In the big chair

Dr. Jeff Mercer is only the third dean of the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences in its nearly 40-year history. Like his predecessors, he sees big things in the program’s future

Jeff Mercer pointed to a chair in his office and nodded. A visitor was sitting in the — or that — chair, but Dr. Mercer was thinking about another time, remembering a moment that happened some years ago. A conversation that changed his career, his life. The moment when his journey to Campbell University — to becoming dean of the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences — began.

 “I sat in the chair you’re in today,” he said, addressing his guest. “Yeah, I sat there, and Dr. Adams sat over there.”

Mercer is talking about Dr. Michael Adams, now provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Campbell who was then dean of the College. Mercer, at the time, was dean of the College of Pharmacy at Harding University in Arkansas, where he worked in various roles for 16 years. 

Back when he sat in that chair, Mercer was visiting Campbell in an official capacity, for an onsite accreditation visit. 

 “I was really impressed with the structure that Dr. Adams had put together for the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences,” he said. “I learn something on each site visit, but I don’t necessarily enjoy everywhere I go. But here I really enjoyed the visit. And it stood out to me.”

As fellow deans, Mercer and Adams would occasionally exchange ideas and strategies common to organizational leadership. The COVID-19 pandemic provided many such opportunities.

“As a dean,” Mercer said, “life can be quite challenging because you’re trying to do the right thing, but there’s often no precedent set for it. Michael and I had a number of constructive conversations during the pandemic, and I truly valued his willingness to act as a sounding board.”

Campbell, in early 2022, was searching for a new associate dean of administration for the College. Mercer mentioned the job to Adams. Adams had no idea that he’d be interested in it.

“My curiosity won over,” Mercer said. “And then the next thing I knew we were talking about the potential of me coming and being a part of this place.”

Welcome to Campbell

The third dean of the College since its founding in 1985 by Dr. Ron Maddox, Mercer became interim dean in June 2023 and was named dean the following January. 

As interim dean, Mercer helped guide the College and key program leaders through the final steps of three on-site accreditations, including the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, the Accreditation and Review Commission on Physician Assistant Education and the Council on Education for Public Health.

“I chose to leave a deanship to come here and not to be a dean,” Mercer said. “A lot of people asked me why I would do that. But I just really wanted to be part of the larger entity, the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences.

“I admired this place from a distance for a long time. So, coming and actually being a part of it has been interesting, and thankfully as rewarding as I hoped it would. It’s been wonderful.”

Adams said Mercer has been a great addition to the Campbell family, praising him for an innovative mindset that leads to an inquisitive approach and an uncanny ability to see new opportunities, new ways of doing things. His character is genuine, Adams said. His leadership style relational and transparent.

Dr. Michael Adams and Dr. Jeff Mercer.

“He’s good for Campbell because he understands who we are — a faith-based institution that focuses on students and student success and outcomes,” Adams said. “You can have a great person, but if they don’t understand the context, they’re not effective. He’s a great person and he gets the context. He gets exactly who we are. It didn’t take him much to figure that out. He knew that, maybe before he got here.”

That respect travels both ways.

“Michael is as genuine as they come,” Mercer said. “If you want to know what matters to Michael, it’s his family and Campbell. It’s as simple as that. He loves it. He breathes it. And it makes you want to love your family and Campbell.”

Dr. Mercer and his wife, Emmie —also “Dr. Mercer” after recently earning her Doctor of Business Administration in Data Analytics — have three children — Jeffrey, who is 21; Levi, 19; and Anderson, 15. 

The Mercers have been married for 28 years; they met as chemistry lab partners at Faulkner University in Alabama. Emmie has more than 20 years’ experience in higher education teaching information systems and data visualization courses and is now the department head for Computer Programming and Information Sciences at Wake Tech in Raleigh. She also still teaches for Harding University College of Business Administration and is an adjunct professor for Campbell’s Lundy-Fetterman School of Business. 

A strong program

 “I am excited about where we’re going. But I don’t want to lose the enthusiasm for where we are,” Mercer said of the College. “I think our programs are fantastic as they are. Yes, we can get better. Yes, we should focus on quality. But we also need to appreciate what we have. And if there’s anything that I want to double down on or focus on most intently, it’s the culture of Campbell, the community that is Campbell. 

“Building relationships comes naturally to me.”

When asked, ‘Why are you choosing to leave a deanship to come to Campbell?’ Mercer said he would say, “I’m more drawn to people and opportunities, less so to positions and personal advancement. To me, it’s not about the position, it’s more about the opportunity to have relationships with people. I love to get into the communities.”

The Campbell College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences, like many of the University’s colleges and programs, has a stellar national reputation. Mercer talked about refocusing efforts on enhancing student pipelines, staying in touch with alumni and the larger Campbell family.

“If I could choose to do one thing every day professionally, it would be to go out and talk up Campbell, because it’s just a great place. We still need to tell our story more effectively, and that’s an opportunity I look forward to sharing with others.

“We have strong programs. We have great people, and that really drew me here… the team that had been assembled for all the health sciences. The future is so bright, and we’re really poised, I think, to go to the next level.


John F. Trump Health Sciences Writer
Ben Brown Photographer

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