SHAWNEE—Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) has selected two candidates to fill the newly established roles of dean of theology, arts and humanities and dean of business, health science and education. Matthew Y. Emerson, dean of the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry at OBU, has been selected to serve as dean of theology, arts and humanities. Larinee Dennis, vice president for academic administration at Hannibal-LaGrange University (HLGU) in Hannibal, Missouri, has been selected to serve as dean of business, health science and education. Their appointments will be effective June 1, 2021.

Matthew Emerson

In addition to his role as dean of the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, Emerson also serves as the Floyd K. Clark Chair of Christian Leadership, professor of religion and director of the Master of Arts in Christian studies and intercultural studies. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University. He then earned both his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southeastern Seminary. Before coming to OBU in 2015, he taught at California Baptist University, where he also served as chair of the Arts and Sciences Department in the Online and Professional Studies Division.

Emerson has authored or co-authored 20 publications. He serves as co-executive director of the Center for Baptist Renewal, co-editor of the “Journal of Baptist Studies,” steering committee member of the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar, and senior fellow for the Center of Ancient Christian Studies.

Emerson is looking forward to this new role and to continue his work on Bison Hill.

“I am excited and honored to serve Oklahoma Baptist University and Oklahoma Baptists in this capacity, and am grateful to the search committee, the provost and the president for the opportunity,” he said. “Jesus Christ is Lord over all of life, and I’m thankful for the chance to lead the areas of theology, art and humanities in light of that central fact. I look forward to continuing to work with President Thomas, Dr. DeWoody, my faculty colleagues and the entire OBU community in this new role and am committed to transforming our students’ lives through OBU’s authentically Christian liberal arts education.”

Susan DeWoody, provost, is pleased to continue working with Emerson as he takes on this new role.

“Dr. Emerson has demonstrated excellence and mentorship in teaching, scholarship, Christian commitment and university service, all hallmarks of the successful academic at OBU,” she said. “In addition to these qualities, he has invested his academic giftings whenever there has been an opportunity to lead. With Dr. Emerson’s experience as a chair at California Baptist, coupled with his teaching and administrative experience at OBU, he is a strong fit for promotion to the larger leadership role as our new dean of theology, art and humanities.”

Larinee Dennis

Dennis currently serves as professor of education at HLGU in addition to her role as vice president for academic administration. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Hannibal-LaGrange College and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She then earned a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from New Mexico State University.

She began teaching at HLGU in fall 2008. She previously served as interim associate dean of academic administration and assistant dean of academic administration. She spent several years teaching in public schools in Missouri before launching her career in higher education.

Dennis looks forward to coming to Bison Hill and carrying on the legacy of faith-based academic excellence at OBU.

“I am humbled and honored to be chosen for this role at Oklahoma Baptist University,” she said. “I know God has equipped me to serve in Christian higher education and I look forward to joining the good work that is already happening here. The institution has a strong academic and Christian reputation, and I am eager to work alongside God’s people at OBU.”

DeWoody looks forward to welcoming Dennis to Bison Hill and to the leadership of these schools and divisions.

“We are excited that Dr. Larinee Dennis has accepted the opportunity to serve in academic leadership at OBU,” she said. “Dr. Dennis has committed her life’s work to educating and leading others well. She is a strategic thinker who has successfully served as a faculty member, education chair and academic administrator in the Christian liberal arts context. We believe she will add great value to the pursuit of our mission and vision for excellence at OBU.”

OBU President Heath A. Thomas said, “OBU has built a legacy of academic excellence in Christian liberal arts higher education for more than a century. Dr. Emerson and Dr. Dennis have the experience, knowledge and backgrounds needed to lead our academic units as we continue to position our academic structure and programming for growth in relevance and reach. These two deans are thoroughly prepared to work alongside our faculty and staff to continue the development of the next generation of future shapers to live all of life, all for Jesus.”

These two dean positions were established as part of OBU’s reorganization of its academic structure, first announced in early February. As part of that process, OBU is moving from its current six college configuration to nine academic schools and divisions for the 2021-22 academic year. The new structure, effective June 1, includes the Warren M. Angell School of Visual and Performing Arts, which will continue to house music, art, communication and theatre; the Herschel H. Hobbs School of Theology and Ministry; the School of Nursing; the Paul Dickinson School of Business; the James E. Hurley School of Science and Mathematics; the School of Education; the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences; the Division of Language and Literature; and the Division of Exercise Science, Sports and Recreation. Twelve academic chairs will oversee these areas and report to one of the two new deans.

The academic organization changes will provide cost savings, bring more faculty to the leadership table, facilitate better communication between the University’s academic divisions and create a more cost-effective structure to position OBU with a strong foundation for the future.

For more information about OBU, visit