Over the past year, Belmont University has gone though substantive and sometimes controversial changes, the most widely publicized being expansion of the non-discrimination hiring policy to include sexual orientation.
Belmont’s sports complex at E.S. Rose Park has a celebration May 3 to officially open the facility, although some fields will remain under construction. Work began last summer when, after four years of legal wrangling, an appellate court gave Belmont final approval to rehab the Metro park as a public-private sports facility.
University President Bob Fisher sat down with the Vision to talk about some of these issues.
Belmont Vision: So, Rose Park. There are some delays. and I’ve heard the softball game is going to be played without bleachers and with a semi-functioning press box. What’s the timeline on getting it fully completed?
Editor’s note: The interview was conducted prior to the first softballl game, and other games have followed, although construction is ongoing.
Fisher: I’m disappointed that Rose Park’s not completed by now. It’s been under construction for several months, and it’s a couple months later than we were expecting it. I know it was a hard winter, but if we had hit all the deadlines it wouldn’t have gone into winter. It’s been frustrating. Nothing about Rose Park has been easy. But soon it’s going to be spectacular.
The thing about the softball field was that there was an architectural design mistake made, and the sight lines from the stands. Once we discovered that, the construction company was very good to say, “It was our mistake, our fault, and we’ll fix it at our expense,” but the only problem is that there was no time to do it all. What we agreed to do was to take down what was done … and rebuild the frame and put in bleachers, but not permanent stands for the rest of this year. As soon as the softball season is over … they’ll come back in and install the permanent bleachers and the permanent stadium seating.
Belmont Vision: One of the parts of the Rose Park proposal was providing full scholarships to several students each year from the Edgehill community. What sort of interest is Belmont seeing in those scholarships?
Fisher: High interest. We’ve made a concerted effort to make the people who live in the community aware of the existence of the scholarships this year, and our community relations office has done a great job of informing them.
We have a large number of applicants; we have excellent applicants. We’ve already been enrolling students, even though contractually we’re not obligated to do that until we open the facility. But for the last two years we’ve been bringing students from that community into Belmont with those scholarships based on just our promise, but we had not really gone out and made a big deal about it.
Belmont Vision: Does Belmont’s search for diversity look only at ethnic and racial diversity, or is it also looking towards more religious, political and ideological diversity in its students and faculty?
Fisher: I think that those things take care of themselves. … Belmont is a very diverse place religiously, given that as recently as four years ago we were affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist [Convention], and at that time 21 percent of our students had an affiliation with the Baptist churches. … We were already diverse in our mix of Christian denominations, but I think what you are seeing is an additional openness and welcoming toward people of other faiths.
It’s a Christian university mainly in the way we treat each other, in the way we live our lives, in the way we demonstrate our faith through our service and through our actions. To me, it’s not as much about dogma and theology as it is about how I live my life … A Christian environment means to me that it’s a place of hospitality.
It’s a welcoming place. It’s not necessarily a place where the ideas of other faiths get advanced, but it’s not a place where those ideas are not discussed or not a part of our education or not a part of our community.
Belmont Vision: The non-discrimination policy update was seen by a lot of people as a big step away from the school’s Baptist roots. Do you see other conservative policies like the no-alcohol policy changing to reflect the mindset of a broader Christian community?
Fisher: I’m not sure what the broader Christian community’s position is on alcohol. I know it’s probably. … I need to limit the kind of trouble I get into here. I’m not a fan of alcohol. I’m certainly not a prohibitionist either. … Mainly what I see— especially what students are doing—when I see alcohol consumed in excess is people doing stupid things, and harmful things, and things that hurt each other. So, I do not envision myself being a leader to relax any rules in that regard.
Belmont Vision: There have been several instances this year of students being prosecuted for drug possession on campus by the Metro Police. Do you think that has any tie to the growth we’ve seen in the student body?
Fisher: I’m deeply troubled by what I’ve seen just this year. It didn’t hit me in the last year at the same level. There are incidents every year … but this year it’s gotten my attention, and I am on a crusade, and I really hope the students understand that there is zero tolerance, and there will not be any slack cut. Don’t do it. It’s that simple, don’t do it. If you have to, go somewhere else.