Belmont will start hiring faculty of the Jewish faith effective immediately.
Until now, all professors had to be Christian.
The policy will go into effect in the College of Medicine, the College of Law and the College of Pharmacy, and expand to the rest of the university at a later date. The new policy was announced at the Nov. 21 faculty senate meeting.
“The Jewish relationship is so important to Christians that we begin intentionally, and we make sure that we're doing this in thoughtful ways,” said President Greg Jones.
Jones said the university is beginning with the three graduate programs because the individual accrediting bodies “were already in principal openness.”
No Jewish faculty have been hired yet under the new policy.
“There are conversations underway but nobody for whom it's been finalized,” Jones said.
Belmont has 79 students who declared their faith as Jewish but, until now, didn’t allow non-Christian professors.
Erin Shankel, president of the faculty senate, announced the policy by reading a letter from university provost David Gregory.
"Effectively immediately, recruitment practices now support the hiring of faculty of Christian or Jewish faith who are committed to the University’s mission,” the letter said.
Faculty senate was not aware of the change in practice prior to last Monday’s meeting.
“I knew that it was on the horizon. So, we were in the loop about it, but the idea didn’t come from faculty,” Shankel said.
The rest of university faculty and staff were notified via an email from Gregory this afternoon.
Jones said he had discussions with the Board of Trustees and executive leadership in faculty senate.
Jon Roebuck, executive director of the Rev. Charlie Curb Center for Faith Leadership at Belmont endorsed the change. During the pandemic, Roebuck launched Belmont’s Initiative for Jewish Engagement with Rabbi Mark Schiftan from The Temple in Belle Meade.
“I think the thing to stress is Belmont is still really, really committed to hiring the best people in the world to teach here. And now, we had the opportunity that if those people happen to be members of Jewish faith, they're not automatically discounted from the hiring process,” he said.
Roebuck said this will open Belmont to another faith tradition, and help the university hire the “best candidate” when positions become available.
“And quite honestly, in law and medicine in particular, a number of leading physicians and scholars come out of the Jewish community in those areas, historically, so it's not a far-fetched thing to think that there will be faculty before too long in those areas.”
The hiring shift is the latest in Belmont’s evolving relationship with the Christian faith.
Between 1951 and 2007, Belmont was part of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. It broke from the TBC after a lengthy legal battle under former president Bob Fisher.
In his first year as president, Jones changed the university mission statement to say, “We are a Christ-centered, student-focused community.” The old statement had “student-focused” before “Christian community.” He also changed Belmont’s seal to include a cross and the phrase “Christ at the Center.” The previous seal only said, “Belmont University.”
Throughout his 18-months on campus, Jones has repeatedly declared he wants Belmont to be “the leading Christ-centered university in the world.”
And he said the change to hiring practices won’t affect that goal.
“I've long said, in many different contexts, the stronger your center, the more inclusive your edges can be. So, we've already been working to embrace our Jewish and Muslim students and to support their worship practices. It's something that we want to continue to strengthen, that's part of what it means to be Christ-centered is to be welcoming and embracing,” Jones said.
But the university has no plans to extend the policy beyond the Christian and Jewish faiths.
“I think that we're intentional about our Christian mission and welcoming Jewish faculty is a key component of extending and deepening that Christian mission,” Jones said. “I don't think we're talking about just broadening our hiring policies generically.”
However, professor of religion Marty Bell urged the university to do just that.
“I am grateful that we are changing our hiring practice in the colleges that you reference,” Bell said in response to an email from Gregory. “I am also glad that we plan to extend this policy campus-wide. I hope that our future moves to include other world religions in our hiring practices.”
Jones plans to continue the conversation with the faculty senate and university leadership in the spring or the fall semesters.
“I think it's a really significant and positive step forward for Belmont,” Jones said.
This article was written by Sarah Maninger.
CORRECTION: This story was updated on Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. A previous version said Joe Roebuck instead of Jon Roebuck. It was also updated say faculty senate leadership had conversations with Jones about the policy, but did not make the decision. It is unclear who Jones met with in the spring.