After interviews, campus visits and decision-making, Belmont University has hired Thomas Burns as its new provost starting Jan. 1.
Burns has a “myriad of strengths,” said Dr. Susan West, Belmont’s vice president for presidential affairs and provost search committee co-chair.
When Burns was announced as Belmont’s choice Nov. 3, many noticed the positions the Millersville assistant provost has had with schools large and small, public and private. Burns also worked in the Ivy League, serving for six years as the assistant dean for academic affairs for the Yale University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
“Those that we talked to loved him,” West said. “He has a lot of experience with his passion and enthusiasm that he will bring as provost.”
Burns said he was initially attracted to the university’s open provost position because of the similarities between his and Belmont’s values. His previous time in Nashville — he earned his doctorate in physical chemistry at Vanderbilt — gave him even more reason to apply. He remembers Belmont as a “fine school, but a very small school,” but he is quick to recognize the change the university has made since he left the city.
“My time in Nashville helped me really have a personal understanding of what Belmont was and wants to be and made it a lot easier to apply and say this is really the right kind of place for me,” Burns said. “It’s my job now to see that continues to be the case.”
The new provost is very impressed with many things Belmont has done recently, and what the school has done beyond what is shown on paper.
“It’s clear from my time on campus talking with students and faculty and administration the primary focus of the institution is to serve the students of Belmont well and that we are providing them opportunities to explore issues and ideas and help them become leaders not just on campus but when the leave the institution,” he said. “That’s what makes Belmont a special place. It capitalizes on the things that it intends to do for the students.”
Burns is encouraged by the physical changes the school has made during the past 10 years, including the level of growth and the new graduate programs. The greatest challenge of the university, he said, will be trying to balance this level of constant growth with the ability to keep a strong connection with the student body and entire Nashville community.
“I think one of the strengths that Belmont continues to succeed at is trying to make sure that we’re integral to the Nashville community, that we’re trying to make the city and county as a whole continue to develop and prosper,” Burns said. “I think that the challenge is going to be to keep focusing on the things that you do and making them better without losing sight of who you are and where you’ve been,” Burns said.
Burns also believes in a strong level of communication as the Belmont community changes and sets new goals. The provost position is key to these communications between students and administration, he said.
“My role is that to make sure that as we move towards trying to meet these goals, we do so as a community rather than isolated groups out of step,” he said.
Because of this, he is willing to be active around campus. He has already discussed occasionally sitting in on SGA and Faculty Senate meetings with their respective leaders and is also willing to talk to those in the university who disagree with the administration.
“The key is trying to make sure that people feel like they can talk to not only the provost but also others in the administration and that the folks in the administration are trying to communicate with students and faculty,” Burns said.
As provost, Burns will be in charge of the all academic colleges on campus and oversee the departments of Enrollment Services and Student Affairs. He will also take on some of President Fisher’s duties when he is away.