While most students were away from campus on spring break, Belmont unveiled Vision 2015, a document laying out Belmont’s next five years of growth and development.
The three-page document outlines Belmont’s intentions to further establish itself on the national stage after 10 years of significant growth.
The plan is divided into 10 broad components, including enrollment growth, cultural competency, cost control and building a world-class learning environment. According to the document, Belmont aspires to be “Nashville’s University” by engaging with and serving the community on a scale that is “unmatched by any other institution of higher education.”
Notably, the document includes plans to increase the student population from last fall’s 5,424 to 7,000 over the next five years. In order to house the increased student body, Belmont intends to “continue to aggressively upgrade facilities,” including new residential space, development of a “mall/plaza” and adding 1,000 parking spaces to compensate for added traffic.
Belmont President Bob Fisher addressed some student concerns during the semiannual “Ask Dr. Fisher” convocation Feb. 26, more than a week before the release of the plan, much of which revolved around the university’s constant expansion.
“I don’t know if I have the capacity in my DNA to talk about ending growth,” Fisher said when asked about an enrollment cap by a student.
“You can have a great liberal arts program with 1,000 people like at Sewanee and Rhodes, here in Tennessee,” he said, “but you can’t be good at music, music business, nursing, business and all of these other programs we already have. You can’t fund them to excellence.”
A copy of a letter from the Faculty Senate to Fisher was sent to all faculty members last week. According to the letter, faculty reaction echoed student apprehension about the university’s growth.
“Some faculty members were, frankly, frustrated and outraged that Vision 2015 sets before us another five years of ambitious growth,” the Senate members wrote. “Many say that we are in danger of losing part of the central identity and strengths of Belmont.”
The letter also expresses trepidation about potentially increasing class sizes due to the influx of students. It also points out that Belmont’s reliance on adjunct professors, as opposed to full staff, is much higher than the university’s peers in the U.S. News & World Report top schools list.
Vision 2015 also touches on diversity on campus, a point that Fisher has been particularly vocal about in recent years.
“I’m still not satisfied with that number,” said Fisher, referring to student ethnic and racial diversity numbers during the student Q&A. According to statistics shown during Fisher’s presentation, student diversity lies at 597, or 11 percent of the student body, in 2010.
Fisher revealed that the university hired Derek Young, who previously served as director of outreach for Cracker Barrel and as executive director of 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee, to help the university develop a plan for creating a more diverse environment on campus. The 2015 plan states that the university hopes to “create a culture of inclusion.”
The plan also reaffirms Belmont’s status as a Christian university. The spiritual development section states, “our hope is that every student will see that belief in God empowers a life of disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage and faith.”
The faculty response brought up a possible conflict between the diversity plan’s spirit of inclusion and the spirituality section’s specificity in religious beliefs, stating that increasing the university’s “Christian character” could possibly exclude other perspectives.
The letter also pointed out that “diversity” is not defined in the document. Separate faculty comments specifically included sexual orientation and students who subscribe to a faith other than Christian as areas of diversity that could be considered.
The subject of hiring non-Christian faculty was also broached in the faculty comments, suggesting that if Belmont were to loosen the current requirements, it might encourage a more diverse teaching environment. This suggestion, however, was not included in the faculty letter.
In a faculty meeting held on Mar. 22, Fisher addressed the letter and the issues presented by Vision 2015. According to Fisher, the conversation between administration and faculty will continue for 30 days until the next executive committee meeting.
“If there are things that need to be heard, we can discuss them before we move forward,” Fisher said before joking: “I feel like I’m trying to pass health care here.”