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Asked and Answered: 14 Questions with President Underwood

President Bill Underwood announces the introduction of Mercer's Innovation Center which he hopes will be become an entrepreneurial hub for downtown
President Bill Underwood announces the introduction of Mercer's Innovation Center which he hopes will be become an entrepreneurial hub for downtown

In December, President Underwood sat down for an interview with The Cluster to discuss the timeline of the new green space, but he answered questions about his life from cannonball rumors to the origin of the name Cricket.

Ask_Underwood_Student_Questions_Answered.wav Transcript

1. What is your favorite part about being president of Mercer University?

“That's an easy question. The best part of being president is getting to know students and getting to engage with students. And I can do that sometimes by filling and teaching your class. I do that sometimes by walking my dog around campus and just talking to people,” he said.

2. Why did you choose the name Cricket for your dog?

“I didn’t actually choose the name,” Underwood said. Underwood says that his son named Cricket after meeting her in the animal shelter. “I think it was because she's the same color as a cricket. And when she was young, she liked to jump like a cricket,” he said.

3. What is your favorite memory with Cricket?

“Thanksgiving weekend was my favorite because we had lots of relatives in town,” said Underwood. His 1-year-old niece, Lizzie, took an instant liking to Cricket. “They became very close friends over the course of four days, hanging out together, playing together. And it was just fun and watching how gentle cricket was with this one year old child and how much fun they had together,” he said.

4. What does a typical day in your life as president look like? 

“There is no typical day. Some days the day will be full of meetings with people, some days will be full of travel. But there really isn't a typical day. And in fact, I tell people that when I'm planning my day, usually there will be two or three things that come up that were not on the plan. And that's one of the good things about the job is it requires you to be flexible and be able to respond to things as they arise,” he says.

5. What does your 5-10 year plan look like for Mercer and are there any big projects or plans coming up?

“We're planning on moving our medical school complex here in Macon entirely downtown. Right now the classroom and research facilities for the Macon campus of the School of Medicine are, of course, over by the Godsey City Science Center," Underwood said. "And we're planning on moving those facilities somewhere downtown. We haven't decided the particular location yet.”

6. If you had to pick, what is your favorite place to hang out on Mercer’s Campus?

“I think my favorite place, other than the fitness center, is probably the area between Willingham and Newton. Which, I think a lot of students have as their favorite area because when the weather's nice and I walk by there, the tables are always full of students,” he said. 

7. How much can you bench?

Underwood says he does not know how much he can bench. “I typically work out with two 75 pound dumbbells,” he said.

8. How have you seen Macon change since you’ve been president?

“Pretty dramatically,” Underwood said. He says areas around Mercer’s campus, such as the Bealls Hill Neighborhood, have become safer and more beautiful. He also notes the increase in business in downtown Macon. “When I arrived, there were maybe five restaurants downtown. Now there are more than 50 restaurants downtown. Almost no one lived downtown. Now there are over 700 occupied lofts and apartments and condominiums downtown,” he said.

10. What cybersecurity improvements have been made to Mercer’s system following the cyber attack last April and do you think they’ve been effective?

“One thing I learned I've learned primarily from talking with cybersecurity experts at the FBI is that if somebody really wants into your system, they're probably going to find a way to get into it,” Underwood said. “The thing that you try to do is to make them as unfruitful as possible so people aren't incentivized to come back. So when they demand a ransom, as they did with us, you don't pay it.”

Underwood says the University has also increased training against phishing and has people monitoring the system for unusual activity.  “I think we're doing everything that can be done, recognizing that there are a lot of really talented people out there trying to get in to your systems,” he said.

11. Over the last few years, vendors have been allowed to sell alcohol from Black Field and inside Five Star Stadium. How has the policy for alcohol on Mercer’s campus changed to allow this?

“I've allowed it provided that people are responsible and in exercising that freedom, and they have been,” Underwood said. “I’m told by visitors all the time about what a family friendly atmosphere we have on Black Field.” 

“I've been asked a number of times since I've been here about changing policy on campus generally, and I would be open to that,” he said. “It's a very difficult thing to execute on a campus where most of the residential students are not of drinking age. And also in sort of informal surveys I've done, a majority of the students I've surveyed have said they like it the way it is.”

12. Do you have any secret or hidden talents?

“I don't think so. I don't have hobbies and I wish I could play the piano,” Underwood said. He wants to learn to play one Elton John song really well, as a party trick.

13. There is a rumor going around that someone once shot a cannonball through your window. Is this true?

President Underwood says this is not true but points to the historic Cannonball House as a possible origin for the rumor.

14. How has being Mercer’s president changed you?

Underwood says being president has taught him how to learn from his mistakes. “I think that when you're in a position where you have to make lots of decisions, you necessarily make mistakes. And I think that if you're at all introspective and you recognize when you've made a mistake, and you think about why you made that mistake, over time, you make fewer. And I think what we call that is acquiring wisdom,” he said.

Megan Jackson

Megan Jackson ‘25 is a Journalism student with a goal of going into editing, news writing, or audio production. She also works at Mercer’s Undergraduate Admissions office, and enjoys spending time with her sorority sisters.

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