Dr. L. Gregory Jones will succeed Dr. Robert Fisher as the president of the university on June 1, a decision fielding both excitement and concern from Belmont’s community.
“An exceptional scholar, tremendous communicator and strategic thinker, he will bring great imagination and energy to his role and will cultivate a dynamic, thriving culture that continues to focus on student success,” said Board of Trustees chair Marty Dickens in a press release.
“Most importantly, as a devoted Christian and ordained minister, Dr. Jones will ensure Belmont’s ecumenical Christian identity endures and is strengthened in the years to come.”
With more than 30 years of experience in higher education, Dr. Jones currently serves as the dean of Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC and has formerly worked as provost and executive vice president of Baylor University, a position he resigned from after a year.
The Presidential Succession Committee, a compilation of board members, one faculty representative and one staff member, unanimously chose Jones as its recommendation for the position.
The committee used input from a survey of students, faculty, parents, alumni and board members, who were asked what qualities they hoped for in Belmont’s next president.
“The Belmont community spoke clearly about the characteristics they believe are needed in the university’s next president. They want an energetic, collaborative leader committed to diversity and inclusion, the student experience, Belmont’s Christian mission and campus resources and culture,” said Board of Trustees chair-elect Milton Johnson in a press release.
“Throughout his career Dr. Jones has demonstrated exceedingly strong capabilities in each area, while also possessing significant experience as a strategic and entrepreneurial thinker who excels at leading large organizations.”
And while students didn’t have a direct hand in the decision, their needs can shape how administrations are run. For many Belmont students, that means a more welcoming and diverse environment.
“I would really like to see our new president show support, affirmation, and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community on campus,” junior corporate communications major Grace Brown said. “I would also like to see him promote diversity and representation.“
Brown said regardless of the expectations left by Fisher’s retirement, her primary concern moving forward is a more inclusive university for people of color and LGBTQ+ community members.
Sophomore design communications major Maggie Owens echoed concerns about keeping Belmont’s LGBTQ+ community safe.
“I don’t think he’s underqualified, but I’m worried about his inaction concerning homophobic graffiti in the past,” said Owens.
In 1999, anti-LGBT graffiti was found in one of the bathrooms of Duke Divinity School. Jones did not take action to remove it until a small protest by Sacred Worth, the school’s LGBTQ organization at the time, began to mount, published news reports at the time.
When the Duke University President Nannerl Keohane in 2000 began to allow same-sex couples participate in “commitment ceremonies” in the university chapel, Jones sent a letter to the wider campus, stating that the Divinity School did not affirm Keohane’s position, according to The Herald Sun.
After a United Methodists conference discussing LGBTQ+ issues in 2019, Jones released a statement expressing his commitment to inclusion at Duke Divinity School.
“We have sought, and will continue to seek, to create a community where people committed to Christian ministry can disagree about matters of sexuality (as well as many other matters) and also discover common ground and skills for navigating disagreement,” said Jones in the statement.
At Belmont, Owens would like to hear a public statement from Jones, affirming his commitment to protect LGBTQ+ students and to support organizations like Bridge Builders on campus.
Belmont graduate Violet Naegele hopes that Jones will listen to what students have to say and work towards making the change they want to see.
“I really want him to think about what he’s doing, and to think about his personal beliefs versus what’s best for the student body.”
And in terms of connection to students, sophomore publishing major Phoebe Bloomfield said Fisher leaves behind a palpable legacy.
“I think Bob did a great job of actively communicating and connecting with Belmont students through his emails and his presence on campus, so there will definitely be an expectation for the new president to do the same,” Bloomfield said.
Fisher himself said he was “ecstatic” about Jones’ upcoming role at Belmont, saying he and his wife the Rev. Susan Jones would make a powerful team.
“Former President Herbert Gabhart often said that ‘the best is yet to be for Belmont,’” Fisher said.
“I now understand that was much more than an expectation—it is a prayer, and it’s now my turn to pray that same prayer as we embrace the leadership of Dr. Jones.”
This article written by Kendall Crawford and Justin Wagner.