Open day and night to the poor young man who desires above every other desire, to preach the Gospel of Christ. –Ashley S. Johnson, founder
Upon this principle the School of Evangelists was founded in 1893. Later, it was renamed Johnson Bible College, and today it rests with its present title, Johnson University. Johnson University continues to educate and graduate faithful servants who preach the Gospel not only in words, but in actions. Graduates of Johnson University serve around the world as preachers, youth ministers, missionaries, college presidents and professors, nonprofit directors, doctors, lawyers, statesmen, school teachers, and business executives… each with a shared goal of serving Christ and serving others.
The Johnson University Story
Motivated by the strong conviction that the cause of Christ was in great need of more laborers, Ashley S. Johnson founded the School of the Evangelists in 1893. Dr. Johnson was a native of East Tennessee and an evangelist, teacher, and author. An important element of his vision was to provide an education for worthy young men regardless of their ability to pay. The School of the Evangelists was renamed Johnson Bible College in 1909 at the request of students and friends.
In founding the institution, Ashley Johnson was greatly influenced by Alexander Campbell, the founder of Bethany College. They both desired to combine the family, preparatory school, college, and church in one system of education. Even the design of the main building contributed to this idea of educating the total person, for it housed the dormitory, dining room, classrooms, chapel, and library. Showing the mark of Campbell’s influence, Johnson also made the Bible the central study in the curriculum. At the same time, the College offered a substantial number of courses in the arts and sciences, such as English, zoology, literature (Livy, Horace, Dante, and Milton), astronomy, sociology, geology, economics, European history and psychology. Johnson Bible College has always required a solid core of arts and science education courses as necessary for an educated ministry.
Under the direction of Ashley Johnson and his wife, Emma Elizabeth (a powerful team), the College grew and prospered from a combined enrollment of 42 students in 1894 to 132 in 1925, when Ashley died. The reputation of the College was enhanced by the worldwide renown of Dr. Johnson as an author. Between 1881 and 1903, at least 20 books came from his pen. One of them, The Great Controversy, sold 100,000 copies.
Emma Elizabeth Johnson outlived her husband by two years and served as president during that time. Not having children of their own, Ashley and Emma gave and bequeathed all their possessions to the School. The students, faculty, alumni, and supporters were, after all, their family. This legacy of family and community remains strong on campus today, honoring their memory.
Alva Ross Brown, a brilliant young graduate of Johnson and the University of Michigan, succeeded Emma Johnson as president of the College in 1927. At 22, he was reputed to have been the youngest college president in America at the time. His 14 years of faithful service were greatly complicated by the Great Depression. The growing debt of the College became a heavy burden on his heart and likely contributed to his early death. During his tenure, enrollment held steady, academic standards were raised, the quality of the faculty was strengthened, and the number of graduates increased.
Robert Monroe Bell, former Johnson teacher and established professor of economics at the University of Tennessee, became the fourth president of the College in 1941. Under Bell’s leadership, Johnson Bible College became a coeducational institution and was brought out of debt and placed on a firm financial footing. During Dr. Bell's 27 years of service, enrollment steadily increased, the academic program was improved, and new buildings (Bell Hall, Myrtle Hall, Alumni Memorial Chapel, and Glass Memorial Library) were constructed. The reputation of the College expanded as a result of his influential writings.
In 1969 David L. Eubanks, a native of Maryville, Tennessee, was called to the presidency. A graduate of Johnson and the University of Tennessee, Dr. Eubanks had been a member of the Johnson faculty for 11 years. Under his leadership, the College continued to develop within the context of its historic mission and purpose. The enrollment grew to 900; the faculty and staff increased; regional and national accreditation were achieved; undergraduate program offerings were expanded; and graduate, distance learning, and degree completion programs were added.
Also under Eubanks’ tenure were significant campus improvements including the construction of the Phillips-Welshimer Building, the Eubanks Activities Center, the Global Education Technology Center (now Richardson Hall), Emma Johnson Hall for women, Alva Ross Brown Hall for men, married student housing, the enlargement of Glass Memorial Library, and the renovation of Myrtle Hall into a state-of-the-art counseling center. Dr. Eubanks retired from the presidency in 2007 and continued to represent the University as president emeritus. In 2013, Dr. Eubanks came out of retirement to serve as Chief Operating Officer of Johnson University Florida.
Gary E. Weedman assumed responsibility as the sixth president of Johnson Bible College in 2007. He graduated from Johnson in 1964 and returned as a professor from 1969 to 1976. He then held administrative roles at Lincoln Christian College, Milligan College, Palm Beach Atlantic University, and TCM International Institute. Campus development has continued under Dr. Weedman with the completion of the Gally Commons dining hall, campus store, and post office facility in the fall of 2007. The Russell Preaching Center was completed in 2009. The White House underwent an award-winning restoration from 2007-2010 during which time River View was also constructed.
In July of 2013, under the leadership of Dr. Weedman and the Johnson University Board of Trustees, and at the request of the Florida Christian College Board of Trustees, Florida Christian College merged into Johnson University and was renamed Johnson University Florida. This merger further positions Johnson University as a national leader in Christian higher education. Today the Johnson University System offers more than 70 accredited bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs across three campuses – East Tennessee, Central Florida, and online. The mission of Johnson University remains its primary focus... to educate students for Christian ministry and other strategic vocations to extend the kingdom of God.