for Eerdmans, Mercer and Holman encyclopedias. His four books are: “Set Free by Forgiveness: The Way to Peace and Healing,” “I Feel Better All Over Than I Do Anywhere Else,” “Who Is Jesus?” and “The Progression of the Mosaic Motif to the Johannine Concept of Messiah.”
A native of McComb, Mississippi, O’Brien is a graduate of Yale Divinity School, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mississippi College. He has also served as pastor or interim pastor of 19 churches in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
He is a decorated military veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. In that role he received, among other decorations, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the United States Air Medal, The Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, and the Bronze Star.
He is married to Kay, a licensed social worker who taught in Baylor’s School of Social Work for more than a decade until moving to Jefferson City. The couple has three adult children and one grandchild. Their eldest daughter, Elise, and their youngest child, son Kris, both live in Colorado. Their daughter Shannon, her husband Eric, and grandson Alyosha, live in Waco.