Dr. Robert Turner, President of Southern Methodist University

Dr.  Robert Gerald Turner has served as the President of SMU (Southern Methodist University) for many years. SMU is located in Dallas, TX. What makes R. G Turner dynamic is his ability to raise the standard of expectations without the appearance of thinking highly of himself. He strikes those around him as humble but bold. Turner has two degrees in psychology likely giving him insight people’s thinking and motivation (Turner & Horn, 1975). He’s found a way to accomplish all of these things and still find time to be a devoted family man with two daughters and wife of many years. A workhorse of a man, unrelenting in driving the fundraising efforts through the roof at Southern Methodist University.

 Born in 1945, Dr. Turner received a Bachelor of Science from Abilene Christian University and a master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. He started out as a professor in the fields of psychology working at Pepperdine. Later he became the Chancellor at the University of Mississippi, where he spent 5 years honing his skills. In 1995 Turner became the president of SMU (List, 2020). His background in education has served the institution extremely well. Nearly all of the academic programs at SMU have seen academic scores increase, endowments have doubled or tripled, and a number of new facilities be built. Turner has been noted with his skill as a fundraiser. Some of his research in predictive social behavior was likely beneficial for his ability to connect with a crowd or read body language (Willerman et al., 1976).

As a very young president he had difficult decisions to make including firing a very influential football coach due to a scandal and helped turn SMU’s reputation for being education lite around. He has regularly broken records in terms of raising funds and focusing on reform over his two-decade tenure. SMU has seen increases in significant growth (300%) in admissions applications and an increase in enrollment of underrepresented communities up to 31%. During his time major donor gifts have raised more than $1.6 billion dollars for scholarships, endowments, academic programs, and facilities. Turner was also able to secure a Presidential Library for George W. Bush on the campus, which including securing a $500 million dollar gift (Janofksy, 2005). Some controvery surrounds him as he has consistently been paid significantly for a private college president. In 2016, he earned $3.3 million and was the third highest paid private school president. (D Magazine, 2016). 

Dr. Turner’s community involvement is vast, connecting with businesses, non-profits, churches, and many more. He has served on various boards including the Dallas Citizens Council, the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. He served for many years as a co-chair on the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. This is a commission focused on reforming college athletic programs so that they prioritize student education, safety, ethics and more focused on general success for students (Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, 2022). This independent commission has impacted the transparency of college athletics and the segmentation of each division.  He’s also served as an independent Director of the J.C. Penney corporation. He voted to end J.C. Penney’s sales and discounting program (J. C. Penney. (n.d.).

He is in many was the type of transformational leader that embodies many of the qualities in an educator that others aspire to be. He’s intelligent, charismatic, tenacious, and passionate. He’s pushed the University through any opportunities to add research and development. He’s known for being a charming personality and an incredible fund raiser. His ability to network and inspire is connected to the theory of transformation which dates back to Bernard Bass (Bass, 1993). Bass noted that when an leader creates inspiration in their followers through an incredible vision, demonstration of ethics, and focus on the well-being of a others, that leader can be transformational. 


List, C. (2020). Finding Aid for the Finding aid for the Chancellors Collection-R. Gerald Turner (MUM00537).

Home. Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. (2022, January 27). Retrieved February 5, 2022, from https://www.knightcommission.org/

Janofksy, M. (2005). A Bush-style education school in texas. New York Times.

J. C. Penney. (n.d.). Retrieved February 5, 2022, from https://www.nndb.com/company/244/000058070/

Staff Reports, ‘SMU’s Gerald Turner Pulling In More Than $3.3M Annually’, D Magazine, December 12, 2016

Turner, R. G., & Horn, J. M. (1975). Personality correlates of Holland’s occupational types: A cross cultural study. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 6(3), 379-389.

Willerman, L., Turner, R. G., & Peterson, M. (1976). A comparison of the predictive validity of typical and maximal personality measures. Journal of Research in Personality, 10(4), 482-492.