Belmont sociology professor Dr. Ken Spring is best defined as an enigma.
One day, you might see him dressed in a tux and bow tie, but not without his hoop nose ring. Another day, you might see him in jeans with the bottoms rolled up and a plain white T-shirt, showing off his colorful tattoo sleeve.
With his eclectic style and laid-back attitude, Spring is a quizzically ambiguous portrait of a professor, who manages to both hide and reveal his academic identity as well as his national BMX racing title.
On top of his teaching load, Spring currently serves as the associate dean of academics for the College of Arts and Sciences.
Born and raised in a Midwest Ohio factory town, Spring grew up in a conservative community-conscious family.
When he was young, the glass factory that employed his father and the families of his friends went through hard economic times. Employees were laid off by the hundreds and poverty became a topic of daily conversation.
“Luckily my father never lost his job, but I learned early on what it meant to be poor,” Spring said. “And being poor didn’t necessarily mean you were lazy, it meant a factory in Michigan got shut down and you were a casualty. It wasn’t anything the third shift did differently, it was a by-product.”
Growing up, Spring saw the impact factory work had on his father and the other workers firsthand.
“I would remember they would open the factory up to the community and kids every once in a while, and I remember walking around with mother and the kids of people who worked there,” Spring said. “Everyone would say this is why it’s important to stay in school, and they never wanted to see me working here. It was so hot and noisy and overall wasn’t a good environment to be in. Everyone looked very tired.”
This sparked Spring’s interest and fascination with getting an education, leading him to Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Spring’s start in sociology began with a summer class.
“I took the course and found I didn’t agree with a lick of what the professor said. But it made me think, so I ended up taking more classes, which led to more classes. And it was in one of the subsequent classes thereafter that I found I’d always been doing sociology, I just didn’t know what it was called,” Spring said. “Being raised in Catholic family in a predominantly Catholic community, the ideas of family, tradition and community were all really important. My dad was very active in the community; my grandparents were very active in community as well. I grew up learning that I had to give back. I think Catholicism in general; the teachings and practice are very heavily focused on social-justice issues. Sociology, therefore, just seemed like a natural fit.”
As a result of his almost immediate passion for sociology, Spring continued pursuing education beyond Bowling Green and has obtained a rather remarkable collection of degrees from various universities.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and pre-law, with a minor in philosophy, from Toledo University in Ohio. He also earned a master’s in community studies there. He then went on to earn a doctorate in sociology, with an emphasis on social and cultural theory, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
He earned all of those degrees by 33 years old.
Spring then began looking for employment and discovered an opening for a sociology adjunct instructor at Belmont. He applied and received the job.
“I found Belmont, and it just felt right. I went on a job hunt with everything but my dissertation finished. And when I got here, it felt perfect,” he said. “I absolutely adore our students. I think that we have some of the most genuine and most talented students around. And I think over the last ten years, I’ve just watched this place change and it is just an exciting place to be. I want to be a part of that change and take ownership of this campus. I dig it. I believe in what we do. I think I have fantastic colleagues who are all very good at what they do. This place is filled with amazing teachers and is also filled with amazing scholars.”
As much as he has dedicated himself to higher learning, Spring is also committed to sport.
This former BMX national champion has harbored a love of riding since his early days.
Spring received his first BMX racing bike when he was eight years old.
His father would buy him a piece of a BMX bike every week and together they would build it, piece by piece. It was a way to bond with his father, who also raced.
One weekend, he and his father were invited to eat hot dogs with some neighbors at their concession stand at the local BMX track. Spring brought his bike and entered the race. And his second-place victory was made all the more impressive by the fact that it was the first race he had ever entered.
It was then that his competitive spirit and love of the sport was born.
Within just a few months of his first race, Spring became sponsored by a local bike shop. They gave him equipment and bikes, decorated with their logo, for free.
By the age of 13, Spring had an entire garage full of BMX bikes.
But his long career of racing hasn’t been without its injuries and setbacks. Spring has been in a body cast and has had a broken arm, broken collarbone, busted knee, torn ACL, MCL and PCL, a burst bursa sac, two broken-back injuries, two broken-neck injuries and six broken-hand injuries. Even after all that and 12 fake teeth later, Spring still races.
“I like it because it’s just a little place of Zen for myself. When I get on a bicycle, I feel both energized and free,” Spring said. “I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do on a bike. Incidentally, there are lots of things I cannot do on a bike, but I feel like there is nothing.”
Spring has been named one of the Top 10 U.S. National BMX Racers several times.
“I’ve started slowing down some since I last broke my back about two years ago, but I do still ride. The last time I broke my back I didn’t even bother going to the hospital right away. I had plans to drive down to South Carolina to visit my girlfriend, now my wife, where she, at the time, lived,” he said. “I’d broken my back before, so I knew what it felt like so I felt I didn’t need to go to the hospital. I just got into the car and drove the nine hours to see her. She thought I was insane. I did eventually go get it checked out by a doctor, and it’s alright now.”
He and his wife Emily just recently celebrated their one-year anniversary on Sept. 29.
Spring is a man of many interests – one look around his office will tell you that.
From the George Bush and Family presidential paper doll book on the windowsill, to the windup duck on his desk, to the BMX bike in the corner and the pieces of elaborate abstract art hanging on the walls, you can see there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to Spring.